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empathy

Can Studying Spanish Increase Your Empathy?

We feel more empathy towards people with whom we have something in common, and what more could you have in common with someone than a shared language?  Could learning a foreign language increase our empathy towards speakers of that language?  It’s certainly possible.  But I want to focus on a different question about language learning and empathy.  Can learning to use the indirect object—an important grammar structure in Spanish—increase our sensitivity to how our actions may affect others, thereby making us more empathetic? 

Ethical Thinking

I have always wanted to teach ethics and philosophy in a high school English class, and this year I started my AP Literature class with Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. I like to call this an “anchor-text,” as it provides a framework for understanding the literature we will be investigating throughout the course. But it is really much more powerful than this. We can use ethics to see the choices of literary characters in a more objective way, and not in a morass of relativism and emotional confusion.

Does Literature Matter?

I had no expectation of teaching To Kill a Mockingbird this year. After all, The Beekman School is a high school, and most American students encounter Harper Lee's seminal work in middle school. But, to my astonishment, many of my students (and not just the international ones!) had not read the book. I myself had not cracked it open since the 8th grade. Teaching this book not only reacquainted me with Lee’s lifelike characters, but it also reminded me of why I chose to teach literature in the first place.

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