Education for Empathy & Compassion

Can empathy be taught? Is it “natural” in humans? Recent research shows that educators are looking for pedagogical strategies for increasing empathy and compassion in students.

Young people are in a particularly ripe developmental stage to develop compassion. “Empathy requires something called Theory of Mind,” educator Lara Mattox, Ph.D. says. “It is a concept that is developing in children ages 3 to 5 and entails being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes….Fortunately that’s not to say that those born with less natural empathy are doomed to have less all their lives. Empathy can be taught.” [1]

Proving that anyone can grow into an empathetic person, the Open Colleges wrote recently, “as we get more educated, we tend to show more compassion towards others,” and backed up their claim from research on the volunteerism in adult students worldwide.

They have created the infographic we share here at the left, breaking down the information in their research. [2]

Meanwhile, international educators are looking for ways to teach empathy as a strategy for addressing violence. The Compassion in Society Conference in London recently featured two teachers who work in programs which develop empathy in schools. They featured Daniel Favre, “a teacher, teacher trainer and professor in both neuroscience and education whos work studies the process of youth violence.” He shows how supporting teachers in cultivating empathy can break the cycle of youth violence  – and improve math results.

They also featured the ERASE Stress program by Dr Rony Berger from Tel Aviv University. Berger trained teachers on resilience and compassion in twelve countries around the world, and the program is then entirely delivered by these teachers to young people dealing with the aftermath of terrorism and war. “Research shows the efficacy of this program in reducing simultaneously students’ distress levels and reducing their tendency to stereotype the other and behave aggressively.” [3]

Education needn’t be formal – the vernacular teaching of cultural influences can increase one’s capacity as well “Empathy is considered to be a precursor of pro-social behavior, a crucial ingredient in our daily social lives,” said U.K. researcher Tal-Chen Rabinowitch, member of the music faculty at Cambridge. “Empathy keeps us ‘together,’ connected, and aware for each other.” Rabinowitch released a study this fall indicating that music makes children more empathetic. [4]

Where have you seen empathy in schools or street education?





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