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'That empathy education should be afforded a higher priority in the New Zealand Curriculum at primary level".

Empathy is defined in the Oxford dictionary as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another ( It is both an emotional connection between individuals, and an imaginative leap in which one endeavours to understand the world from the perspective of another (Krznaric, R. 2007) It is a property or characteristic rather than a philosophy, attitude or competency. Empathy does not of itself imply immediate action, in the way other properties such as kindness or innovativeness do. However, this essay will contend that empathy is a precondition for the expression and instantiation of many of the aspirations of the NZ Curriculum, both at an individual and societal level. The adoption by schools of a stronger focus on empathy education or development will not be without opposition and/or difficulty, but it will be argued that the benefits of widespread teaching of empathy programmes outweigh these factors, and that empathy is so intrinsic to the successful delivery of the curriculum that failing to facilitate the development of this property in our students is an abrogation of our responsibility as educators. The primary motivation for the teaching of empathy lies in its capacity to contribute significantly to a kinder, gentler nation (Bush, G.H.W., 1988). Aside from the social desirability of this as an end in itself, empathy education may constitute a long-term budget-cutting measure, given the significant costs of dealing with criminal behaviour and a range of other social problems associated with a lack of empathy. In relation to a matter in the news recently, an article last year in Time magazine stated: increasingly, neuroscientists,

psychologists and educators believe that bullying and other kinds of violence can be reduced by encouraging empathy at an early age. Over the past decade, research in empathy has suggested that it is key, if not the key, to all human social interaction and morality (Szalavitz, M., 2010). The electronic age has presented some empathic challenges too which need to be addressed. A recent meta-analysis of 72 empathy studies (Konrath, S.H. et al, 2010) found that in the last 20 years there has been a drop of 40 percent in empathy among U.S. college students. This is a rapid social change, and causal hypotheses relate to de-sensitisation caused by exposure to 24 hour television news powerful visualizations of crime, disasters, wars, conflict and the like; on-line cyber-friends who can be easily shut down: and the stimulation of a hyper-competitive youth culture by reality television. On a global scale, our world is increasingly interconnected and

interdependent, and we share such planetary challenges as climate change, health epidemics, global poverty, overpopulation, and international conflicts (Reimers, F. M., 2009). Notwithstanding the empathic downside of the new information communication technologies outlined above, Jeremy Rifkin (Rifkin, J. 2010) argues that the (ICT) revolution is connecting the human race across time and space, allowing empathy to flourish on a global scale for the first time in history and that empathic sensitivity has broadened at other times in history (e.g. from tribal blood ties to associational ties based on common religious affiliation or nationality) when the world has been transformed by the agricultural and industrial revolutions. As never before, global cooperation is needed to address global issues, and is a commodity

that is likely to be both elusive and fragile without a reasonably solid empathic basis. Empathy education presents a relatively early and therefore potentially highly efficacious opportunity for students to examine views about others which have already been adopted from home without question. One of the keys tasks of empathy education is to transcend empathys familiarity bias (Hoffman M. L., 2000) and extend empathy to other groups. Children are guided in thinking about why they might feel empathy and reach out to some groups but not to others, and to examine whether there is any morally relevant basis for this distinction. Furthermore, empathy education is effectively mandated by the Curriculum (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2007). Much of the vision and many of the principles, values and competencies listed in this document are effectively predicated on empathy. Without empathy, it is not clear what might drive some of these aspirations. The Curriculum vision lists connected and actively involved as 2 out of the 4 sought-after characteristics of young people. Inclusion and community engagement are amongst its principles, which embody beliefs about what is important and desirable in school curriculum . Of the values of the Curriculum, 4 out of 8 diversity, equity, community and participation, integrity (acting ethically), and to some extent ecological sustainability, relate to empathy, as does respect for others and human rights, added at the end of the list. The Curriculums discussion on values goes on to state explicitly that students will (through their learning experiences) develop their ability to explore, with empathy, the values of

others, as well as discuss disagreements that arise from values and make ethical decisions all competencies which will be difficult to achieve without a developed capacity for empathy, as would 2 of the 5 key competencies listed, relating to others and participating and contributing. Ideas and concepts associated with values reinforce the centrality of empathy. (

As well as the benefits accruing to those for whom students learn to feel empathy, the suggestion has been made that there are benefits for the students themselves. Children who are empathic tend to do better in school, in social situations, and in their adult careers, and children and teenagers who are skilled in empathy are viewed as leaders by their peers. (e.g. Kutner et al,

Despite empathy being an idea whose time has come (Strayer J, & Eisenberg N., 1987), and notwithstanding the implicit connections with high level aspirations of the Curriculum, any explicit position on empathy education held by the Ministry of Education or its policy analysts is not easy to find. The Ministries of Social Development, Health and Education jointly funded a trial of the Canadian programme Roots of Empathy in 2006, with a total of $900,000 invested over three years. This programme has been found to reduce violence and improve empathy or pro-social behaviours

( and involves a parent from

the local community bringing their baby into the classroom over a school year so children can learn about developmental stages of a baby's first year, their needs, and how the baby communicates its needs to the parent. Early findings from the programme suggest that students in participating schools were more cooperative and sharing while demonstrating less anti-social behaviours such as breaking rules and bullying than in the comparison schools

( A formal evaluation was scheduled for 2010, but the Ministry websites have not been updated to reflect this. Media references to empathy education are relatively scarce, and it seems likely that parents and the community are generally not familiar with the concept. In discussing this issue with peers a number of counter arguments to the widespread incorporation of empathy education within the curriculum became apparent. The first of these is that the curriculum too full already, and other new areas are also competing to capture space within it. For instance, education and business leaders have identified three emerging content areas they consider to be critical to success in communities and work places in the future global awareness, financial, economic and business literacy, and civic literacy (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2002). But without trivialising the challenges, it is possible for new content to be incorporated into existing curricula by infusing knowledge and skills from new learning areas (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2002), without establishing stand-alone programmes. Historical empathy has long been a feature of the teaching of history. In literacy the use of empathy as a theme can be 5

purposefully selected. Even in mathematics there is scope (and value) in using dynamic, real world examples which relate to empathy. Just slightly removed from direct empathy education are such programmes as the Auckland SPCAs education service, which aims to guide students from a restricted human-centred view of the world towards one that includes empathy and respect for all life. The programme ( provides an example of how content can be infused into existing teaching structures by making freely available a range of resource material for use in English, Maths, Science and Technology and the Visual Arts, together with guidance notes and links to the Curriculum.

A second concern is that adding learning areas into a curriculum is a relatively easy government response to complex societal issues. It places the onus for implementing a new directive and integrating it into an existing teaching programme on schools, and when the initiative appears to be not succeeding as well as was hoped, all (including the government) can blame the schools. It is subject to the political winds of change and could be dismantled in short order by a change in government policy. Moreover, the explicit teaching of values or principles and subject matter relating to these is not schools core business, perhaps cannot be taught at all but only facilitated, and represents another example of the state, or more specifically the education system, attempting to compensate for the failure of parents to meet their responsibilities.

There is some support for the idea that empathy cannot be taught. Mary Gordon, founder of the successful Canadian Roots of Empathy programme, agrees with this contention - "Empathy cannot be taught but it can be caught" (Gordon, M. 2009). However this different route of transmission is not a sufficient reason to keep empathy out the curriculum, given the potential benefits.

Secondly, there are established programmes already available. The Roots of Empathy programme was mentioned earlier. In this programme concepts taught include emotional literacy, perspective taking, neuroscience,

temperament, attachment, inclusion, violence prevention, participatory democracy, teen pregnancy prevention, and infant safety and development. A number of other tested international programmes are listed in the Oxfam report You Are Therefore I Am (Krznaric, 2008), including Through Other Eyes (resources for teaching Social Studies in the United States), and the SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) programme for primary schools in England. A feature of many of these programmes is that it is not compulsory for schools to implement them, but because they are popular, practicable and lead to discernible behaviour improvement, uptake has been high.

In addition to Roots of Empathy, there are a number of other NZ programmes also up and running. Teaching children about empathy is a fundamental component of the Kari Centre programme (Kari Centre, 2007). Some process drama work has been carried out locally by the Everyday Theatre to

strengthen empathic imagination in young people (Holland, C. 2009). Krznaric (2008) suggests that one of the best ways to create an empathetic bond is simply to get people to have a conversation, ideally about real issues of importance in their lives, and suggests conversations with other students, with people in the local community (especially those whom the students may rarely come across such as the elderly or refugees), and globally with students from other countries using technologies such as Skype and existing school linking programmes. This is a relatively simple methodology to implement.

Other established NGO empathy or empathy-related programmes are driven by a perspective on human-animal relations which differs from the present societal norm, or are motivated at least in part by animal welfare concerns. In addition to the Auckland SPCAs programme, local programmes include the RNZSPCAs One of the Family, based on the link between family violence and animal abuse, and SAFEs Active4Animals. Still others, especially programmes that target specific young people rather than whole classes, regard animals as an integral part of their wider programmes e.g. charitable trust Change Works, and APART, run by the Nelson Ark, a volunteer organisation pairing unwanted and abused dos with at-risk young people. There are many overseas programmes including Teachkind, the education arm of the American animal welfare/rights organisation PETA, SPCA Hong Kong and the Australian animal welfare organisation PAWS all distribute freely a wealth of lesson plans and other resources across all areas of the curriculum.

Because the concept of empathy can be contentious and political does a particular group deserve empathy, for instance, or are they victims of their own making? some teachers may wish to avoid venturing into this area. They may conclude that empathy education will require them to negotiate so carefully around the views of parents that the whole idea should be consigned to the too-hard basket.

However the Health Curriculum, into which empathy education might most comfortably fit if it is delivered as a separate unit, is already relatively political. The Curriculum is explicit about the promotion of social justice, a socioecological perspective, and health, all significant areas of societal debate, and sexuality education is mandatory. We can infer from this that the Ministry of Education, which guides and directs many aspects of schools operation, does not shrink from promoting perspectives with which some may strongly disagree. The animal programmes may of themselves represent a sticking point to the widespread implementation of empathy education, with some considering such concerns not valid, or an unaffordable luxury in an agricultural country competing in a tough commercial world. But even if empathy with animals per se is considered sentimental nonsense, the link between animal abuse by children and violence in adulthood is now well-established (e.g. Ascione, 1998), and is critically related to a lack of empathy with animals and with other human beings. The anthropologist Margaret Mead once famously said: One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it. Animal cruelty, which begins showing up as

early as age six, is one of the earliest and most reliable predictors of later violent behaviour (Quinn, K. 2000). But there is a strong basis for the development of empathy towards animals on its own merits. As noted, a directional feature of the evolution of society has been the expansion of concern, those with the power being persuaded to widen their circle of empathy beginning with a tight group of kin and extending out geographically to encompass other villagers, townsmen and countrymen, or socially to encompass those of different classes, women, other races, gay people and people with disabilities. The basis of this is an increasing awareness that these others are like us in ways which are morally relevant. As Bentham argued in the 18th century, the question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? (Bentham, J. 1789). There is no immediately obvious reason why empathy or empathy learning programmes should stop at the species barrier. No one is lobbying that students be taught or facilitated to extend empathy to anything inanimate, or indeed to any life form which has not evolved the capacity to suffer. The object of empathy programmes is not to get students to believe certain things, but to have them consider how sentient others must feel in a range of situations, and on the basis of this develop a consistent, coherent basis for their beliefs, actions and choices regarding others which are informed by empathy.

In summary, empathy education in schools is expected to lead to pro-social outcomes, with potentially a cost-benefit ratio in terms of societal benefits for


effort expended which is very good indeed, outweighing objections relating to schools being used, at their cost, to address all of societys ills. The conscious infusion of empathy education material into the existing curriculum, use of the wealth of material already available and a policy of the adoption of empathy education programmes being voluntary, are considered to make the foreseeable practical difficulties inherent in implementation of empathy education surmountable. The new forms of electronic connectedness are seen as both increasing the need for, and greatly aiding in, the fostering of empathy, a requirement for which would appear to be embedded in the fabric of the New Zealand Curriculum. The potential benefits of empathy programmes (so long as they are able to avoid anthropo-centrism to the extent that this is unsupported by science and encompass empathic consideration of the whole spectrum of situations in which suffering occurs) extend beyond human society to include other animals who, like children, need our protection from suffering and abuse.

References Bentham, J. 1789. Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, In The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham. Burns, J.H. and Hart, H.L.A. (eds.) Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 283. Duan, C.; Hill, C. E. 1996. The current state of empathy research. Journal of Counseling Psychology, Vol 43(3), 261-274. Gordon, Mary. 2009. Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child. The Experiment, LLC. New York. Holland, C. 2009. Reading and acting in the world: conversations about empathy. Research in Drama Education Vol. 14, No. 4 pp 529-544. Kari Centre (George, B., McLean, B., Sykes, R.) 2007. Kari Centre Skills Group Caregiver and Teacher Manual.


Konrath, S.H., OBrien, E.H., Hsing, C. 2010. Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students over Time: A Meta-Analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review. Krznaric, R. 2007. Empathy and the Art of Living. The Blackbird Collective. Oxford OX4 1PX UK. Krznaric, R. 2008. You are therefore I Am. How Empathy Education Can create Social Change. Oxfam Education and Youth Research report. Oxfam GB Research Report. Lockwood, R, and Ascione, F. 1998. Cruelty to Animals and Interpersonal Violence: Readings in Research and Application. Purdue University Press; 1 edition. Ministry of Education, 2007. The New Zealand Curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media. Quinn, K. 2000. Violent Behavior Animal abuse at early age linked to interpersonal violence. The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behaviour Letter, Vol. 16, No. 3. Reimers, F. M. 2009. Leading for Global Competency. Educational Leadership - Teaching for the 21st Century. Vol. 67 No. 1 Rifkin, J. 2010. The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis. Tarcher Penguin. Szalavitz, M. Apr 17 2010. How Not to Raise a Bully: The Early Roots of Empathy. Time Magazine. Strayer J, Eisenberg N. 1987 in Empathy and its Development. Eds: Eisenberg N. & Strayer, N. Cambridge University press, Cambridge.