Nonprofit Helps Educators Teach Empathy to Youth by Karen Anderson

November 16, 2010 (PRLEAP.COM) Education News
Lack of empathy, of which bullying is the most violent expression, is a critical issue facing our youth today.

University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research analyzed 72 studies on the empathy of nearly 14,000 college students between 1979 and 2009. Their report shows today's college students are about 40 percent lower in empathy than students two or three decades earlier.

Out of this concern, and the near loss of a teen to suicide, youth advocate, Betty Hoeffner, of the youth self-esteem and empathy-building nonprofit, Hey U.G.L.Y.- Unique Gifted Lovable You, partnered with educators and curriculum writers to develop social and empathy learning programs geared for students aged 9 to 19. Called Empathy Learning Activity Plans (ELAPs) the nonprofit built in mandated learning standards in areas such as math, English, health and social studies to help teachers easily incorporate into their existing curriculums.

Teaching empathy is an important component in helping children survive and thrive today. The State of Illinois, recognizing a missing cog in the education wheel, now actually requires all school districts to teach social and emotional skills as part of their curriculum. In particular, positive self-esteem and empathy are key components of a healthy self image, and the best safeguard against bullying behavior and disrupted classrooms.

For example, in one ELAP students get in touch with how it feels to be negatively judged. They share their experiences in a peer learning environment and learn to recognize when they are negatively judging others and, most importantly themselves (self bullying). They are taught how to how to cancel out the negative judgments and replace them with positives. Reports from students surveyed six weeks after the lesson show 93% now recognize when they are having negative judgments against themselves and others; 83% state they learned how to cancel out negative judgments and replace them with positive thoughts. 58% indicate that no one has bullied them.

Current research has been conducted by Roger Weissberg, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois (Chicago) and president of the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning based at the University of Illinois. He and his colleagues recently completed an analysis of 300 scientific studies and reached two important conclusions: First, students enrolled in [social and emotional learning] empathy teaching programs scored at least 10 percentage points higher on achievement test than peers who weren't. Second, discipline problems were cut in half.