Empathy training gaining ground in schools

By Anne Collier

Used to be, if a student behaved badly s/he was sent to the office. Now, at Public School 114 in the South Bronx, a teacher sits down with students and finds out what’s wrong. P.S. 114’s principal told the New York Times that the school’s had workshops run by David Levine, author of Teaching Empathy, since 2006 and has seen the number of fights drop from 1-3 a week to “fewer than three a month.” The Times published this story a while ago, but I hope this growth trend is continuing. It’s ever more important in the current highly charged climate (see below).

The Times says similar workshops are being held in the high-end community of Scarsdale, N.Y., where one parent feels parents should be attending them too! Eighteen states “require programs to foster core values such as empathy, respect, responsibility and integrity.” One such state is California, and “Los Angeles is spending nearly $1 million on a nationally known program for its 147 middle schools called Second Step that teaches impulse control, anger management, and problem solving as well as empathy. The Times gives other examples but adds that some people are questioning “whether such attempts at social engineering are appropriate for the classroom or should remain the purview of parents” and extracurricular programs (and whether there’s even enough to teach academics in school). I can understand the question, but all this isn’t just addressing “Mean Girls” – it’s also addressing cyberbullying. I wonder if these programs are folding online behavior into the discussion. It should be there! If kids don’t distinguish much between online and offline, why address social cruelty in one “place” and not the other? I think the need for other-awareness and perspective taking in all aspects of our lives (not just children’s) is increasing as – enabled by digital media – the world crowds in on all of us more and more. But what do you think? Feel free to email me via anne[at]netfamilynews.org, comment below, or join the discussion at ConnectSafely.

Leave a comment