Empathy Trumps Technology

Schools that are keen to market their investments in technology and who promulgate cutting edge education could be providing their students with a successful model; but I said “could be…” as I know that teachers must fit one extremely important piece of the puzzle to fulfill the promise of high quality teaching and learning for today’s and tomorrow’s world—it’s empathy, and it needs to be factored into early childhood education by caring teachers who understand the critical importance of self-awareness, peer collaboration, emotional understanding, and care for others.

DSC_0045 (2)TheUpshot’s columnist Claire Cain Miller wrote a spot-on piece on this topic of learning social skills in preschool—you can click in to see her column here. Ms. Miller cites a Harvard University professor’s study on the importance of being attentive to another’s feelings, but of course we teachers and parents involved with early childhood and elementary education don’t need any formal studies to underscore the importance of empathy. We all know that the pull and sway of the digital age, whether at school or in the consumer marketplace, has established its powerful force in the daily life for our developing children. The anxieties at home should be much less focused on “equipping my kids with the latest tech tools and toys,” and much more on “guiding my children toward respectful and cooperative relationships.”

Ms. Miller also cites the good work and thinking going on at the Clayton Christensen Institute regarding the “softer skills” and “knowing the human touch.” I like that phrase—the softer skills. I know it sounds like something retro and sadly forgotten. But learning needs to be woven into an atmosphere of well-managed and thoughtful socialization. Teachers must be aware of social skills development at all times; teachers need to be aware of their own actions and words, with the aim of exhibiting fairness and equity in the classroom at all times; teachers also must factor in opportunities for cooperative and team learning, especially the kind of team learning that takes place in the way that class discussions take place. The classroom discussion needs to be an interchange of respect and of listening and of acknowledging each other.

As the futurists tell us, if the job today requires only inputs or math or computer savvy, it will likely be a job that will be automated at some point down the road. The scientist Robert Jastrow, who died a dozen years before the invention of the internet, foresaw the pre-eminence of a humanistic society in the far future. He foresaw the mammoth growth and presence of machines and advanced technologies, yet he also saw that the goodness of human beings and their supportive interactions would emerge as the vital, central and most relevant aspect of all societies and their leaders.

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