Lessons in Empathy


An article in the New York Times Friday described how one
middle school in Scarsdale,
New York, is incorporating
lessons about empathy across the curriculum:

 English classes discuss whether
Friar Laurence was empathetic to Romeo and Juliet. Research projects involve
interviews with octogenarians and a survey of local wheelchair ramps to help
students identify with the elderly and the disabled. A new club invites
students to share snacks and board games after school with four autistic classmates
who are in separate classes during the day (Hu, NY Times).

Principal Michael McDermott provided context for Scarsdale’s efforts, saying, “As a school, we’ve done
a lot of work with human rights. But you can’t have kids saving Darfur and isolating a peer in the lunchroom. It all has
to go together.”

McDermott’s remarks reminded me of a post we did this February on the
“Every Human Has Rights” campaign and companion book. Produced by National Geographic, “Every Human Has Rights: A Photographic Declaration for Kids” puts this counsel into practice by compelling
students to engage with and apply the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of
Human Rights to their everyday lives.

Some argue that “soft skills” like empathy are better
cultivated at home and in religious and other extracurricular contexts. But others,
like educational experts Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, consider empathy a core
component of academic learning and comprehension. The folks at the Partnership
for 21st Century Skills
attest that exclusion of such “life and
career skills” from the classroom is a chronic oversight with detrimental
consequences for students–and for the U.S. workforce. They point to
surveys of employers who cite skills like professionalism, teamwork, oral
communication, ethics and social responsibility among the most paramount
competencies for the workplace.

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