Human Rights in Textbooks

More good news.  John Meyer told me that his paper, with Tricia (Martin) Bromley and Chiqui Ramirez was recently accepted at Sociology of Education!

The paper comes out of their major ongoing project to code textbooks from a large number of countries.  I’m a big fan of the project.  Sociologists of education are mainly concerned with stratification, and one consequence is that the curriculum hasn’t garnered much attention (except, of course, in narrow ways that relate to stratification).

This project examines the curriculum in a new light:  as one of the important forms of institutionalized cultural knowledge in society.  Curricula reflect dominant cultural themes of modernity — and so global analyses of the curriculum shed light on global culture.

The curriculum is also a particularly consequential form of institutionalized culture… because it is transmitted to kids through schooling.  The curriculum — and education systems more generally — consolidate and reproduce modern culture.  This project, in my opinion, reflects a really important new direction for institutional theory and for the study of modern culture/knowledge.  (Another example is David Frank and Jay Gabler’s book Reconstructing the University.)

Anyhow, the paper has some nice models identifying the key factors associated with high levels of emphasis on human rights in school textbooks around the world.  Human rights appears in textbooks increasingly over time (especially after the mid-1990s), particularly in those that are very student-centric and focus on international issues.  At the country level, some measures of individualism and economic development predict human rights.

The descriptive material and analysis of the content of human rights discourse really make the paper shine.  The paper gives a powerful sense of how the curriculum is increasingly globally defined — with a content that enshrines the importance of the empowered individual.

Here’s a pre-publication version:

Meyer Bromley Ramirez Human Rights in Textbooks SOE May 4.11.10.pdf


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