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Right to dissent, right to migrate and cultural diversity through Gianni Rodari’s ‘The Young Shrimp’: Three experiences with children at schools

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This article presents three empirical cases in which I worked with children between 7 and 11 on the topic of cultural freedom and the right to dissent in relation to the right to migrate. As a lawyer who works with an interdisciplinary team composed of artists and anthropologists, I designed an activity that combines Law and Arts – Theatre and Literature. The goal of the activity was to invite the children to reflect on stereotypes, the value and the challenges of cultural diversity associated with migration and the principle of equality of all human beings, no matter their origin or nationality. 


The activity


Following Martha Nussbaum’s approach of narrative imagination [1], the basis of the activity was the story ‘The Young Shrimp’ (Gianni Rodari, Telephone Tales [2]), which tells the story of a shrimp who wants to walk in a different way: He wants to walk forwards. Like in other stories where Rodari [3] invites the child to use their imagination as a liberating power, in ‘The Young Shrimp’ he proposes reflecting on the right to dissent, the value of diversity and the enriching experience of tolerance [4], as well as on the phenomenon of migration. Children were able to reflect on why and how cultural diversity and cultural rights of migrants in the host society need to be respected and promoted, but also on the situations that at first instance make people migrate, with a particular focus – but not only – on diversity itself (dissent) as a reason for migrating. As the Special Rapporteur of Cultural Rights – in whose works the legal part of these workshops was based – has reminded us ‘the right to hold and express opinions without interference, enshrined in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, includes the right to hold and freely express opinions on religion, culture and tradition without interference’. Based on this right, the children had the opportunity to reflect on the importance in terms of human dignity of the capacity to have their own opinions and own projects of life, no matter if they are different to those of others.


The three experiences

The activity was developed in different contexts with different children (the first at Annexa School, Girona, Spain; the second at St. Barnabas School [5], Oxford, UK; the third at the Tampere Children’s Culture Forum, Finland) and took place in 2019. The three of them are based on an interdisciplinary methodology I developed within a project financed by the European Cultural Foundation where I included the Arts, Pedagogy Sciences and the Law – with a particular focus on the new developments of the United Nations in the field of cultural rights

The workshop in the three cases combined movement, storytelling, thinking about cultural rights and the need to migrate, discussing and drawing. This combination of body and mind, of words and images, of sounds and introspection, proved to be very useful. We worked on the concepts of ‘difference’, ‘freedom’, and ‘community/group’. We started with an invitation to create through the body images of reactions of people arriving to a space different from what is familiar to them. [6] The explanations of these creations were diverse, going from surprise, happiness, expectations, hope, fear, loneliness, vulnerability, and nostalgia. We continued with the reading of ‘The Young Shrimp’ and invited the children to reflect about the concept of cultural freedom. They were afterwards invited to join in groups and to work on one specific right of the Charter of Cultural Rights of Children, which was designed in the context of the project ‘A Tunisian-Spanish bridge for counteracting violent extremism and xenophobia through the right to take part in cultural life’. One part of the children of each group was invited to think about an example of exercise of such a right. The other was invited to think about a violation of that right. They translated these reflexions in drawings. Among the rights the children worked with was the one contained in Article 4 of the aforementioned Charter, which reads as follows: ‘I have the right to imagine my future, to follow my own dreams, and to help make this world more beautiful and a better place through my ideas, feelings, creations, behaviours and actions.’


Results: commonalities and differences

The three experiences showed some commonalities and differences. Concerning the former, children found difficulties to put into practice the lessons learned. In that sense, they understood very well the story of ‘The Young Shrimp’ and made wonderful comments on it. It was clear to them that all people would have to have the right to dissent, the right to be oneself and be respected in their identity as well as the right to be welcome in a foreign community. However, when they were asked to work in groups with other children with whom they do not normally play with, some of them said that ‘this was not going to work’ or that ‘there are going to be problems’. This means that more work needs to be done in order for the theory to be efficiently put into practice.


Concerning the differences among the three experiences, the awareness of host society/migrant children of notions of identity or diversity was different. At Annexa School (Girona, Spain), Spanish children were aware of the difficulties and challenges of migrant children – including those in the class. Contrary to the experience in Finland which showed that the children who during the activity showed sensibility towards migration and cultural diversity issues were those who were migrant descendants. 


Notes and references

[1] Nussbaum, Martha. 1998. Cultivating Humanity. Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

[2] Harrap, 1965 (A new edition will be published in October 2020).

[3] About the work of Rodari see ‘Marcello Argilli’, in De Luca, Carmine, and Del Cornò, Lucio (ed.). 1993. Le provocazioni della fantasia. Gianni Rodari scrittore e educatore. Roma: Riuniti.

[4] The United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights ‘highlights how diverse fundamentalist and extremist ideologies have in common a mindset based on intolerance of differences and pluralism, and all attempt to stamp out cultural diversity and dissent’. It can be therefore interpreted that a human right to dissent can be considered to be part of cultural rights. A human right to dissent can be extracted as well from the right to freedom of expression, as the works of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression show.

[5] This activity was co-developed in the context of the project Cultural Expertise. What is it useful for? See

[6] I am very grateful to Marcela Otárola who proposed this exercise, and also to Nevelina Pachova with whom I developed the activity at Annexa School.


Beatriz Barreiro Carril

Beatriz Barreiro Carril has a  Ph.D in Human Rights (Carlos III University, Madrid), and a  Master in Law of the European Union (Free University of Brussels). She is Associate Professor at Rey Juan Carlos University, Madrid. She has specialized in International Law of Culture, with a special focus in Cultural Diversity -including the debate Culture/Commerce- and Tangible and Intangible Heritage, as well as in Indigenous Communities and Minority Rights and the Right to Development. She was a guest researcher of the Centre of Socio-Legal Studies (Oxford University); the Department of Law & Anthropology (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle), visiting researcher at the Institute of Public International and European Law (University of Gottingen) and at the Centre of Ethics of the University of Toronto. She is an observer of the UNESCO Committee of Cultural Diversity and member of the Observatory Diversity and Cultural Rights (Fribourg University). She is the director together with Andrzej Jakubowski and Lucas Lixinski of the Interest Group of International Law of Culture (European Society of International Law).

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