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Roots of Empathy: Changing the World, Child by Child [Paperback]

Mary Gordon , Michael Fullan
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 13 2007

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.

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[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. (Raffi Cavoukian, singer, author, ecology advocate)

[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. (The Honourable Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario)

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. (Dr. J. Fraser Mustard, Founding President and Institute Fellow, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research)

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. (Bill Drayton, Chair and CEO of Ashoka Innovators for the Public, USA)

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 Author

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. Born and raised in Newfoundland, Gordon now lives in Toronto.

Michael Fullan is Professor Emeritus, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars an answer to promoting empathy Aug. 9 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had never heard of the movement to take parents and young babies in to schools. It seemed like such a fine idea and the studies done evaluating the programs proved that children learned a lot from these sessions. Anything at all that will reduce children's anger and alienation should be implemented by caring adults. We throw away "kids" like disposable diapers, all over the world, even in civilized countries!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Roots of empathie livre en anglais Jan. 22 2012
j'ai bien lu la traduction du premier chapitre du livre sur le site de Racines de l'empathie. Pouvez-vous me dire comment me procurer la suite en français??
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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Dec 14 2011
Imagine teaching children empathy using baby power! This is the most amazing system for awakening the true human-ness in our children. Eveyone needs to learn about this.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars using kids as teachers April 13 2010
roots of emphaty starts teaching children and adults together
about needs and feelings at a very young age.
the teaching is by experimenting with the reality of feelings of kids
months old and their parents. they learn together about this issue.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone needs to read this great Book! Jan. 14 2011
By Bonny Corbeil - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
If everyone learned at a young age the importance of true compassion, understanding and empathy for other human beings- our world would be very different.
Teaching children information is very different than creating an experience to find out how others feel.
This critically helps us realize our common humanity...how our behavior affects others...what our emotions are...and how what we first-think, say and do -deeply impacts others.It leads to self-responsibilty-excatly what we all need more of.
This is critically important!
This Book and Program shows us how to incorportae this in our schools...through their interactions with babies.
What else happens that is quite amazing is that it gets children to open up about their own feelings...either form their time as babies or in how they may be felling in the "here and now"-
something that is very important.
Thanks for writing this book. I am hoping many others discover it.
Sincerely, Bonny Corbeil.
Virgin Islands.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars To teach kids emotional intelligence, don't tell them, show them May 6 2012
By Sam - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Mary Gordon grew up in a family of super-feelers, with parents deeply concerned about social justice. She couldn't buy black Mary Janes because little girls in India did not have shoes at all. And her family dinner table often included newly released convicts, invited for their first hot meal as free men. Gordon has now taken her extraordinarily high Emotional Intelligence and created a program to spread empathy across the globe, starting with elementary-age children.

The Roots of Empathy program brings newborns into the classroom once a month and uses the experience to build lessons about relationships, parenting, and empathy. The program has been successful in reducing bullying, abusive parenting, and prejudice.

Parents should read Roots of Empathy to learn real-world strategies for encouraging empathy in their own children. Gordon writes, "The instructor uses well-known children's literature to illustrate emotions such as loneliness and sadness and to underscore themes such as inclusion and bullying." Parents can use storytime to talk about feelings with their children, opening up the opportunity for those conversations later in life.

Gordon's overarching premise is that babies are uniquely positioned to teach emotional literacy. Students learn by "observing the baby's experiences and the emotions they inspire; naming the emotions; anchoring the emotion in themselves privately through discussion; reflection, art, and journaling; and discussing their feelings with others." Parents too can take lessons from this progression. The next time your child sees a kid crying is an opportunity for you to help you child expand his or her emotional intelligence.

Gordon also points out practices that inhibit the development of empathy. "Labeling children as the 'Down syndrome child' or the 'immigrant child' is a failure of inclusion," she writes. "It is defining people by their differences and erecting barriers to recognizing their achievements and contributions." Conversely, showing children their commonality with others paves the way for them to be caring, giving adults. The authors of the The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement similarly found that the most effective way to combat the growing wave of narcissism in American society is to create a sense connection with others. They wrote, "When we see ourselves as connected to others, egotism dissipates." Gordon's book puts a how-to lesson behind that conclusion.

Gordon's book, however, is devoid of sociological or psychological research. The book is aspirational, along the lines of, if every classroom adopted the Roots of Empathy, we could change the world. This is repeated over and over in different variants and slows the book down at times.

The book also includes a few dozen drawings from Roots of Empathy students, showing what their wishes for the infants that have acted as their teachers during the school year. Some kids wish for people to be nice to the baby. Others wish for the baby to have safe housing, or to live in a world with no war. The lesson from the drawings is that kids are naturally empathetic, and we only need to encourage those feelings to emerge. Gordon never discusses politics, but the reader might be struck by the fact that none of the children are concerned about wealth transfers or military strength, two constant themes in American political discussion. So there is a political lesson in this book as well: Our children display a natural capacity for empathy. This ingrained concern for others can flourish, if only we seek to show people what they have in common, instead of what pulls them apart. Most American political talk today, however, is about fights among factions--rich versus poor, Keynes versus Hayek, conservative versus progressive. Those divisive conversations kill empathy at its root, and there aren't powerful forces out there to create a balance. We've left it up to people like Mary Gordon to save our natural empathic natures from this destruction. But we need to do more to help them succeed.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars extraordinary program for developing empathy Aug. 6 2010
By Barbara D. Gilbert - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
As a social worker who has been running parenting groups for mothers referred by Child Protective Services for a few years now, I loved this book and the brilliant work and program Dr. Mary Gordon describes in it. I would so love to see this program in all our schools here in the States as I firmly believe it would help our children develop better social and emotional skills on multiple levels. In fact, the kind of sensitive, gentle observing and interacting that this program describes and encourages in the classroom would benefit all of us as it really focuses empathic attention and attunement right where it's needed most, with our infants and young children.
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring! Jan. 29 2014
By Shch - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
I loved the book, I think it is a "must read" for all parents and educators. It is full of hope, insight, and genuine care and love for children and humanity.
5.0 out of 5 stars Very valuable resource May 9 2013
By Anne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book explains the need for empathy education, as well as how using babies as ambassadors for empathy can change classroom and school climate. Well written and organized for anybody interested in creating a similar program.
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