The rights and wrongs of the political world

25th October 1996 at 01:00
WHY HUMAN RIGHTS? 65 minutes, Pounds 30 exc VAT By Team Video , 222 Kensal Road, London W10 5BN Tel 0181 960 5536. WHY VOTE? 6 x 12 minutes. Pounds 35.25 exc VAT.

Civics is a notoriously difficult subject to teach 14 to 18-year-olds, who have an explosive mixture of idealism and cynicism. The question of human rights, especially, is a minefield, almost literally; it is all too easy to overwhelm the audience with the horrors of situations such as those in Tibet (enforced abortions), East Timor (public massacres), Sudan (religious war of attrition), or prisoners living on Death Row for years on end (the US).

Yet, as the work of Amnesty International shows, it is possible for informed and outraged public opinion to make a difference, even if the difference is only mitigation of a desperate situation. For a teacher not to end the lesson with a lot of cross pupils feeling "If it's all so bad, what's the point?", the Why Human Rights? video will have to be used carefully, with exercises from the photocopiable sheets to widen the debates.

The UK, of course, is not without its own human rights causes, notably the case of people who are mentally ill or disabled, and refugees. Why Vote? offers half a term's worth of work on whether the democratic process makes a difference to their lives and those of the country's other citizens. Three students from different political viewpoints interview MPs, the South African High Commissioner, and stand-up comedian Mark Thomas.

A concise and readable pack includes a glossary of political terms, biographies of interviewees and suggested activities. For adults who may be committed voters (but without illusions), the section on policy information on all the major parties (taken from their own publications) has a distressing whiff of humbug and cant, particularly compared with the ANC's election pledge, but I suppose one could swallow this as a sign of a "mature" democracy.

It should stimulate a lively discussion among young adults.

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