Standing Up in the Global Classroom

The perfect storm of the Kony Campaign, the Trayvon Martin tragedy, the Afghanistan massacre, and the Hunger Games premier has swept into classrooms, carpools and kitchen tables across the United States, bringing the issue of the impact of war, violence, racism, and bullying on children front and center. This storm has churned up a remarkable level of outrage and empathy from young and old, as punctuated by President Obama’s poignant and powerful message to Trayvon Martin’s parents.

iEARN understands the importance of helping teachers leverage this teachable moment into action. Past iEARN efforts such as Child Soldier and Holocaust/Genocide and ongoing efforts such as, Civics: Youth Volunteerism and Service, Machinto – Hiroshima and Today, and Good Deeds represent just a few of the hundreds of iEARN projects created by and for teachers and students during the past two decades to channel and amplify empathy for those in need.

iEARN is pleased to support classroom initiatives that address empathy, like the timely new Ashoka Changemakers initiative for schools, Activating Empathy.  iEARN teams in Turkey, Spain, and other countries have worked with Ashoka, which captures the national mood well when it writes:

Empathy is more than just awareness and concern. It is about cultural sensitivity and conflict resolution. It’s about the ability to communicate effectively and understand the motivations of others. Empathy is about standing up, not standing by, uncovering what’s below the surface through active listening and putting words into action.

In Ashoka’s view, teaching empathy will:

  • Encourage social and emotional development;
  • Unlock new ways of viewing problems, opening the door to a new world of potential solutions;
  • Address bullying or aggression in ways that advance understanding of others’ perspectives; and
  • Promote community diversity and a respect for differences.

The first part of Activating Empathy is a competition for prizes, but the long-term vision that Ashoka is developing will include sustaining empathy in classrooms linked globally. We hope this vision resonates with teachers and students, encouraging them to connect with their peers to take action to reduce and ameliorate the impact of war, violence, and bullying on children across the globe.

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