I hold freedom as essential to both the practice of love and the practice of human rights education, as I think no love can be called love while it is based on the annihilation of the freedom and agency of any partner engaged in the relationship. We can look at freedom in human rights education from two perspectives: one at the level of the practice in training and in the relationships between trainers and participants, but we can also look at the policies regarding human rights education. The recent process of reviewing the implementation of the Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education and the evaluation of the Human Rights Education Youth Programme along with the discussions in the Conference on the Future of Citizenship and Human Rights Education in Europe made me wonder if we are not missing an essential point and we are not somewhat misguided in our policies.
The aim of human rights education is to contribute, together with human rights-based policies and human rights protection systems, to a universal culture of human rights. I believe we are not living yet in a universal culture of human rights, nor that we have ever lived in one. Hence, our work is guided to the future and to the transformation of the world as we experience it right now. An essential conflict within human rights (and an amazing potential) is that responsibility is placed primarily on the state, and it is in most cases that the state is the one responsible for the massive violations of human rights. The aim of this regular review of implementation is to provide an understanding of achievements and challenges and support stakeholders to identify responses in terms of policy and programmes.. But, if human rights are about the transformation of this world, how can we measure the work in human rights education with the tools of the very world we are trying to transform: return on investments, results achieved, reports on numbers of classes/trainings held, success stories we demand from participants, measurements of competences over competences acquired and how do we know that they (the objects of our education programmes) have truly got it? All done in the shadow of what we all fear: shall we say we did not achieve what we have set ourselves to achieve or, worse, that we have failed to achieve? We live in the fear that the few human rights education programmes we are running might just disappear, as there is always something newer and somewhat sexier to be invested in. This is a prison of quick satisfaction and no pain experience, within which human rights education cannot achieve what it is meant to achieve; a prison for the learner and the educator, too, for more and more they try to fit within the tight frames we are creating and the fears we line them with. And here is where the conflict comes into place: it is states that are funding or are at the lead of this, and many of our member states don’t have the resources or are faced with political contestations of human rights themselves that make it impossible for a policy revolution.
A law and practice in Luxembourg dealing with quality assurance in youth and children’s services chose a different pattern. It purposefully does not concern itself with the measurement of results but focuses on the assessment of the processes and whether the educational process respected quality standards. While it is not revolutionary, it is a fundamental return to the core of education and even more so of human rights education. This is a process that, if trusted and done with quality in mind, is bound to show results, but those results are not within its power. They are in the power and agency of learners and the results in educational processes are not all to be seen in the short-term. Pretty much like the promise of some dating websites offering quick gratification – no pain and less time devoted to building love is false to me.
While we should be impatient with human rights violations, we need to be patient with building a universal culture of human rights. Like Freire once recommended to educators to be “impatiently patient”:
The question then lies in determining how to turn difficulties into possibility. For that reason, in the struggle for change, we must be neither solely patient nor solely impatient, but patiently impatient. Unlimited patience, on that is never restless, ends up immobilizing transformative action. The same is the case with willful impatience, which demands immediate results from action even while it is still being planned … The answer is in the balanced dosage of both patience and impatience. The world cannot be transformed without either one, for both are needed.1
The first Living Library forum held in May 2017 brought a very heated discussion about how we make sure that the tool is not abused, how we (as a community of practice, but as well as the Council of Europe) make sure that no one uses the name, and does it wrongly, an unformulated request for control. The very essence of the Living Library is the free and intimate encounter between the Book and the Reader, in a meeting of what is understood as opposing difference, with the trust placed on both of them to make the very best of it. There is no guarantee that the Book will answer all the questions, just as there is no guarantee that the Reader will not come out with reinforced prejudices and stereotypes. All in all, the very essence of what human rights education is meant to be – a value clarification process and open-ended. Essentially, these are the only measures one can take to ensure access to training and materials, to provide a proper explanation of the principles, to express our disagreement when we see abuse, but to trust in those who choose to organise it, just like they eventually have to trust in their Books and in their Readers. And shall it fail, and it does fail, at times, or does not show immediate results, we should respect the freedom of those involved. We should be careful in our passing of judgments: not everything that is trailing off from an “orthodox” practice of human rights education is failure – much of it, if looked upon carefully, is also innovation.
1. Freire (1997), p. 64.