Roots of Empathy

Overview

Roots of Empathy — an evidence-based program developed in 1996 by longtime educator and social entrepreneur Mary Gordon — has already reached more than 270,000 children in Canada, the U.S., Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere.

Now, as The New York Times reports that "empathy lessons are spreading everywhere amid concerns over the pressure on students from high-stakes tests and a race to college that starts in kindergarten", Mary Gordon explains the value of and how best to nurture empathy and social and emotional literacy in all children — and thereby reduce aggression, antisocial behavior, and bullying.

Reviews

[an] impressive book. ... We hear a good deal about emotional intelligence. Gordon's brilliant idea is to first show how it might be learned. Her program is closely in tune with how we Canadians think of ourselves. It’s a bold and wonderful idea, part of a movement to put empathetic understanding of other people alongside the academic concerns of education and close to the centre of society.

The Globe and Mail

... this is an important book as it cogently offers us another piece to fill in the puzzle of human behaviour. It reminds us, as David Hume said, that ‘the heart has reasons reason cannot comprehend.

Winnipeg Free Press

Roots of Empathy is rife with stories of schoolyard bullies converting to supportive classmates... it is a wonderfully fluid book, with a hopeful model that constitutes a new model for child rearing...

Canadian Jewish News

... a comprehensive guide to fostering empathy and thus social responsibility among children and adults.

Quill & Quire

Can babies prevent bullying? It may sound far-fetched, but [this] program that brings infants into classrooms is making huge waves.

Halifax Daily News

This brilliant program belongs in every classroom in every school in every country of the world, forever. There's no better way to teach empathy — the essential human trait.

[Roots of Empathy] is not just a great program, it's genius because it understands that empathy is inside all of us, and the baby elicits it.

Gordon's thesis, sprung from years of working both as a teacher and as the driving force behind parenting and family literacy centres, was to introduce babies into the classroom and watch them work their magic as catalysts for emotional and social learning. Damned brilliant... There's a story in the book — one of many — that took my breath away. Darren was in Grade 8, with a hideous background of horror and neglect. The young mom in Darren's Roots of Empathy class informed the group that her much-loved baby had a preference for taking an outward looking posture when snuggled in his Snugli. Darren asked if he could try the Snugli. Into the Snugli went the babe, facing Darren's chest, at peace. Darren rocked the baby, quietly for a bit, off by himself. And then he asked this question of the mother: 'If nobody has ever loved you, do you think you could still be a good father?'

Toronto Star

This book displays the extraordinary value of the Roots of Empathy program, probably the best program of its kind to support optimal early childhood development and to help communities build tolerant pluralistic democratic societies.

There is nothing more cruel or wasteful than the marginalization that cripples perhaps a third of humanity, drags down economics, and contributes so much to prejudice and destructive self hate. Roots of Empathy cuts right to the roots of this plague. It opens a door that allows children to escape the closed circle of aggression begetting aggression. It frees them to begin the long process of learning and mastering the empathy based ethics that is central to their world and the world's future.

The premise of the program is simple: by fostering empathy in children, more respectful and caring relationships are built, bullying and aggression is reduced and the legacy of empathy is passed on to future generations... But relax, parents. There are no special lessons that must be taught. Empathy is something that develops through the magic of everyday moments. In her book, Gordon talks about the six strands of human connection, each contributing to the development of empathy.

The Standard, St. Catherines

Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child would make an excellent inclusion in teacher professional and personal libraries as well as in parenting reference libraries. Parents and teachers who share the education of children will find in the pages of this book inspiration and direction for providing students with a healthy and effective learning environment.

Resource Links

About the Authors

Mary Gordon

Posted by Kendra on December 6, 2014
Mary Gordon photo

Mary Gordon

In 1981 Mary Gordon founded Canada's first and largest network of Parenting and Family Literacy Centres. In 1996 she went on to found Roots of Empathy, which now reaches more than 20,000 students in eight provinces and has been piloted in Japan and Australia. Gordon is a recipient of an Ashoka Fellowship, The Fraser Mustard Award, and a Distinguished Canadian Educator Award and the Order of Canada.