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More is needed to bring empathy into action in schools

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This short blogpost, published on the Edutopia website in 2011 by Dr. Maurice Elias of Rutgers University in the U.S., challenges the idea that empathy is what we need to focus on if we want children to be able to go out of their way to help others. In this blog post, Elias refers to an article on empathy in the New York Times by David Brooks to explain why kids are not moved to action more frequently when they witness acts of bullying in school, or when they learn about populations who are suffering. From this article, Elias emphasizes two factors within the individual that are just as critical for driving helping actions as empathy- that the individual needs to feel positively about herself/himself and that action follows from a moral code that is meaningful to the individual.

Elias calls for schools to focus on more than teaching empathy, and proposes that schools have an opportunity to engage in the development of students’ moral codes, and need to go beyond codes of conducts and core values of schools that are “more verbiage that vital laws of life for students and the staff”.