Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Roots of Empathy

As promised, a post on the Roots of Empathy program, albeit a short one, because I’m still sort of hashing out my thoughts on it. Roots of Empathy is a program that encourages the development of empathy in children by coaching students in observing the development and emotions of an infant. I have to say I’m fascinated by this idea, because I believe that encouraging and developing empathy in young people is crucial to stopping bullying. In my own work, when I’ve been thinking about ways to develop empathy in students, I’ve mostly been thinking about developing empathy specifically for their fellow students, the people they interact with daily, which would then, hopefully, decrease bullying and increase bystander intervention. Although both my own work and Roots of Empathy work with all the students, rather than focusing on just the bully or the victim, the Roots of Empathy approach is different in that it seems to be more to develop empathy for a specific person (the infant they’re observing) who isn’t a part of their daily lives, and then see if that empathy translates into their daily interactions. It seems to me like a reasonable approach--babies are cute and helpless, which are qualities that make them easy to care about and develop empathy for. So the big question is, does that empathy translate into the school setting? The research that I was able to find seems to suggest that it does, at least to a degree, and I’ll definitely be interested to see continuing research, particularly long term studies of kids who went through the program. But, I still maintain my long-held stance that until we, as a society, stop viewing certain people as inherently less-than, some kids will continue to have the desire and the means to bully other kids.

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