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Monday, 31 October 2016

The Literacy of Empathy

From my other blog: 15 May 2015

I felt the need earlier in the week to begin a new blog given that my other blog is primarily focused around my thoughts on spiritual ideas that I am learning. I recognised that I also had many literary or education based thoughts that I wanted to write down (for my own benefit if no one else's). So here is my first blog post on my Ironic Contradictions Blog.

Empathy is a topic that we have been considering in one of my educational units at university. The point of this consideration revolving around the ability to think from student's perspectives and the fact that empathy is an important social skill that all teachers should be aware of. This concept was put into practice for me when in another task I created a resource for teachers to be able to teach on pop culture in the classroom: This resource enabled me to reflect on the idea that a teacher should, where practical, be able to think from the perspective of their students and come up with ways of teaching material on a level that engages with and reaches them. From my perspective, true education is not about grades and numbers. It's about leading a student to a point where they take on board the lesson for themselves (kind of how preaching should lead individuals to personal revelation on spiritual ideas).

I wanted to call this concept the literacy of empathy, given the amount of focus placed on literacy. Literacy being the practical use of language in essence - and being literate revolving around: social skills, reading, writing; and analytically or critically thinking etc. So for me the concept of a literacy of empathy is being able to practically think in another person's shoes. It doesn't mean that the shoes have to fit you or agree with you, it simply means that individuals should learn to think about how another person might view their actions. As a teacher I believe this means planning lessons so that students' interests are reached. As an individual I believe it means moral responsibility for ones' actions.

I suppose one thing that sparked my thinking on this issue was a comment I received on an essay recently. I felt that I had engaged with enough reading material and references for this essay, however I was told by the marker that I should have used more of the readings. And this made me stop and reassess. I wasn't told to use more referential material (although maybe they did mean that full-stop). I was told to use more of the specific, unit reading. And I thought to myself 'how closeted is that?'

It's not the first time I've been told off for going outside of the assigned texts either. Once I was told off for using J.R.R. Tolkien and the essence of the reasoning was that he was too Christian and I should use a secular point of view for the same point (Particularly ironic because we were undertaking a unit on the Philosophies of Heaven and Hell).

You see, being told that I have to use specific course materials is fine every now and then, but I have an issue if they don't accept my use of wider reading material that says the exact same thing. Is the goal of education to promote a systematic brainwashing whereby students all use the same texts and provide the same answers and get the same marks? If so, by all means insist that only course material be used. If however, you wish for personal education on the student's level to take place, then you must allow students to use wider resources that they connect to on a personal level.

I suppose if I saw two essays of a similar standard and one drew solely from the text provided while the other incorporated texts and materials of interest to that student, I would be more inclined to respond to the second essay with more enthusiasm. To me that is what an empathetic individual should do: encourage the healthy interests of others and try to see those interests as they do. I know that I have several friends (and one girlfriend) who don't quite see why I love superheroes and sci-fi on the level that I do. However, they still try and take an interest in those things when I talk about them - that is empathy. They don't act in a sympathetic surface level of 'oh that's nice for you', it's a genuine interest because they are interested in me as an individual.

This is my reflection: we should become literate in empathy. I feel that it has so many practical implications from understanding how characters in fiction work through to understanding your friends and family on that deeper level. Empathy is about looking deeper and too often people become trained in a literacy of sympathy: to feel sorry and understand on a surface level, but they rarely delve deeper. I know I want to train/educate students in the future to become deep thinkers - to be empathetic and not sympathetic. I know I want myself to think in the same way and truly care about people and who they are and how they see the world. I think it holds spiritual, emotional and practical applications for a healthy life. What about you?