As a theater educator, I’m pleased to see the focus that is being given to the importance of empathy in education. I wish more people understood that theatre/drama has been proven to increase empathy in students, but that’s for another posting, and the attention on empathy is a good no matter how we get at it.
When teaching students how to be more empathetic, we will often ask, “How would you feel if that were you?” But, I think there's a better question to ask. The better one, I think, is “How would it feel if you were that person?” I know it seems like a minor difference, but it’s actually much larger when you think about it contextually.
If I ask students to imagine themselves in a particular situation, it’s not the same as imaging themselves as one of the people who really was in that particular situation. To do the latter, you must strip away your own cultural and historical context and imagine the perspective of someone else. For example, I like to get students to imagine what it was like to live in the 16th century London during the time of Shakespeare. I don’t want them to be time travelers, I want them to imagine looking through someone else’s eyes.
What’s different between “imagining yourself in” and “imagining yourself as” are details and context. To imagine yourself as someone who lived in the Elizabethan era, you have to imagine the world in which s/he lived. It’s a world so different from our own. No electronics or electricity or engines. To get them into this place, I ask students to brainstorm on all the things we have now that the Elizabethans didn’t have. The list comes quickly. Then, I ask them to imagine what the Elizabethans had that we don’t. That’s a harder thing to think about, what we don’t have. Eventually, we get a good list: monarchy, one religion, outdoor toilets… Then, after providing resources for the time, I ask them to journal as someone who lived then. This requires an empathetic leap and a lot of critical thinking. With practice, it becomes easier to do and empathy is a very transferable skill.
I use this character approach in all of my arts integration work. How do you use empathy as a learning strategy in your classroom?
This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.