Convention on the Rights of the Child

Rights, and Responsibilities,  go together. Whose right, whose responsibility, what kind of relationship between the people who exercise them, or ask for them?

This post is actually a straight copy of a lecture I used to give ten years ago when I was a teacher trainer. Ignore the references to Ed.2 etc, they are all outdated, but the substance is not. I hope. Also, some of the diagrams have not transferred properly to the blog – I’ll try to get around to fixing them but not just now. I have put it up here after writing a post about Responsibility and Rights on my other blog.



Themes: Social Justice and the Curriculum – Responding to Difference and Diversity -Putting Children at the Heart of Education



Concepts of Equality, Opportunity and Inclusion have already been introduced in the Education 2 lecture series. All of these social context issues rest on a complexity of personal, cultural, and institutional (or structural) interactions.  They are all dynamic processes, which is another way of saying that each one of us is within the processes which change us and which we change.  Critical thinking about meaning and consequence is an ongoing matter.  This lecture will challenge you to take your creative thinking further.

The basic principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child considers rights in terms of PROVISION, PROTECTION and PARTICIPATION, and treats these as interlinked concepts which do not stand alone. Everyone agrees in principle that education and classrooms should MODEL human rights, or to put it another way, we are sure that no individual, child or adult, should experience a violation of their rights while being educated, within a classroom or elsewhere. Without ignoring the meanings of provision and protection, this lecture will concentrate on the meaning and impact of a child’s right to PARTICIPATE, and how difficult it can be within our present cultures and structures to understand and ensure this right.  Without it, it is much harder to be certain that our actions to provide or protect are good ones, as the nature of being a child is that each has only one childhood.  The effects of inadequate provision or faulty protection will not be visible unless the participation of children is genuine.

We look at these rights, in this lecture, for the children we work with. The lecture is focussed on our issues in our classrooms, where all of the rights of children are from time to time endangered or violated. We are not comparing West with East or with Third World or with anywhere else supposedly worse or better than ourselves. On the contrary, we are working from the position that all humans in the world are in a process of development trying to understand what is meant by “provision, protection and participation”.  Cultures have evolved differently, and are different, and of interest, but, for now, we concentrate on our education, here in Scotland.


CRC – History, Reality, Myths

The rights of the child, summarised, are to: provision, protection and participation. History shows a change in society’s views on children. In 1924, the Declaration on the Rights of the Child, was simply a statement.  The rights listed then were to:

  • The means for normal material and spiritual development
  • To be fed/helped/reclaimed/sheltered and succoured (note ‘reclaimed’ – children stray, adults rescue )
  • To be first to receive relief in times of stress
  • To be put in a position to earn livelihood protected from exploitation
  • To be brought up in the consciousness that its best qualities are to be used in the service of its fellow men (sic)

There is no mention of participation here. In 1979, the international year of the child began the move from a mere statement of rights to making them part of international law and ratification by member states. In 1989, the UN, stated the current Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2001 this has been ratified by all but two of the UN member states, which are Somalia and USA.

(“Ratify” means that the convention becomes legally binding in the country and the country will bring its legislation into compliance with it in “a reasonable time”. See these and other details on

To repeat, the rights of the child are to provision, protection and participation, and it is important to recognise what each of these means in detail: provision of needs, what needs?; protection from harm, what kinds of harm?; and participation in what, and how?. The last, participation, represents a major change from 1924, but each is now seen differently.

In Scotland, at several levels we have examples of how the CRC and its changes are being incorporated in the structure of our society and in education. To illustrate this, the document Improving Our Schools, has the following incorporated:

  • School Development Plans required to include a statement of the mechanisms that are in place within the school to allow children and young people to participate in decision making processes and discussions about matters affecting the school
  • Schools and Local Authorities are encouraged to identify further ways in which young people can be involved actively and constructively in the education process
  • (see CRC art. 12)

As another example, the GTC (General Teaching Council for Scotland) policy statement on the accreditation and review of courses specifically refers to the CRC:

  • is appropriate coverage given to the rights of the child ?
  • do professional studies reflect the spirit and philosophy of CRC?

(see article 29)

The Scottish Office Competences for beginning teachers are almost all relevant, eg consider:

3.3 demonstrate a working knowledge of his or her contractual, pastoral and legal responsibilities

3.9 demonstrate an understanding of international, national and local guidelines on child protection and teachers’ roles and responsibilities in this area

4.7 value and promote equality of opportunity and fairness and adopt non-discriminatory practices, in respect of age, disability, gender, race or religion

From the CRC (articles 2,3,12,19,28,29), the concerns of education are as follows:

in all actions/matters concerning the child:

  • children are to be protected from any form of discrimination
  • the best interests of the child to be a primary consideration
  • the child has a right to  express views freely
  • the child’s views are to be given due weight
  • the child is to be given protection from abuse, neglect, maltreatment
  • school discipline is to be consistent with human dignity
  • the aims of education are

development of personality, talent, ability

respect for human rights, cultural identity, natural environment, parents

preparation for responsible life in a free society

Now, when these are closely considered, and compared with statements sometimes made in the practice of education, we find contradictions This is where you are asked to think critically in order to successfully challenge these views, which may sound valid, because they contain partially true elements, but which are actually myths.  Consider the following myths:

  • children cannot have rights until they are capable of exercising responsibilities
  • children are not competent to participate in decision making
  • rights for children threaten the stability and harmony of normal family life
  • the imposition of rights takes away children’s opportunities for childhood

To disprove these, it may help to think about where you intend to draw lines above or below which children are supposedly capable or incapable.  Who is deciding about these lines?  Also ask if “rights” are in a competition of some kind, as if when one group, “children” are given rights, those of another group, say adults, have their human rights infringed or reduced.  It may help if you spot rivalry of rights, as then you can sense that these arguments are missing the needs of collaboration and relationship between humans.  The rights of all have to be sought and worked for, in the kind of relationships which enable each to act and exercise their rightful capacity for responsibility and development.

Participation in an CRC curriculum (3-D curriculum)

Remember that earlier lectures have talked about models of curriculum.  Consider again the Equity Rights model, in a diagram which you have seen before:


Social and Political Effects


Equity                  Participation








Life Chances


QUESTION: Are Human Rights enabled in this “institution”?

Opportunity, empowerment, democracy, freedom from discrimination or harassment?

This kind of curriculum can be realised through a holistic 3-D approach to teaching which attends to both pedagogic need and cognitive development while at the same time it promotes equitable attitudes.  Think of three ‘d’s Difference, Development, Democracy and also Decide to DO something about Deficit Thinking and Discrimination.

Ways to create the 3-D approach:

  1. Shift focus from teaching to deep-learning, if and only if learners play a responsible part in their learning process – see personal differences in a developmental, not deficit way
  2. The culture or ‘atmosphere’, the mood and emotional feel of the environment respects difference and works to understand conflict – e.g. it is OK to make mistakes when learning, trying is valued as well as outcome etc., though in the social justice sense, the outcome aimed for is an inclusive space
  3. Learning is embedded in its context – learning of what is happening in context is needed – see the societal structure to which the topic relates, thematic work
  4. Each of Personal, Cultural, Structural affect the learning space and the emotional responses to these are respected and thought about in a holding way (“Holding” means that anxiety is neither ignored nor allowed to be overwhelming)

It is claimed that such a 3-D or Participative curriculum provides

  • Pedagogic Development – children are active thinkers in their own lives
  • Equitable Access – the variety of different views are heard
  • Empowerment and life chances within democracy
  • Child Protection – children can find adults who act on their behalf

No one argues with these ideals, yet still we find schools and classrooms where the model is the assimilative one, and the question which underlies the work being attempted is: Does the Individual Fit into our System? This model can also be called the “Deficit” model, or the “Medical” model – something is wrong with these individuals and it needs fixing, via compensatory programmes (which may be good in themselves, but do not counter their hidden deficit message).  At extremes, fuelling the myths, there is a message being given that it is wrong to be a child, to not know things, and that education is fixing people to fit them for adulthood.


Remember also this quotation, which should bring all teachers some humility, as humanness is beyond what is provided by education.


Dear teacher,

I am the survivor of a concentration camp.  My eyes saw what no man should witness:

Gas chambers built by learned engineers.  Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses.  Women and babies shot and burned by high school graduates. So I am suspicious of education. My request is:  help your students become human.  Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Reichmans. Reading, writing, arithmetic are only important if they serve to make our children more human.


Source: Siraj-Blatchford, Iram (1994) The Early Years: Laying the Foundations for Racial Equality, Trentham Books  pp 61 -62.

Anxieties and Containing Anxiety


It is part of our experience that good intentions are not carried forward fully into the practice of schools. Indeed there are many anecdotes of teachers who decide, once they are ‘experienced’, to ignore all that college theoretical stuff; we are at the front line and have to be practical – so forget the theories and ideas about individual rights – people have to learn to fit in…etc


The next part of this lecture addresses the reasons why this is a prevalent experience, and why generations of educators have still not managed to create genuinely participative experiences within educational establishments. The predominant factor is emotional, and depends on how we as humans are involved in emotional processes in order to survive.  Part of our adaptive inheritance is the way in which our mental systems respond to the environment, and to the ANXIETY which is aroused. Teachers’ anxiety is often of the “pig in the middle’ variety – lots of pressure on them from above and lots of responsibilities, conscientiousness and becoming exhausted or disillusioned.

Anxiety is an adaptive emotion, beginning unconsciously and existing whether or not we have conscious awareness of it. It is a rehearsal for danger, ensuring our survival. A little anxiety helps focus the mind, and our action, in touch with reality, and we learn. For example, we can see a picture of a child who has been parted from its mother, moving towards mother, and each of them is learning from and about the other, empathically, and about the reality they are in.

Too much anxiety paralyses us, like rabbits in the headlights.  At this point reflect situations which make you anxious , so that as you read, you connect with the feeling level of what we are talking about.  What happens to humans is sometimes comparable to a visible freeze of this kind.


Survival adaptations for a self who cannot hold conflict or anxiety in feelings are such that personal security or identity is maintained through the giving up of parts of a more complex self, and finding compartments (unconsciously defended) within which it feels safe enough to function. This is called SPLITTING of the emotional spaces. The kinds of split make different states of mind, which surface as attitudes to others and to the current context. There are a lot of possible consequences. A common one is the physical ‘sore tummy’ which one has at the same time as ‘carrying on’, ‘pulling oneself together’. etc. Another consequence may be vulnerability to a real illness.  Other consequences are non-physical, too many to detail here, but talking with others will bring more examples. (I am making reference here to what is known as Object Relations Theory. To follow up some of the modern thinking about the unconscious, which are reasonably accessible to teachers, try Salzberger-Wittenberg, Henry et al. 1983; Waddell 1998).

The effect I want to discuss here is the way in which splitting creates “autopilot” thought – a kind of thought which has actually switched off from the present and is relying on habits, or what has happened before.  In autopilot, we may look as if we are thinking, and say the words as if we are thinking, etc. but actually we are:

  • getting rid of anxiety
  • doing the bit we can do
  • doing what we have done before, as we have always done
  • doing what someone else has told us to do, either now or long past
  • just responding to the stick or carrot ie external motivators, not principles
  • not reflecting, so the state of mind is “don’t be aware, don’t think, its not emotionally safe “

And, of course the last may or may not be true – because we are not actually looking at the situation, we actually have no idea if it is safe or not!  In other words, we can’t possibly be considering a 3-d curriculum or any kind of deep learning.  This is the process which leads to Myths and rigid views of US and THEM.  It leads to the emergence of “Powerful and Powerless”, the loss of space to think/reflect, the loss of community space to become aware of others and self with others, the loss of communication space where others might help us. And so we get denials, compartments, deficits, and discriminations. It also seems that it is impossible to become organised well enough to function better, as there are too many things to attend to, and there is often a dissociation of action from responsibility or rights.  Principles and values are too difficult. AND there is a lot of stress – more anxiety, and more splitting.

The counteractive process is called EMOTIONAL HOLDING. It is easy to describe, less easy to enact in difficult relationships, but always possible to work at.  It is not a solution, as it is a way of being, not a way to find an answer.

Being and Doing

Holding is a process one tries to become aware of doing as best one can. It works at the three levels of person, culture and structure:

  • personal – become aware of anxiety and conflict in feelings, let it happen, and see that “it is not so bad” to have a feeling which one can think about. Learn to see what, how, when one jumps into autopilot, and what a difference it makes
  • cultural – appreciate difference and diversity, become aware of ones own culture and attitudes, think about others’ attitudes and what changes attitudes, identity can evolve
  • structural – see institutional roles, responsibilities, rights, resources, constraints, and work so that they are used for empowerment not power, facilitation not control

To enable this emotional level for oneself as a teacher, and thus also for the pupils or students one is responsible to (not ‘for’ in a participative environment) it helps to make time to become aware and reflect, and this helps keep ones thinking in the ‘holding’ anxiety area, out of the ‘splitting’ area.  Then principles, theory and practice do indeed hold together.  The UN Convention on the rights of the child has to be worked at to make it happen. Be aware of childrens’ rights.

All Children are entitled to

Provision of needs

Protection from harm , which includes unfair discrimination

Participation – in all decisions and actions which concern them.


Salzberger-Wittenberg, I., G. Henry, et al. (1983). The Emotional Experience of Learning and Teaching. London, Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Waddell, M. (1998). Inside Lives: Psychoanalysis and the Development of the Personality, Duckworth.


Elspeth Crawford, May 2001

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