How to educate for empathy with 10 steps, 1 mirror and lots of windows

July 30, 2013 — Leave a comment

A sure way to teach the value of diverse perspectives is with windows and mirrors and by following these steps. (for more on windows and mirrors check out this post).DSC_0980

1)     Provide Mirrors

Give children books, stories, movies, art work, music, and other expressions of culture that reflect their experience. For example if the child is adopted, provide plenty of stories about adoption.

2)     Collect Windows

What stDSC_0969ories offer you a different cultural, racial, ethnic or religious background? Gather those titles and share them. See how many you can find. Make sure you have more windows than mirrors . If you are Irish Catholic, read fairy tales from China, India. Then read some Jewish and Arabic folktales.

3)     Find the gaps

Study your stories. Do you gravitate to certain perspectives? What viewpoints are missing? Do they focus on a one particular family life style? Are the heroes of your books always white? How might your broaden your understanding?

4)     Seek new vistas

You have your individual take on the world. It’s shaped by family, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity,  race, age, ability, culture, and class. Look for stories out of your comfort zone for each one of these cultural identifiers.

5)     Explicitly teach them

Children as young as kindergartners can be taught to see how things are similar and different from their own experience. Use actual images of windows and mirrors to introduce this concept. Model your own thinking and give lots of examples.

6)     Identify the windows and mirrors

Read a story or study a picture with your child. Share all your mirrors and windows. Encourage children to agree, add or disagree from your observations. For example you might read Grace Lin’s fabulous Red Thread: An Adoption Fairytale.(Stay tuned for an in- depth post). You might say the window for you is that this family came into being through adoption if yours did not. And the mirror you identify could be that all families share love in common.

7)     Connect windows to mirrors

Your mirror in the above example might be that your family also came into being through adoption. And the window could be your family structure has two Dads while the story has a mother and father. You could connect the mirror and window by saying that in both the story and your experience two loving adults raise and care for one child.

8)     Spot your blinders

If you don’t check for windows and mirrors, it is easy to  miss a narrow outlook.  Do you gravitate to stories that reflect your own cultural indicators? Or do you seek out a range of ethnic stories but never read stories about varied abilities? What windows are missing?  Study identity indicators. Which do you never think about? Find those stories.

9)     Ask for help

Get suggestions from teachers, librarians, parents  or by contacting me for books that can round out your world view. Reach out and ask a variety of people to share their stories with you. Always do this with the mindset of appreciative inquiry and respectfully understand it’s just one story not everyone’s story.  Return the favor. Sharing stories is our connecting glue.

10) Do it again

Wherever you go, whatever you do, ask yourself, is this a window or a mirror?  Do I have more mirrors at my workplace? More windows? How about for my colleagues? What can these observations teach me? What stories are missing?  Why? No matter what, enjoy the lifelong journey – One story at a time!

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