Sunday, October 17, 2010

CRSTE Keynote: Alan November Says Empathy is Our Most Important 21st Century Skill

Alan November presented this keynote address on empathy as a 21st Century Skill.  November has written extensively on web literacies.  A former social studies teacher, November heads his consulting firm, November Learning, which custom designs professional development for educators.

November postulates that empathy, particularly global empathy, may be our most important 21st century skill.  He cited conversations with human resource managers who stated that the most important skill his people working abroad need is the ability to understand and work effectively within the culture he is assigned. November feels that this can be achieved by exposing our children to alternative points of view.  An example of this would be exploring the Vietnam War, which the Vietnamese call the American War, through the eyes of the Vietnamese or the American Revolution through the eyes of the British.

I don't disagree with November's thesis, nor do I doubt the necessity and virtue of seeing all points of view.  I certainly think empathy is essential and could even bring about something as miraculous as world peace.  However I think November's approach to viewing history from the opposing point of view would be received as kindly in some communities as Darwinism and sex education.  Educators must be selective in how they proceed. Maybe that's just election year cynicism talking.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of this session came from the input of a session attendee named Samantha who has recently taught units on empathy with her sixth and seventh grade students.  She held a parent meeting prior to beginning of the unit and explained what the unit would entail.  Parent support was extremely positive.  Samantha explained that her next unit was on cyberbullying; a student asked "If we have empathy for him, why would we bully him?"

I really appreciate that sessions such as these can be used for TIS renewal credit.  I think West Virginia's entire professional development plan for teachers should be reworked to include these opportunities in lieu of some of the other face-to-face workshops we must attend.  Exposure to a more global view of education would certainly expand our thinking about how we will present our curriculum.

CRSTE archives its recordings for anyone to view.  To find the archive,  for this session keep checking the CRSTE Global Symposium site.

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