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A Survey About How Students and Teachers View Human Rights Law Courses

Survey and analysis conducted in connection with research about the decolonization of International Human Rights Law textbooks. Jan Raduchowski-Brochwicz conducted the survey while completing an Applied Research Project at The Hague University of Applied Sciences Law department.

Published onJan 29, 2023
A Survey About How Students and Teachers View Human Rights Law Courses

The actual data from the survey can be found under this LINK.

  1. Check all that apply.

The results of the survey indicate that a majority of the respondents were law students, with students comprising 80% of the total number of respondents. This is not surprising, given that the survey was shared primarily in student groups; furthermore there are simply more students than lecturers in any given law program.

Out of the 48 students, only 15 have selected that they are either enrolled in a human rights course at a law school, or have taken one in the past.

This number seems to be pretty low, especially since some sort of human rights course is mandatory in most law schools.

The second group of responders were people who teach or have taught law in the past. There were in total 9 people who submitted that they are or were law lecturers, furthermore all of them teach or have taught human rights.

In conclusion we can identify two main types of responders, the Lecturers, which contributed to 15% of the total answers, and the Students, which contributed to 83%. Two people answered the first question as being neither, thus their responses will be excluded from the analysis.

This general distinction will be crucial for further analysis of the research question, since it will portray how these two different groups, which are the fundamentals of universities, perceive how human rights is taught in law schools.

  1. Are you familiar with the term decolonization?

The second question was aimed at identifying whether the responders are familiar with the core issue which sits at the center of this research paper.

As we can see almost 90% of the surveyed claimed that they are familiar with the concept. Out of the 48 students, only 6 have stated that they are unfamiliar with the term. Furthermore, all the lecturers have stated that they know what decolonization means.

The high proportion of respondents who reported being familiar with the term "decolonization" is surprising, given that some scholars within the fields of Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) and Latin American legal studies have argued that legal education often reflects a strictly colonial perspective.

Literature

We can see this being mentioned to some extent by Mohsen Al Attar in “The Peculiar Double Consciousness of TWAIL” where he states that “ TWAIL pursued varied forms of subversion to liberate international legal scholarship from its Eurocentric straitjacket1. Al Attar talks abouts how some TWAIL scholars have committed too much to defying the norms and neglect every orthodox narrative. Maybe the fact that such an overwhelming amount of student and lecturers are aware of the concept of decolonization, either confirms how successful TWAIL has been in their interventions towards education, like Mohsen claims, or portrays that the grim narrative TWAIL scholars often pursue, is over the top, and in fact the western academic communities are already aware of the issues TWAIL fights for.

While the fact that respondents are familiar with the term does not immediately mean that they have been taught a decolonial perspective, it does suggest a level of awareness that was not anticipated. This finding warrants further investigation into the extent to which decolonial perspectives on human rights are actually included in law school curricula.

  1. Which answer best fits your definition of decolonization?

Question 3 gave three definitions of the term colonization:

  • #1: An effort to ensure that narratives and stories about history and political institutions also reflect the realities of the lives of people who were enslaved or colonized. - This definition was written by Dr. Tamara Lewis.

  • #2: The action or process of a state withdrawing from a former colony, leaving it independent. - Wikipedia definition.2

  • #3: Decolonization is about “cultural, psychological, and economic freedom” for Indigenous people with the goal of achieving Indigenous sovereignty — the right and ability of Indigenous people to practice self-determination over their land, cultures, and political and economic systems. - Definition from Global Solidarity Localization website.3

Almost half of the respondents chose the third answer as the most fitting to their definition of colonization. This shows that most of the surveyed had some deeper understanding of the question at hand.

Furthermore, it is interesting how the definitions differ amongst the Lecturers and the Students.

The results of the survey suggest that lecturers and the students have a similar understanding of the concept of colonization. While the responses are evenly distributed among the three provided options, the third definition, from the Global Solidarity Localization website, appears to be the most popular among both groups. This finding suggests that both lecturers and the surveyed individuals have a nuanced understanding of colonization and its implications. Further analysis may provide insight into how this understanding influences the teaching of human rights in law schools.

Furthermore we can see that the numbers for students are matched exactly with the answers given by all that were surveyed. Going in the assumption was that most of the lecturers will choose either definition #1 or #3, while the students will stick mostly to definition #2. Although, the lecturers seem to be more evenly split in their answers, the fact that almost half the students chose definition #3, made it the leading definition that both students and lecturers captured from their law schools.

Following the previous question, this shows that not only people in law schools are aware of the terms of decolonization, 2/3rds of them are also able to identify it as much more than just a simple act of a state withdrawing from a former colony. This does not necessarily prove that decolonial perspectives on human rights are taught in legal schools, but it shows a certain amount of awareness on the issue among members of universities, which tends to be omitted in the one sided perspective shown by most TWAIL and Latin American writers.

Literature

We can again see this perspective elaborated on by Mohsen Al Attar in his article titled “The Peculiar Double Consciousness of TWAIL”. The narrative of that essay is that TWAIL scholars often neglect every form of mainstream.4 The most extreme example of this would be Latin American writers such as Aníbal Quijano and Michael Ennis in their article “Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America”. They talk about how European colonization gave birth to racism and how to this day Europeans consider themselves superior to everyone else5 which is obviously a hypocritical generalization, and a false statement. Racism has been present for as long as people existed 6, and although it is true that it has become more apparent during the period of European colonization, claiming that these events created it, is the same as claiming that the French Revolution created international human rights, neglecting thousands of years of human history.

Another example of Al Attar’s claim of how some scholars have gone too far into defying the norm would be Quijano and Ennis, who claim ideas like “The idea of race, in its modern meaning, does not have a known history before the colonization of America.7

In this case we can especially see Attar’s claim, on how some writers have gone too far in trying to defy the norms. We can see that students are aware of the issues such as decolonization, and are not oblivious and incapable of critical thinking, regardless of the structure of modern education.

  1. How much do you agree with the following statement? Law school education reflects western ideologies.

As we can see, the vast majority of the students and lecturers, almost 80%, agree with the statement that law school education reflects western ideologies.

Furthermore, only 1 out of the 9 lecturers have selected Neutral, while the rest chose Agree or Strongly Agree. Remember, that almost all of the responders teach or taught human rights as a subject.

The fact that they choose to teach the subject of human rights, while being aware that they portray only a narrow point of view is fascinating.

The students' answers have been a bit more varied, nevertheless the vast majority still agrees with the statement. Last but not least, it is fascinating that none of the responders have selected to strongly disagree, and although the students have been a bit more biased, the agreeing answers still vastly dominate this response.

This question is crucial to this research paper. Although previous answers have shown that both students and lecturers are, to a certain extent, aware of the topic of decolonization, both of these groups agree with the majority of TWAIL and Latin American thinkers, that legal teaching reflects western ideologies.

Literature

The most extreme example would be obviously Quijano and Ennis8, but we can also see Tava talk about this exact topic, giving it a name of Mainstream International Legal Scholarship(MILS), where the objects being taught to students are being reduced to just western ideologies.9 Furthemore, Gathii challenges modern legal education with how narrow its geographical scope is.10

This answer confirms one of the main claims of TWAIL scholars, furthermore what is fascinating is how aware of this fact are both lecturers and students.

This helps to understand that the legal teachings which are portrayed in legal textbooks and contexts which are explained for the International Human Rights machinery in those textbooks, are mostly reflecting western ideologies, furthermore, the almost unanimous answer of the lecturers, leads to the conclusion that they consciously teach those ideologies to their students.

  1. How much do you agree with the following statement? Law schools foster critical thinking.

At first glance, we can already see something interesting. How is it possible that 80% of the surveyed claim that law school education reflects western ideologies, while the same percentage claim to agree or strongly agree with the statement that law schools foster critical thinking? Aren’t those two contradicting ideas? How can law schools present a narrow view on the subject while at the same time teaching students to think critically?

Furthermore, we can see that the lecturers are understandably pretty one sided on the idea. How could they directly admit that their teachings do not foster critical thinking? Well, to some extent they do.

If we compare how the answered question 4 and 5 one can wonder whether the lecturers are either aware of the fact that their teachings present a limited view on the subject of human rights, however won’t admit it directly, or are in denial of the fact the presenting students only with the western ideologies, is not in fact fostering critical thinking among them.

Literature

Vernon Ivan Tava shows how we can understand this phenomenon in a fascinating way. He starts by arguing that legal education is much more than the technical practice of learning law by hard. Law is a discipline where student acquire a greater understanding of the world they inhabit, thus they are taught to think critically 11. However, MILS’s12 strictly focus on international treaties, judicial bodies or other embodiments of international law, without teaching and questioning their legitimacy. Thus their righteousness is presumed from the get go. Both students and lecturers are aware of how education is saturated with western ideologies, but they were taught not to question it and assume it is right, and that is why they are under the impression of thinking critically.

Only two lectures selected neutral in either of the answers. One of them selected that they agree with the statement that law schools present western ideologies, while they were neutral on whether they foster critical thinking, whereas the second lecturer selected the answers the other way around.

Again, we can see a bit more bias among the students, nevertheless it seems like still the vast majority of them agrees with the statement.

As we can see from how the Students answered the two questions, they seem to be a bit more understanding of how these two statements contradict each other to a certain extent. Although the majority of them have agreed with both of the statements, at least 40% have consciously or not noticed how agreeing with both of these questions seems contradicting, which is a lot better than the Lecturers did.

Literature

This phenomenon is greatly presented in an article described by Vernon Ivan Tava, titled “TWAIL Pedagogy: Legal Education for Emancipation”13. In this article he describes how modern education is passive, where students are being taught how to receive, remember and repeat information, rather than thinking critically and challenging the status quo. How ironic that in the survey conducted, students confirm this theory, where they consciously agree that they are given a one sided view on legal teachings, while still considering it critical thinking.14

Furthemore, the answers of the lecturers are even more in line with Tava’s theories. The term of Banking Education, used by Paulo Freire, and further elaborated in the article, where students are compared to containers to which teachers pour knowledge, which enforces the lack of critical thinking15. The fact that lecturers agree with the fact that law schools present western ideologies, while claiming it fosters critical thinking, confirms Tava’s secret of Banking Education - who would admit to stunting the growth of their students, by teaching them a single doctrine? Definitely not the lecturers who participated in this survey.

  1. How much do you agree with the following statement? Introductory human rights course textbooks in my Law School present de-colonial views on the subject.

Unfortunately, over 40% of the responders have selected Neutral for this question. This leads to the conclusion that at least some of them did not really understand what the question was about, and what exactly are de-colonial views. Nevertheless, almost 60% of the surveyed, selected some other answer, and they were split pretty evenly with the positive and negative answers.

The lecturers seem to be more decisive on the case, which leads to the conclusion that they are aware of what was meant by the question. Almost 70% of them disagreed with the statement, whereas only 11% agreed with it.

As we can see from the students results, almost 50% of them selected Neutral, which leads to the belief that most of them did not understand the question, or weren’t bothered with trying to understand it, which is reasonable taking into account that people mostly don’t give too much thought into short, online surveys.

We can conclude in the second half of the survey that most of the lecturers and students believe that their legal teachings and textbooks portray a western and colonial ideology, while at the same time teaching them to think critically. How fascinating.

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