Should schools teach empathy?

The education reform agenda promoted by the federal government, the testing industry, and many state governors is off the mark. Our greatest need in education is not measurement and accountability and standards. While these can be useful tools for improvement, they should hardly occupy center stage.

Our focus should instead be on making sure we are giving our youth an education that is going to arm them to save humanity. We are faced with unprecedented perils, and these perils are multiplying and pushing at our collective gates.  We should be bolstering curriculum that helps young people mature into ethical adults who feel a responsibility to the global community. Without this sense of responsibility we have seen that many talented individuals give in to their most base desires of greed and pride, and this destroys economies, ecosystems, and entire species.

School in these troubled times should be centered on the subjects that teach empathy for others, respect for the earth, wholeness of self, ingenuity, creativity, and appreciation of the perspectives of others. These subjects are art, music,  physical education, global education, languages, philosophy, social studies, and literature. While we certainly should not abandon efforts to develop standards in different content areas, and also strengthen the STEM subjects, we need to take seriously our need for an education centered on global responsibility. If we don’t, we risk extinction.





Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.