In the Roots of Empathy (ROE) program, children in a given classroom are visited monthly by a baby and parent for the duration of the school year. A ROE instructor facilitates the visits as well as class discussions before and after each visit. Children learn that babies (and by extension all people) have different temperaments. They also learn to read the baby's cues and witness the attunement securely attached babies enjoy with their caregivers. For some children it's their first chance to observe healthy parent/child bonds, and it gives them hope. Furthermore, the babies interact with all children positively, even the outcasts or "troubled" children, giving such children the opportunity to experience being seen in a positive light.
It might not immediately seem intuitive, but the use of a baby to teach empathy is brilliant in its simplicity. It's also overwhelmingly effective. Research confirms that ROE classrooms have less bullying, more cooperation, and the children involved go on to be successful members of society.
What I'm Reading
Mary Gordon doesn't just educate, she is a fierce advocate for children. I found myself agreeing with her philosophy and point of view throughout the book while marveling at her kind and magnanimous approach. She knows that as a culture we can do better by our children, and she seems to believe that profound change is within reach. Her goal isn't to share idealistic views which will never come to fruition; she actually puts her values into practice and changes children's lives. She is one of my new heroes, and I will continue to follow her work closely.
"The idea that independence represents strength and interdependence is a weak distant cousin is deeply flawed" (Page 39).
"What we do with our babies and children today determines the future of our community, our country, and the world" (Page 55).
"Do we value kindness as much as we value scoring goals in a hockey game? Do we value compassion and helpfulness as much as getting an A in math?" (Page 160).
"It is not enough to know that the sustained and loving engagement of parents is the single most influential factor on the healthy growth of the human child and if that knowledge is not acted on - if we continue to leave parents, especially the most vulnerable of them, to struggle alone without the support and resources they need to give their child a healthy start in life. We have to stop the rhetoric and do the things that will put children first. We need to honor parents and recognize the interdependence between family-friendly societies, competent parenting, and healthy, confident children" (Pages 221-222).
"As a society we have an obligation to ensure that when parents, for whatever reason, are unable to provide a model of warm, responsive parenting, this deficit does not become the destiny of their children. It is not useful to blame and shame adults for deficits in parenting that they inherited. It is constructive to help parents to take responsibility in their parenting by providing the supports that are required. We have an obligation to halt the cycle, to give every child an alternative, and to open the door to caring and trust for them..." (Pages 222-223).