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Where Do I Draw My Line?

Identify and justify the point along the needs continuum where you would feel some measure of responsibility for the rights of others.

Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

Students examine individual responsibility for distant situations by considering and justifying the point at which students would feel some obligation to try to safeguard the basic rights of others through direct or indirect action.

See Drawing the Line on Rights (Modelling the Tools) for suggestions on how to teach and assess the tools for helping students consider their personal responsibility for the rights of others.

Introduction to basic human rights
Present students with a situation involving a basic human right; e.g., right to food or clean water. As a class, explore the direct and indirect consequences of not having enough of this basic right. For example, being hungry is a direct consequence of not having enough food. Feeling lethargic is an indirect consequence of not having enough food. Ask students to brainstorm various direct consequences, e.g., feeling hungry, lacking basic nutrients, and indirect consequences; e.g., becoming easily irritated, vulnerability to disease, malnutrition, delayed development, psychological stress, loss of ability to learn. You may want to create a web of the direct and indirect effects.

Discuss basic rights continuum
After the web is complete, post the following continuum on the blackboard or overhead transparency:

   1            2

   3            4

   5            6

   7            8


No food

Just a little
food to keep
you from
being very
hungry, not very nutritious

food every day
but still hungry

food every day
with occasional

As much food
as you want,
all the time

Ask students to consider how a person's location on the continuum would affect the quality of life–how might quality of life change if people had more food, i.e., moved to the right on the continuum, or less food, i.e., moved slightly to the left on the continuum. Ask students to discuss if there is a point below which no human being should be expected to function. In other words, what is the point at which we would say they have a right to that level of food. Saying that someone has a right implies that others may have responsibilities to help, either directly if they are able, or perhaps only indirectly by trying to encourage others who are better positioned to take action.

Discuss criteria for action
Suggest two criteria for students to use when deciding where they personally would draw this line:

  • the particular need is so central to a person's basic quality of life that others have a responsibility to try to ensure that the right is respected
  • it is feasible to expect others to try to secure this level of need–it does not impose an unfair burden on others.

Post these criteria for reference.

Hunger awareness
Ask students to work with a partner to agree on the point below which a person's basic right to adequate food would not be met, and by extension the student would have some responsibility to that person.

To assist students with understanding consequences of significant hunger, consider how you can help them appreciate the effects of malnourishment. You might show a video or a recent news report documenting significant hunger or starvation. The point is to personalize the problem by helping students see that ordinary human beings are suffering, often needlessly, from lack of food.

Another approach is to present hypothetical scenarios that do not seem too unlikely to dismiss entirely. For example, ask students to imagine that they have a bag full of groceries and a person, who has been lost in the woods for two weeks, stumbles out in front of you. No one is around and the person is desperate for a piece of bread. Would it be acceptable to ignore this request completely, especially if the person might die before others happen by?

Ask students to consider, individually, at what point they would feel some responsibility to the plight of that person (not necessarily to fix the situation personally, but perhaps only to support or encourage others who might be able to help).

Remind students that thinking about direct and indirect consequences may provide reasons for an appropriate place to draw the line. Invite a number of students to justify where they would "draw their lines"; i.e., where they would feel irresponsible for not doing enough and imposed upon if they had to do more.

Basic needs awareness
If desired, identify other basic human needs, e.g., shelter, medical care, safety, clean water, education, and assign different groups to explore the point at which someone is entitled by right to have these needs met.

Create descriptors for continuum of basic human rights
Using the class developed example of food as a template, create relevant descriptors for each factor. In creating the descriptors, begin by describing two polar positions, and then describe the point equidistant from these poles. Finally, describe the two positions that are midway between the centre point and each of the poles.

To meet diverse learning needs, you may want to provide the descriptors prepared in Drawing the Line on Rights (Modelling the Tools).

Identify and defend the point of personal responsibility
Explain to students that their task is to justify the point at which they would personally feel a responsibility toward ensuring a level of entitlement for the identified quality of life factor. Allow time for groups to consider the direct and indirect consequences of the absence of the factor and to arrive at a conclusion regarding where to draw the line. Groups should be able to provide reasons why the line is not lower (further impairing the person's quality of life) and why it is not placed higher (placing unfair burdens on others).

Determine tipping points for action
Arrange for each group to present its "tipping point" for action. Invite the class to consider whether or not they agree with the recommendation and supporting reasons. After each presentation, discuss the conclusions. Ask groups to modify their positions if the discussion warrants it.

Last updated: May 30, 2008 | (Revision History)
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