It can sometimes seem as if the world has lost its sense of togetherness. Roots of Empathy are working hard to fix that.
Empathy is our ability to see things from someone else’s perspective. It’s the characteristic which allows us to extend kindness, patience and assistance to others. A lack of empathy, on the other hand, has been linked to anti-social and dangerous behaviour, such as violence, bullying and abuse.
Roots of Empathy are an organization which was set up by Mary Gordon in Canada over 20 years ago, and has been operational in US schools since 2007. Since then, the programme has been successful in New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, Germany and Switzerland.
Gordon has said that the classroom programme was developed to help ‘children become more competent, caring citizens today and more competent, caring parents in the future‘.
Babies act as ‘teachers‘ and are brought into a classroom setting in which children observe, learn from and interact with the infant. For about 40 minutes, the baby acts as the center of an array of lessons which have been designed to encourage ‘emotional literacy‘.
Roots of Empathy operate an inclusive policy in which all children are involved in the process; not simply ones who have been aggressive, or shown signs of bullying. There is also a focus on diversity, which promotes learning and integrating with as many cultures and races as possible. Children are encouraged to contribute and ask questions, and the activities are designed to develop ‘consensus building and collaboration‘ skills.
The intended outcome is to allow students to leave with a better sense of understanding and consideration for others and their feelings.
PBS recently followed the programme as it was initiated in a Seattle area school. The case study speaks with a number of children who were involved with the programme, and asks them their thoughts on the whole thing. It also features an interview with the school principal, who outlines how her initial reservations were set aside once she saw just how effective the programme could be.