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At KidUnity we are excited about the ways in which mindfulness training can encourage empathy, kindness, and service. We are also keenly aware of the recent - and valid - critiques of mindfulness as part of an individualistic and depoliticized extension of therapy culture. Here's a look at this subject from The Guardian:
"By negating and downplaying actual social and political contexts and focusing on the individual, or more so, the individual’s brain, McMindfulness interventions ignore seeing our inseparability from all others. They ignore seeing our inseparability from inequitable cultural patterns and social structures that affect and constitute our relations, and thereby ourselves. McMindfulness thus forfeits the moral demand that follows this insight: to challenge social inequities and enact universal compassion, service and social justice in all forms of human endeavor."
Teaching our Kids about Failure and Resilience
Two useful articles about failure, why its necessary, and how to learn from it -
"It’s natural for parents to want to protect their children from disappointment, but doing so can ultimately lower their self-esteem and set them up for more difficulty in the future. HuffPost spoke to educators and child development experts about the importance of teaching kids about failure and resilience." - You Need To Teach Your Kid How to Fail. Here's How. By Caroline Bologna
"Many students who began science degrees with me switched to other majors the first time a project failed. One failure and they were gone,” Sara Whitlock, a structural biology graduate student, wrote in STAT, about the importance of what she called 'scientific resilience.' Learning not to give up is one of the most important lessons for becoming a successful scientist. Studies have shown that resilience and higher tolerance for failure can keep people in science." - Scientists Need To Talk More About Failure by Emily Dreyfuss
December 2018, by Amy Joyce
"Parents can’t just assume their children will become generous people. They have to work at it as they do with table manners. And it has to be constant.
People often wait until the holidays to perform acts of generosity, “but this has to be a 365-day affair,” says Michele Borba, author of “Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.” “We have to add it to our parenting so they turn out to be generous.”
She suggests pointing out the acts of generosity we experience on a daily basis, so kids can start to understand how to integrate it in their own lives." (Washington Post)
December 2018, by Braden Bell
"Tell them you want to ask them some questions. Assure them that there’s no subtext of criticism, that you just want to hear what they think, and that this won’t take a long time. Tell them at the outset that you are taking yourself out of the running for any of the answers to the questions. That will reduce some pressure and help them open up. As you follow up, avoid sounding like you are interrogating or judging them. Teens are especially sensitive to that. Ask questions to help you understand where they’re coming from. When they really sense genuine interest, you might be surprised by how much they’ll open up. Here are 25 questions from which to choose...." (Washington Post)
November 2018 by Danielle Allen
"Over millennia, humankind has been able to invent the tools that make it possible to cultivate such oases for all of us — the rule of law, constitutionalism, an expectation that free and equal citizens can rule and be ruled, in turn, in a polity that defines membership inclusively on principles of human equality. ...
But these inventions do not put millennia between us and the alternative of disorder, domination, disunion and despair. They scarcely put more than one generation between us and those things. It is always only a question of whether we can keep alive for another generation the peace-bringing knowledge, the freedom-protecting expertise, and the equality-respecting wisdom.
This is why I have committed myself to the work of civic education, not only in my classroom, but also in my efforts to support the renewal of civic education in our K-12 system. I wish there were more of us pursuing this work."
Boys to Men: Teaching and Learning About Masculinity in an Age of Change
I recently visited Phillips Academy where the ninth graders spent a day discussing toxic masculinity and watching The Mask You Live In. This powerful documentary "follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Research shows that compared to girls, boys in the U.S. are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives."
This film led me to a great resource that the NYT published - "Boys to Men: Teaching and Learning About Masculinity in an Age of Change." This NYT story is more of a teaching resource than a traditional feature or editorial. It links to a series of "projects students might take on to expand and reimagine what 'being a man' might mean in their own lives and in our society at large."
The questions it raises are crucial for our time and would for great dinner table conversation.
Brain Pickings by Maria Popova has a beautiful review of Sy Montgomery's How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals. The book explores how our observations of - and relationships with - animals teaches us a a great deal about being better versions of ourselves.
Popova writes that Sy Montgomery, "one of the most poetic science writers of our time," provides "an autobiographical adventure into the wilderness of our common humanity, where the world of science and the legacy of Aesop converge into an existential expedition to uncover the elemental truth that 'knowing someone who belongs to another species can enlarge your soul in surprising ways.'"
"Looking back on her unusual and passionate life of swimming with electric eels, digging for mistletoe seeds in emu droppings, and communing with giant octopuses, Montgomery reflects on what she learned about leadership from an emu, about ferocity and forgiveness from an ermine, about living with a sense of wholeness despite imperfection from a one-eyed dog named Thurber (after the great New Yorker cartoonist and essayist James Thurber, who was blinded in one eye by an arrow as a child), and about what it takes for the heart to be “stretched wide with awe.”
New Kids' Books Put A Human Face On The Refugee Crisis (NPR) and Children’s Authors Take On the Refugee Crisis (NYT)
"We are hearing from our branch libraries, kids and parents are looking for these stories, " says Stephanie Anderson, assistant director of selection at the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library. "I think there is a trend, and a huge readership." It's also a way to push back against a political climate that demonizes refugees and Muslims, says Laura Simeon, who's the Young Adult editor at Kirkus. "The industry is paying attention."
Also see the NYT article Children’s Authors Take On the Refugee Crisis - "It’s really important to engage children with the world as it is, and the world right now is a very complicated place,” said Zareen Jaffery, executive editor of Salaam Reads, a Muslim-themed children’s imprint at Simon & Schuster.(https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/06/books/refugee-crisis-childrens-books.html)
Jamil Zaki, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University, has spent years studying how kindness can be transmitted. “We find that people imitate not only the particulars of positive actions, but also the spirit underlying them,” according to his 2016 article in Scientific American. “This implies that . . . kindness itself is contagious, and that . . . it can cascade across people, taking on new forms along the way.” For instance, he found that people made larger charitable gifts when they believed others were generous “than when they thought people around them were stingy.” Even more interesting, Zaki learned that when people cannot afford to donate, “an individual’s kindness can nonetheless trigger people to spread positivity in other ways.”
Emmons and other researchers see the social dimension as being especially important to gratitude. “I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion,“ writes Emmons, “because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”
Because gratitude encourages us not only to appreciate gifts but to repay them (or pay them forward), the sociologist Georg Simmel called it “the moral memory of mankind.” This is how gratitude may have evolved: by strengthening bonds between members of the same species who mutually helped each other out.
In terms of gender, the results are almost always the same. Both men and women almost always draw men.
“Even when the drawings are gender neutral,” which is uncommon, Dr. Kiefer said in an email, “the majority of groups present the drawing using language that indicates male (he) rather than neutral or female.”
The Wall Street Journal - by Jennifer Breheny Wallace
‘Gratitude can be cultivated at any age.’ A growing body of research points to the many psychological and social benefits of regularly counting your blessings. The good news for parents: It also suggests that it’s never too late for their children to learn the subtle joys of appreciating the good in their lives. Gratitude can be cultivated at any age, whether it finds expression as a mood, a social emotion or a personality trait.
Researchers find that people with a grateful disposition are more thankful for a wider variety of things in their lives, such as their friends, their health, nature, their jobs or a higher power—and that they experience feelings of gratitude more intensely. For them, gratitude isn’t a one-off “thank you.” It’s a mind-set, a way of seeing the world.
Harvard Graduate School of Education
Parents and teachers will make various decisions about whether, when, and how to begin to speak to children about traumatic events such as what happened in Parkland. (Read more about that here.) But no matter how young your students, there are many ways they can show their civic engagement.
Children Are Citizens, part of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero, is dedicated to the notion that children are not just future citizens; they are citizens now, with the right to express their opinions and participate in the civic and cultural worlds around them. On almost any issue, children have views, thoughts, and ideas that are both valid on their face and potentially refreshing as additions to an adult narrative, says Ben Mardell, a leader of the initiative, which has engaged young children in projects that explore — and seek to improve — cultural institutions, parks, and playgrounds.
Harvard Graduate School of Education
We know from research on youth participatory action and youth organizing that when young people are given a voice in shaping the policies and practices in their school, there are benefits for both the young people and the school. The young people benefit from learning the skills and tools necessary to research and articulate their arguments, and from the sense of agency that comes with being an authentic partner in decision-making processes.
Richard Weissbourd, co-director of the Making Caring Common Project (http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?...) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, discusses Raising Caring, Respectful, and Courageous Children and Preventing Cruelty and Bullying.
While kids may bristle at the thought of posting fewer selfies, surveys indicate 55 percent of adolescents enjoy volunteering. And according to a recent study, when it comes to helping others, teens may benefit psychologically from spending time helping strangers.
The study, published in December in the Journal of Adolescence, suggests that altruistic behaviors, including large and small acts of kindness, may raise teens' feelings of self-worth. However, not all helping behaviors are the same. The researchers found that adolescents who assisted strangers reported higher self-esteem one year later.
Philosophy shows that we can acknowledge the very real pain and suffering in the world today while still living with hope. And hope can be seen as a transformative way of enjoying an otherwise bleak present. Hope is a way of living felicitously despite dark times, believing that tomorrow can be better than today. This does not mean that one passively waits for everything to come out all right in the end. Rather, hopeful people desire a certain outcome, and believe that it is possible.
September 8, 2017
Welles Crowther, 24, a rookie equities trader from Upper Nyack, N.Y., who died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, became known as the Man in the Red Bandana, for the handkerchief he wore as a protective mask while assuming a rescuer’s role in the South Tower before it collapsed.
He is credited with helping at least 10 people escape the tower in several trips up and down stairwells, before perishing alongside a group of New York City firefighters.
His is one of the countless stories of heroism from that dark day, which marks its 16th anniversary on Monday. His story has been told numerous times, but it is laid out in dramatically poignant detail in a new documentary, “Man In Red Bandana,” which opens this weekend at several New York-area theaters and is also being released online.
September 6, 2017 By Richard Weissbourd and Howard Gardner
"For decades, we have neglected to do something fundamental for any healthy society — raise children who prioritize leading an ethical life, including caring for others and for the common good. In fact, the degree to which we have elevated personal success in child-raising over caring for others may be at an all-time high.
We are obsessed with our children doing well, not doing good. And unless we come to our senses, we will dangerously fray or break the threads that tenuously hold us together.
How did we get here? And how do we get to a better place?"
You’ll Never Be Famous — And That’s O.K.
New York Times, September 2, 2017 By EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH
A new and growing body of research within psychology about meaningfulness confirms the wisdom of Eliot’s novel — that meaning is found not in success and glamour but in the mundane. One research study showed that adolescents who did household chores felt a stronger sense of purpose. Why? The researchers believe it’s because they’re contributing to something bigger: their family. Another study found that cheering up a friend was an activity that created meaning in a young adult’s life. People who see their occupations as an opportunity to serve their immediate community find more meaning in their work, whether it’s an accountant helping his client or a factory worker supporting her family with a paycheck.
As students head to school this year, they should consider this: You don’t have to change the world or find your one true purpose to lead a meaningful life. A good life is a life of goodness — and that’s something anyone can aspire to, no matter their dreams or circumstances.
New York Times, August 2017
The tricky part about teaching empathy to children is that you can’t really teach it. You can only inspire it. Like its sister words, kindness and compassion, empathy is wakened in the soul. With very young children, it’s best to tickle it awake, but it takes a light touch. That’s where a good picture book comes in handy. If a child can relate to a character or become immersed in a story, she begins to have feelings outside of her own direct realm of experience. The spark of empathy, delivered gently, can then grow. These five new picture books not only embolden children to think, but inspire them to feel...
By R. J. PALACIO
Overhauling one high-school subject is our best hope for the future of democracy
To holistically prepare this new generation for life in an open society, what’s needed is a new model for high-school civics; one that integrates American history and government, critical thinking, media literacy, and digital literacy. The goal of such education should not be merely to instill understanding of our online civic landscape, but how to navigate and participate in it in constructive and meaningful ways: Not what to think, but how to think.
September 24, 2016
Common Sense Media -
"How do you bolster these strengths as well as teach key skills such as teamwork, communication, and perseverance? For the most part, kids will learn these things by following your example and through experience gained at school and in their communities. But media is another entry point."
"From Facebook and Instagram to YouTube, social media is ripe with character lessons. If you notice a post, photo, or video of something especially touching or beautiful, share it with your kid and comment on how much courage it took for the poster to share their story or creative expression.
Discuss the risks involved with putting yourself out there and how important it is to take (reasonable) risks to be true to yourself, even though you might face criticism."
Passion and Civic Engagement
Yale is making some changes to its freshman application. While high school students applying to the elite US university were previously given free rein on its secondary essay requirement (“Reflect on something you would like us to know about you”), applicants this year will face a set of newly specific questions:
What is a community to which you belong? Reflect on the footprint that you have left.
Reflect on a time in the last few years when you felt genuine excitement learning about something.
Write about something that you love to do.
Empathy, as it turns out, is a skill—akin to math or science or writing—that must be taught, over and over and over. And it must be taught. Not only does empathy help turn children into more pleasing people; it also is a key to forging social connections that contribute to overall happiness and success.
February 11, 2016
From one vantage point, the emboldened political attitudes of these 18- and 19-year-olds mirror a rise in volunteerism and commitment to others also captured in the survey — offering evidence disputing the view of younger Americans as narcissistic or incurious about the world. The 2015 survey also shows that 40 percent of freshman students believe it is “essential” or “very important” to become community leaders, representing the highest share of students with that opinion in the survey’s history. Nearly three-quarters of those who took the survey indicated that helping others in difficulty is an important goal, the highest such result since the question was first asked in 1966.
Teaching a social justice curriculum at a private school comes with its own unique challenges. Swalwell says the teacher expressed concern about alienating students for critiquing their status and privilege. She also feared parents or students might accuse her of indoctrination or pushing a social agenda in class. While there were no reports or complaints, Swalwell says it's important for teachers to recognize the tension that exists.
Swalwell's case study is intended to provide support and research-based methods for teachers and schools grappling with these issues. Her research shows the most effective class activities and lessons emphasized personal connections to injustice and building relationships with marginalized groups. Lessons that had no emotional connection or focused on abstract knowledge did not produce the desired outcomes for social-justice education.
Do These Jeans Make Me Look Unethical?
What if your friend bragged that she'd just bought a brand of jeans because she'd checked out the company's practices and made sure they were ethical — no child labor, no polluting the environment by the manufacturer.Maybe you'd thank her for the info, even be inspired to change your own buying habits.But a study suggests a lot more of us would have an opposite reaction: "Boy," we'd think, "that friend is 'preachy' and 'less fashionable.' "The study, which will be published in the July edition of the Journal of Consumer Psychology but is already available online, builds on earlier research suggesting that most shoppers experience a kind of ethical dissonance: If we're actually told that a specific product was produced in an unethical way, we won't want to buy it. Yet given the choice, most of us would rather not know the backstory. We won't make the effort to, say, download an app or check out a website that could give us ethical ratings of manufacturers. And the reason we avoid this extra checking-up is at least partly that we're unconsciously afraid of being upset by what we'll discover.
January 7, 2016
They also found that some, older kids would reject advantageous offers. None of that is surprising. A.I. has been documented among adults many times in the past; in one early study, from behavioral economist George Loewenstein and his colleagues, as many as sixty-six per cent of participants disliked getting more than someone else. The surprising part is that the kids only displayed A.I. in three countries: Canada, the United States, and Uganda. In the other countries—Mexico, India, Senegal, and
Students Serve As Pallbearers For Homeless Veterans Without Families
A service team at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School is calling on students to serve as pallbearers at the funerals of unclaimed, homeless veterans. The pilot program had its first outreach on Oct. 20, with six juniors and seniors from the high school in attendance to honor the lives of three fallen Detroit military members.
October 17, 2015
Given that adversity is linked with anxiety and depression, why does compassion ever emerge from it?
The reason, we suspect, is that compassion isn’t as purely selfless as it might seem. While it might appear to be a response to the suffering of others, it is also a strategy for regaining your own footing — for resilience in the face of trauma. After all, having strong social relationships is one of the best predictors of psychological well-being in the long run, and so anything that enhances your bonds with others — like expressing compassion for them — makes you more resilient...
In both studies, the results were the same. Those who had faced increasingly severe adversities in life — loss of a loved one at an early age, threats of violence or the consequences of a natural disaster — were more likely to empathize with others in distress, and, as a result, feel more compassion for them. And of utmost importance, the more compassion they felt, the more money they donated (in the first study) or the more time they devoted to helping the other complete his work (in the second).
What is The One Word the Dictionary Should Add This Year?
Upstander is a term frequently used in Facing History resources and classrooms to describe people that take action on behalf of others – the opposite of the more commonly-used bystander (which is included in the dictionary). “We define it as a person who chooses to take positive action in the face of injustice in society or in situations where individuals need assistance,” Mahal says.
The OED adds newly popular words to its pages throughout the year. So how do you go about getting a word added? “That’s a good question,” Mahal says. “There’s no simple way, but there are two steps you can take – one is to create awareness and the other is to prove that the word has been published and is used in sources.”
So in January, Mahal and Decker created a Change.org petition that invites people to support the movement and add their name to a letter addressed to the Oxford English Dictionary. To date, nearly 400 people – from countries including Germany, China, Canada, and states from California to Connecticut – have signed on.
“It makes me really happy to see that this idea of standing up for what’s right, it’s so simple it resonates with people from different cultures and countries, who speak different languages,” Mahal says.
In November 2016, a new president will be elected to serve a four-year term, so now is an ideal time to start teaching kids about the presidential election process.
Even though they may not be quite old enough to vote, kids can still benefit from learning about elections and how they can take part in the political process.
A new Center for American Progress report describes the importance of service learning - “Given the importance of service learning, colleges cannot keep treating service as merely an extracurricular add-on,” the paper says. “Students from all income backgrounds would benefit from receiving college credit, so they do not have to choose between service and taking longer to graduate.”
Are you holding your own daughter back? Here are 5 ways to raise girls to be leaders.
Think you’re raising your daughter to be a strong leader? Look more closely: You, and the people around her, may unwittingly be doing just the opposite.
Teen boys, teen girls, and, yes, even parents have biases against girls and women as leaders, new research from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and its Making Caring Common project found.
Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist who runs the Making Caring Common project, said he was “surprised by the extent of it … how gendered both the boys’ and the girls’ responses were.” ...
On the school-age level, students were least likely to support granting more power to student councils if white girls were in charge and most likely when white boys were.
Empathy is Actually a Choice
Recent studies have shown that our empathy is dampened or constrained when it comes to people of different races, nationalities or creeds. These results suggest that empathy is a limited resource, like a fossil fuel, which we cannot extend indefinitely or to everyone...
What, then, is the relationship between empathy and morality? Traditionally, empathy has been seen as a force for moral good, motivating virtuous deeds. Yet a growing chorus of critics, inspired by findings like those above, depict empathy as a source of moral failure. In the words of the psychologist Paul Bloom, empathy is a “parochial, narrow-minded” emotion — one that “will have to yield to reason if humanity is to survive.”
While we concede that the exercise of empathy is, in practice, often far too limited in scope, we dispute the idea that this shortcoming is inherent, a permanent flaw in the emotion itself. Inspired by a competing body of recent research, we believe that empathy is a choice that we make whether to extend ourselves to others. The “limits” to our empathy are merely apparent, and can change, sometimes drastically, depending on what we want to feel.
July 13, 2015
Generosity makes our world a better place. It improves the life of the receiver. And it improves the life of the giver. Yet, despite the benefits, generosity is still too rare in our world today.
Instead, our society craves and pursues more at every turn. We seek enjoyment by directing most of our resources towards our own pursuits: security, possessions, experiences, enjoyment, and luxury. Meanwhile, significant opportunities for generosity surround us every day at every turn. In order to unconform our thinking in a consumer-driven world and begin taking greater advantage of the abundant benefits of generosity, we need to shift our worldview.
In this TED talk from RSA Animate, bestselling author Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways it has shaped human development and society.
Jeremy Rifkin is president of the Foundation on Economic Trends and the author of 17 bestselling books on the impact of scientific and technological changes on the economy, the workforce, society and the environment. His books have been translated into more than thirty languages and are used in thousands of universities, corporations and government agencies around the world.
A Cambridge University study by Maria Nikolajeva, professor of education, found that “reading fiction provides an excellent training for young people in developing and practising empathy and theory of mind, that is, understanding of how other people feel and think”.
Neuroscience backs this up. Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, US, say that fiction tricks our brains into thinking we are part of the story. The empathy we feel for characters wires our brains to have the same sensitivity towards real people. Carnegie Mellon University studies discovered that when you get lost in a book your brain lives through the characters at a neurological level.
We show that if students are involved in service-learning projects in which they have a high degree of voice and ownership, their self-concept and political engagement will improve, and they become more tolerant toward out-groups. Conclusion. In short, having a voice in service-learning programs builds citizenship.
Given the wide scope of human behaviour, the right question is therefore not whether we are good, but how we can be better... Three new books, though coming from different fields, help us to approach an answer.
Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others, by David Sloan Wilson, Yale University Press, RRP£16.99 / RRP$27.50, 224 pages
The Altruistic Brain: How We Are Naturally Good, by Donald Pfaff, OUP USA, RRP£16.99 / RRP$24.95, 312 pages
The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically, by Peter Singer, Yale University Press, RRP£14.99 / RRP$25, 232 pages
Inducing a sense of awe in people can promote altruistic, helpful and positive social behavior, according to new research led by UC Irvine psychologist Paul Piff. By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, awe may encourage people to forgo strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others,” said Piff, assistant professor of psychology & social behavior. An article on the research appears online today in the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association.
First, there was the post-Thanksgiving sales spectacle Black Friday and then the online version, Cyber Monday. Now, charitable groups want to start a new holiday tradition...
Giving Tuesday is the brainchild of the 92nd Street Y, a nonprofit cultural and community center in New York. ... the goal is to get people to think about charitable giving in a different way. "Not sitting alone at their kitchen table at the end of the year making those end-of-year contributions, but actually in a group experience where they're sharing that passion with others," she says.
Why Your Brain Wants To Help One Child In Need — But Not Millions
November 5, 2014
"It's really about the sense of efficacy," Slovic says. "If our brain ... creates an illusion of non-efficacy, people could be demotivated by thinking, 'Well, this is such a big problem. Is my donation going to be effective in any way?'"
Slovic's research suggests that the way to combat this hopelessness is to give people a sense that their intervention can, in fact, make a difference.
At Home ~ Here is the place to build a culture of social consciousness within your family. It can start with leading by example and helping your child build the character traits that are conducive to social and environmental awareness. Philanthropy allows you to put your family values, as well as your family’s interests and talents, to good work. We help provides tips, resources and activities for integrating philanthropy into your home and family life.
March 15, 2013
If you don’t model generosity, preaching it may not help in the short run, and in the long run, preaching is less effective than giving while saying nothing at all.
July 18, 2014
It’s never too late to become a good person, but it won’t happen on its own. Children need to practice caring for others and expressing gratitude for those who care for them and contribute to others’ lives. Studies show that people who are in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate, and forgiving—and they’re also more likely to be happy and healthy.
April 22, 2013
A few years ago, I decided to engage my children in my year-end giving and created a system that has worked well to educate them about issues, our community and philanthropy...
Service-Learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.
Through service-learning, young people—from kindergarteners to college students—use what they learn in the classroom to solve real-life problems. They not only learn the practical applications of their studies, they become actively contributing citizens and community members through the service they perform.