Empathy is one of the five main tenets of social-emotional learning (the others being self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills and responsible decision-making). While it isn’t possible to force someone to have empathy, it is possible to facilitate the development of empathy in young people and that’s what D.C. Public Schools has been doing in a rather unusual way.
According to this article by my colleague Emma Brown, five D.C. elementary schools are using a program created in Canada called Roots of Empathy, which, she wrote, attempts “to harness the disarming power of infants to help students recognize and deal with emotions in themselves and their classmates.” The story says:
The babies, in other words, are meant to help teach children how to be kind.
“I think it’s really changed people in our class,” said 10-year-old Vivian Dougherty, a fourth-grader at Maury who has spent the year learning from Baby June, who is 11 months old. “It’s really made people nicer.”
Critics say it is essentially a waste of valuable instructional time. Supporters say it help develops an emotional capacity in young people that is as important as academics. In fact, Brown reports,”research on Roots’ effects helped persuade Canada’s provincial governments to subsidize the program with millions of taxpayer dollars each year.”
Here’s a video showing students interact with the babies, and a link to the original story with the video.