Time: 30-60 minutes


This activity introduces social and economic rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It employs rights-related statistics to promote critical reflection on strengths, weaknesses, and contradictions in US society. This multidisciplinary approach encourages participants to draw on the arts, social studies, math, and language arts to express their understanding of and feelings about what they encounter.

The activity might move in many different directions, depending on participant interest and strengths. It is essential, however, that participants develop a basic understanding of social and economic rights and the international documents in which these rights are articulated.

1. Distribute Handout 1, Imagine a Country to participants and ask different participants to read each of the discrete statements. Note: Do not indicate that each statement is about the United States.

2. After the reading, allow a brief time for free flowing participant reactions prior to focusing their attention on some of the tasks and questions below.

Questions to consider:

Are you surprised, disturbed, proud, pleased, or _______________ (select your adjective) by any of these statistics in particular?

Do you have questions about any of the data presented in the essay?

Do you think this statistical evidence is biased and misrepresents your country? Which statistics in particular are you concerned about?

How do you explain the apparent contradictions, (e.g., richest nation but high percentage of poverty that exist in the United States)?

For which social and economic rights does the USA appear to be doing well? For which is there need for substantial improvement?

What is the responsibility of the government to ensure that everyone achieves these human rights as fully as possible? Are there some conditions, such as inadequate nutrition of children, that the government should address and other conditions, such as homelessness of adults, that it shouldn’t? What actions might the government take?

Who besides government should assume responsibilities for addressing human rights problems?

Are there some conditions for which the statistics suggest that the USA is doing as well as might be expected and others for which we can expect better results? Do you think we can do better? What makes you think the way you do?

Possible Participant Tasks:

1. Match the conditions described in the essay to articles in the UDHR and ICESCR (abbreviated version). Identify social and economic rights found in ICESCR but were not included in the essay.

2. Look for news stories (TV, magazines, and newspapers) that are about these social and economic rights. Create a bulletin board to post these. Keep adding to this bulletin board during the course of your study of social and economic rights.

3. Indicate your understanding of and feelings about one particular statement in Imagine a Country in one of the following ways:

  • create a poem, drawing, or song
  • write a letter to a local newspaper
  • educate your community with posters and drawings.

4. Assess the essay as a whole and create one of the following: 1) a “praise poem, drawing, or song” that draws on facts in the essay to paint the United States in the most positive light or 2) a “poem, drawing or song of lament” that focused on those facts that expose the United States in a negative light. Try to explain how both presentations could be true at the same time.

5. Identify “red flag facts.” These are data that uncover inequalities in a situation and suggest that there might be unfair treatment involved. However, more information is usually needed before one can conclude that an inequality exists, (e.g., the percentage of males and females pursuing science careers) is the result of unfair treatment. Identify “red flag facts” and discuss what additional information participants would need to gather.

6. Bring these national statistics home by trying to match the statistics provided in Handout 1, Imagine A Country, with local statistics for hunger, homelessness, etc.


Source: Written by David Shiman.

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