How does one become an empathetic person? Why are some children more empathetic than others? These are questions that we often ask ourselves as educators due to the developmental stages of the individuals we spend most of our time with at work. I don’t know that there is a “right” answer to these questions, but I do believe that awareness of our own experiences and those of others is a crucial first step in the development of empathy. For me, a lot of this learning occurred by reading books.
Along with a knowledge of different experiences, empathy requires a general picture of what every individual should have access to as a human being. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was issued by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, as a response to the Second World War. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, created by the same international organization, took effect on September 2, 1990. These two documents represent a series of basic rights to which every human being is entitled.
Two books that do a remarkable job of explaining these rights in language that young people will understand are Every Human Has Rights created by National Geographic and A Life Like Mine developed by Dorling Kindersley in association with UNICEF. Every Human Has Rights includes brief statements which summarize each of the 30 universal rights along with photos and writings from young people around the world. A Life Like Mine organizes individual vignettes about children around the rights defined by the Convention.
Both of these books will inspire conversations around what these rights mean to children in our classrooms. What does “every human in the world must be treated as a person” mean in our world today (Universal Declaration of Human Rights)? If “every child should have a home” why don’t they (Convention on the Rights of the Child)? Imagine the writing projects that could stem from the question, “What can we do to ensure this right is a given for every person or child?”
Knowing what justice looks like is one of the first steps in addressing injustice in our world. These texts are wonderful ways to introduce this concept to students.
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Diversity 8: I want to know more about other people’s lives and experiences, and I know how to ask questions respectfully and listen carefully and non-judgmentally.
Justice 14: I know that life is easier for some people and harder for others based on who they are and where they were born.
Action 16: I pay attention to how people (including myself) are treated, and I try to treat others how I like to be treated.
Action 19: I will speak up or do something when I see unfairness, and I will not let others convince me to go along with injustice.
Action 20: I will work with my friends and family to make our school and community fair for everyone, and we will work hard and cooperate in order to achieve our goals.
RI.5 – Use text features to locate information relevant to a topic efficiently.
RI.7- Use information gained from illustrations and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text.
W.1- Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.
W.9- Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.