Sunday, October 6, 2013

How to teach empathy, II

A timely addendum to my post below on "How to Teach Empathy" has appeared as a Front Page article in Friday's New York Times.

Say you are getting ready for a blind date or a job interview. What should you do? Besides shower and shave, of course, it turns out you should read — but not just anything. Something by Chekhov or Alice Munro will help you navigate new social territory better than a potboiler by Danielle Steel. 
That is the conclusion of a study published Thursday in the journal Science. It found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking. 
The researchers say the reason is that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity.
School districts are spending thousands of dollars on Social and Emotional learning packages that detract from time on core academic subjects. As I noted earlier, there's no evidence that any of them have any positive effects on students' emotional development. Now we have evidence that traditional English classes featuring literary fiction, on the other hand, are effective.

This approach to emotional development is free, feeds into rather than detracts from academics, and doesn't require any special training (only good English teachers). What could possibly favor RULER or PATHS or Second Step over it?

Only a lack of good English teachers... or a lack of vested monetary interests. Yale's Center for Emotional Intelligence, for example, isn't going to make nearly as much money if it simply promotes Chekhov and Alice Munro.

2 comments:

Deirdre Mundy said...

It would be interesting to see a similar take on Read alouds for young children...which classics teach empathy?

Anecdotally, Little House on the Prairie seems to do the trick.... especially the chapter where everyone thinks Jack has died...

Anonymous said...

Charlotte's Web! Charlottes' selflessness makes a huge impact on young children (to the point of sobbing "but Charlotte died alone!!" from my usually phlegmatic son at age 5).