The Language for Feelings
Many people are critical of our education system and we are discovering as the years pass that American children graduating from our school systems are not top notch competitively intelligent specimens of a super power such as the United States of America but are failing academically, socially and sometimes emotionally.
Many of us ask, why is this? It is probably for a culmination of reasons. How should we as a community, neighborhood and country deal with this impending crisis?
Well, Roots of Empathy, a program that teaches emotional literacy has found a way.
The Greater Good website reported on this program founded by Mary Gordon ,which has successfully developed courses that aim to decrease aggression not just in our school systems but outside them as well.
Aggression is becoming more prevalent in America’s economically deprived school districts where many kids are raised in single or no parent families, have no money for the essentials in life and were not taught the social skills to deal with frustration or anger in a constructive manner. Teaching, especially grade level curriculum, in this type of environment can be difficult to say the least.
Most of the issues with learning grade appropriate material are not issues with teaching the student but with keeping their attention and avoiding social breakdowns or individual behavior breakdowns. Gordon comments that most of us are worried about our traditional literacy rates when we should be more concerned about our emotional literacy, our ability to connect to ourselves and one another. She reports, “…if we don’t teach them [disadvantaged children]to relate to others, they will be lost in life—lost in their relationships, they will not have success in their jobs, and we will not have peace in the world.”
An adult can be taught the educational lessons learned in grade school such as identifying the adverb or prepositions in a sentence or combining like constants in an algebraic equation but real life lessons on communication and understanding yourself and others via empathy are not easily learned once you’re an adult. These lessons are not taught in the classroom and appear to be vital in helping students that come from rough neighborhoods work with each other and not fight or misbehave.
Roots of Empathy, a classroom based program for children in kindergarten through eighth grade, involves bringing, to a classroom, an infant and observing its emotional reactions to the world around it. They then address, as a group, what those reactions might be or why they are occurring.
For instance if the baby is crying and nothing seems to be the matter, maybe it is lonely and just wants to be picked up. What would you do if you felt lonely? How would you comfort baby X if he/she just seemed to be lonely? How could someone comfort you?
Gordon points out that her “training” helps children understand that we all feel sad and lonely at times, but we can help one another. In one of her programs a little girl all of a sudden said, “I felt sad when my mommy gave me away because we didn’t afford good food.” Even an omission of a feeling in lieu of suppressing it and then having anger because of it can be beneficial to an individual.
She goes on to state, “I remember working with a group of teenage mothers who had all lived through sexual or physical abuse as children and were now struggling with addiction. They had great difficulty empathizing with their children.”
Being empathetic might seem like a no brainer, but as Gordon illustrates, when you are not exposed to an environment that displays and encourages empathy, usually because of abuse or neglect, then it can be very difficult to give that empathy to someone else even if it is your own helpless baby.