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Learning at its Best

Empathy’s Role in Education

Check out this TEDx talk by Sam Richards, a sociology professor and co-director of Race Relations at Penn State:

At the Institute for Humane Education, we identify four elements as key to providing quality humane education. They include:

  1. Providing accurate information about pressing issues and challenges of our time.
  2. Fostering the 3 Cs of curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking.
  3. Instilling the 3 Rs of reverence, respect, and responsibility.
  4. Offering positive choices and the tools for becoming a solutionary.

Note how masterfully Sam Richards, in just 19 minutes, manages to employ the first three elements, while leaving viewers pondering their choices and their roles in addressing some of the challenges we face. What I particularly appreciate, as a humane educator, is that the entire talk, entitled “A Radical Experiment in Empathy,” is aimed at evoking the compassion that can lead us toward critical and creative thinking and problem-solving for a better world.

This is such an important talk which everyone should see, and a incredibly useful tool for teachers exploring complex, challenging, and critical issues in classrooms.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, The Power and Promise of Humane Education, and Above All, Be Kind

About zoeweil

I'm the co-founder and President of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). IHE works to create a world in which we all live humanely, sustainably, and peaceably. We do this by training people to be humane educators who teach about the pressing issues of our time and inspire people to work for change while making healthy, humane, and restorative choices in their daily lives. We also work to advance the field of humane education, and to provide tools and inspiration to people everywhere so that they can live examined, meaningful lives. I'm also a writer. So far I've written six books and several articles.


3 thoughts on “Empathy’s Role in Education

  1. Number one of the key elements got me in trouble at my school. When we had National moment of silence regarding the Tucson shooting, I briefly explained to the 4th grade class I was in that day why we were doing it. The next day, I got an email from a parent (who was also a school board member) that I’d erred in telling the children about the incident. He said they try to protect their children from the news and that I’d disturbed their child and possible other children with details of the shooting. I believe that children need factual information, otherwise, they are subject to whatever “news” they hear from others.

    Posted by Patty | January 28, 2011, 8:05 am
    • So sorry for the delay in responding Patty. Yes, this is a tricky thing and age-appropriateness is a perennial question. It’s part of why I have focused most of my h.ed. work on 6th grade and up, and in middle school I’ve periodically encountered upset parents. I try now to err on the other side, only sharing graphic info with older children – even though they already know so much. I try to protect children more than I used to and wait. So you’ve hit the nail on the head by saying that Number 1 of the 4 elements is the troublesome one! Thanks for pointing this out and I hope that the parents concerns were allayed. It’s tough to find the sweet spot.

      Posted by Zoe Weil | February 8, 2011, 7:48 pm


  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Empathy’s Role in Education « Cooperative Catalyst -- - January 28, 2011

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