Roots of Empathy — Mary Gordon

Roots of EmpthyRoots of Empathy is a program that tries to teach schoolchildren empathy. Empathy is a crucially important quality: it can help overcome the problem of the “ethical fade“. And it seems obvious that empathic people are probably just nicer people.

Roots of Empathy works through regular class visits from a newborn baby and parent. Over the year of the Roots of Empathy program, the schoolchildren are able to see the baby grow and develop, and experience first-hand the bond between parent and baby. It seems to be quite successful in instilling worthwhile values, even in children that are hard to reach any other way. This books describes the program and tells its story.

The book says, “There is no unimportant day in a child’s life; every moment, every conversation, every activity is important.” (p. 209) This is what the schoolchildren discover as they encounter the newborn. But it also applies to the children themselves: they begin to see that their interactions with each other are no less important.

Children also learn during the program how important the parent’s attitude to the baby is. “his parents … are his first and most powerful teachers” (p. 217). This chimes perfectly with one of the core tenets of Playcentre, New Zealand’s unique parent-led early childhood organisation: “Parents are the first and best educators of children.” Playcentre and Roots of Empathy seem to be coming from the same place. Maybe it’s no coincidence that New Zealand was the first country outside Canada to have the Roots of Empathy program.

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