Today my 7th graders created questions about “Empathy.” This was their first week of school and today was the second day of class for them (they are on an A/B Block schedule). As a Design class I want them understanding the idea of Empathy. As an International Baccalaureate (IB) school the students are expected to understand empathy as well. So here’s what I did and the results of their work:

Step One – I gave them a quote about empathy from Seth Godin – –>

Empathy doesn’t involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest
answer to the question, “why did they do what they did?”
The useful answer is rarely, “because they’re stupid.” Or
even, “because they’re evil.” In fact, most of the time, people with
similar information, similar beliefs and similar apparent choices will choose
similar actions. So if you want to know why someone does what they do, start
with what they know, what they believe and where they came from.

Dismissing actions we don’t admire merely
because we don’t care enough to have empathy is rarely going to help us make
the change we seek. It doesn’t help us understand, and it creates a gulf that
drives us apart

Step Two – I asked them to experience the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to create questions about the quote that we will explore in the future. The one problem? They had never experienced the QFT either. So we walked through the process – slowly. 

The result (from two of my classes) follows. Considering they are 7th graders and it is early in the year, I’m pretty happy with their questions. See for yourself (the categories are mine and were done after I collected them):


1. What
is empathy?
was the term “empathy” created?
did empathy originate?
do humans feel empathy?
is empathy so important?
6.Do a
LOT of people show empathy?
this mean that empathy makes you a better person, or not?
it easy to express empathy?
is empathy often described as “feeling sorry?”
do we know if someone is expressing empathy?
11. What
are the reasons we show empathy?
animals show empathy?
do we as human species feel empathy at all?
is the difference between empathy and reason?
is the difference between empathy and pity?
is empathy so complicated?
does empathy make a big difference in who we are?
is it important for people to have empathy?
is empathy different from person to person?
does empathy between two people fracture?
does empathy hinder someone?
is empathy an IB Learner Profile Trait?
1. Who
is Seth Godin?
What caused Seth Godin to write this?
What did Seth Godin want us to learn from this?
4. Why
should we be empathetic towards people who are “stupid” or “evil.”
5. Is
violence ever the answer?
What should the “useful answer” be?
7. Why
do people hate people?
8. Why
is accusing someone rarely the answer?
9. Why
can’t everyone be honest?
1. Why
is sympathy easier to show than empathy?
2. Is
empathy worse or better than sympathy?
3. How
many people don’t know the difference between empathy and sympathy?
What happens when you combine empathy and sympathy?

Many of these questions are closed and can be answered quickly with a little help from Google. But there are some very open questions as well. I like several of them.  For example, the one about whether empathy makes you a better person.

We will be exploring these questions over the next few weeks. Some of the questions may never get totally answered. But I have a feeling these students are on the path to becoming great design thinkers. And that gives them a swinging chance at being a great person. That’s my personal goal in every class I teach -> Have I helped my students become better citizens of the world? I’ll keep you posted. 

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