Roots Of Empathy – The Education of the Heart

Ken Robinson in a very charismatic talk at the Dalai Lama center for Peace+Education in 2011 claims education should be not just the education of the mind, but the education of the heart and I wholeheartedly agree. Particularly in relation to Peace Education and nurturing a civil society of responsible and caring citizens, the education of the heart and how to “feel” is just as important. We focus a lot of our educational energy on lecturing on the outside world and I believe Peace Education is the necessary inverse – it invites students to turn their gaze and perspective inward. They key to this inverse is the connection between humans and the power of empathy. In conflict we shut empathy off but empathy holds the power to solve conflict! There are numerous scientific studies that show the student’s early environment plays a large role in who they become as they grow, so this has become common knowledge. Empathy and nurturing emotional intelligence is one of the seven pillars of Peace Education and can be cultivated and groomed at different levels in the classroom. This was absent and not seen as important in my early childhood education, but it was in the household and this can vary from student to student. It is the role and duty of Peace Educators to foster a sense of empathy or increased emotional intelligence in our students and be part of the solution.

Sir Ken Robinson – Educating the Heart and Mind (more specifically the last 10 mintues or so)

“Roots of Empathy” is a unique and award winning yearlong charitable program that is actively part of the solution in a desensitized and emotionally out of touch society. It takes place in a Elementary through Middle schools and has programs available globally. It has been researched and has been proven to create significant change in participating schools. The program pillars are specific and include Emotional Literacy, Neuroscience, Temperament, Male Nurturance, Inclusion, Infant Safety, Perspective Taking, Prevention of Teen Pregnancy, Attachment/Attunement, Participatory Democracy, Infant Development, and Violence Prevention. Instead of targeting violence, bullying, and aggressive behavior directly the program takes a holistic approach and engages all the students in the classroom.“Roots of Empathy” focuses on the relationship between parent and child and gives students the opportunity to observe an infant and its development. This program is at its core a reflective practice, because the students are actively identifying problems with their child and solving them, which effects the way they solve their own problems and manage their own relationships. The program is very personal and children very quickly learn through this program their own temperament traits and the situations that may spike or increase the chances for conflict.

Roots Of Empathy

– A more in depth video

There is a healthy amount of useful information and great resources on the site as well as contact information if you or a school around you is interested in running the program. Many of the activities like asking the students to depict creatively episodes when they felt afraid or helpless and using the community to help create an atmosphere of social responsibility are activities that can be incorporated in any classroom at any level.

Humans uniquely possess the ability to empathize with others, including non-humans. We must embrace this distinct trait and connect students with themselves and their feelings, so they can go on and empathize with friends, family, and people on the opposite side of the globe. If we are to create a future culture of peace, we must start with the future, the children and the power of empathy can go a long way.

Peace Learner Commitments

The above podcast was recorded on Wednesday, November 14th 2012 during the Peace Pedagogy (EDU-596) course I facilitate each year at American University.  As a final assignment for the class I asked each student to develop what I called a “Peace Learner Commitment.”  A Peace Learner Commitment is:

“…a pledge to yourself, and shared with our community, to achieve a goal that seeks to build and foster peaceable learning environments.  This environment can be built in the classroom, your community, among your peers, with your family, in the work place, or for yourself.  The choice is yours.

“The key is for an element of this course that resonated with you – skill, content, activity, attitude, technique, perspective, etc. – to bear fruit outside of the (tiny) classroom we shared this semester.”

In the podcast each student shares what their commitment is.  And listening to this podcast, I can honestly say that it has been a privilege spending an entire semester with this outstanding, kind, and inspirational group of learners. The 14 students all came to the course for different reasons, with different needs, and from different professional and academic backgrounds.  Given the diversity of the learning goals and needs, as the professor for the course I really had to give deep thought to what kinds of assignments were going to actually be useful to the class.

Positive Curiosity Through Creative Sharing

I firmly believe that for peace to be sustainable it has to start with younger generations and on their terms.  “Kids to Kids International” (KTKI) advocates just that. This very special organization believes in creating a global generation of students who are connected to one another through peace and friendship by creating their own picture books. These books are purely created from the imagination of American students, which are then sent to countries where kids live in refugee camps or don’t have access to books for fun. The non-profit organization started in 1996, by author Pat Kibbe while speaking at a school came across an article featuring a young Cambodian refugee holding his most prized position- a post card of the Empire State Building. She incorporated the story of the young child into her speech, the kids where so excited by this that they wanted to write to him. Realizing that he did not speak English one child suggested that they draw pictures. Pat Kibbe was so delighted by their interest that she was determined for the pictures to be given to the young boy. When she arrived at the refugee camp she realized how powerful the idea could be and the organization was created. KTKI is now connecting with kids from over 50 countries and that number is sure to climb.

This project can be incorporated into any grade level curriculum. Mainly the books are children’s books, stories about friendship, animals, and imaginary places. Not only do these books allow for students to be artistically creative, but teachers can also turn it into a history or social studies lesson. The historical aspect comes from researching the country and the people the books will be going to. Students can learn about geographic locations and cultures. Writing skills can be improved by having students brainstorm, write a draft, and a final idea. KTKI, really believes that by engaging the students with meaningful connections it makes learning about the country much more important and builds a lasting positive impression of people from another part of the world.  The books build trusting friendships between students who will probably never meet each other through sharing. American students get a sense of helping people and learning, while the kids who get to enjoy the books will feel cared about and then also become intrigued to learn about where the books came from. This process creates a mutually shared positive curiosity. With the growing interest in the NGO additional aspects have been created and added to the outgoing packages. School supplies and disposable cameras are added so pictures can be taken of the students who are enjoying the books and then sent back to the American students to enjoy and get a real lasting image of those they have impacted. Maps and pictures of the United States are also included so the kids can emotionally connect with where the books came from. Some of these packages are sent to kids who have never had a book or even seen one.  If the students who are creating the picture books truly grasp that it will forever internalize a connection for them to the world by helping them understand that they can make a difference and do so in a peaceful, positive, and an actual effective way. Even if the gesture is just drawing a picture to share!

“Kids to Kids International” helps students develop a global understanding of their role in the world.  It also incorporates some very important peace pedagogies like international and multicultural education. Depending on the material covered about the country and the grade levels taught human rights and conflict resolution could also be incorporated.  This project allows students to use many of their multiple intelligences from visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Most importantly it gets them excited about helping, connecting, and sharing with the world around them. Lasting peace is created by having students create something that want to share with other kids!

Inspiring a Culture of Peace One Mural at a Time!
“How do I get the students interested and excited about learning?” is a question that every teacher in their career asks. The question posed by “Where Peace Lives” is how can we foster peace and cultural understanding through art and media? Well the organization answered both questions with remarkable and inspiring results. For students to learn and be inspired their creative spark must be ignited, voices heard, and self-confidence drawn on.

Where Peace Lives mission statement is to inspire a generation of peace by “instilling a context for a future that creates a new possibility-a culture of peace that is alive and real for everyone”. This is accomplished by teaching young students negotiation techniques, leadership skills, and communication skills focused around reducing aggressive behavior and increasing cultural awareness. The organization has created a program that is being enjoyed in grades first through twelfth all around the world called the Peace Mural Exchange Program. Schools participate by bringing the Where Peace Lives facilitators to the school and having their students get inspired. It is preferred that the school supplies paint; paper, workspace, and other materials specific to their students needs or desires. Something that is great about the program is that it can be participated in after school hours. The workshop is flexible to the schools needs. I think it would be most beneficial if it was an in school activity, but if not all students want to participate then after school would work better.

The peace mural exchange program allows students to express their own values and ideas for peace and in doing so communicating through mutual respect with their fellow classmates all while putting together a beautifully artistic mural that displays their thoughts, feelings, and ideas about peace. In the process students focus on peace in their own lives which continues outward concerning others, community, and society. If you think that is great just wait. The schools exchange their peace murals with other schools. Once they have received their mural they get to ask questions and reflect on how the mural has affected them and their original ideas on peace. The website says that dialogue between the two schools is possible, but I am sure that it is not always considering the projects come from many communities where the technology may not be there. How fantastic is this? You have to check out the murals on the website they are absolutely amazing. You can tell just by looking at them there is hope for the future and that kids get peace and they want peace. Through this project “students learn to create a powerful and lasting context for peace in their lives” (Where Peace Lives). I think teachers and students would benefit from this experience. Teachers would be able to examine the process and later incorporate the knowledge and skills in the schools pedagogy.

The personal benefits that students gain from this experience are immeasurable. Creating something that gives them a voice to share with the world while becoming globally minded people is a giant step in creating a peaceful future.

Checkout the website the murals are Awesome! This blog post cannot even begin to explain this wonderful experience for students all over the world.

The Dhanak Film Club


I first came across this film club through a friend in my Globalization and Culture (CULT 320) class last year who was specializing in South Asian relations.  The Dhanak Film Club is sponsored by the Institute for Peace and Secular Studies in Pakistan.  The Institute is a community supported voluntary effort for the attainment of a peaceful society through non-violent means.  The Dhanak Film Club is one manifestation of this effort.  According to it’s promotional poster, it’s a “film club which goes beyond the black and white categorization of our usual cinematic experience.  Dhanak represents a rainbow of ideas, theme and issues thus providing a unique experience every week” (  One university student, Umer Latif, said “the basic idea behind Dhanak is to raise social and political awareness among the masses as well as underline the importance of common human heritage transcending the bounds of caste, creed and nation” (  The club, hoping to promote empathy and peace through the movies, briefly introduces each movie and follows it with a 15 minute discussion (

This concept of promoting alternative discourse through popular movies is definitely transposable to all cultures.  I believe film clubs would not only be applicable to U.S. educational settings, but would also be very popular among students.  Who wouldn’t want to watch a movie?  There is also a natural desire to discuss the movie with friends afterwards.  I think the key is the way in which that discussion takes place.  This peace-building activity would be very useful in the high school setting where teachers often eliminate most forms of creative learning from the curriculum in an effort to increase the efficiency of lecture-style teaching.  Using popular films in the classroom to engage students in thinking about the nature of societal issues would encourage many students-at-risk in conflicted urban neighborhoods to continue coming to school instead of dropping out.

Logistically-speaking, the teacher could spend one-third of class lecturing on the historic context and educational knowledge needed to understand the film; one-third on watching the film; and the final third of class on discussing the implications of the themes in the film.  Considering it is impossible to watch the whole movie in class, the scenes selected could be used to promote a full-length screening of the film after-school in a film club meeting.  With the use of a TV, a DVD player and access to a public library’s DVD collection, the teacher could easily incorporate this concept into the classroom.

The key is using the film for educational purposes rather than simply making it a free day with no work.  It’s important to use this resource as a pedagogical means to encourage critical thinking on the values promoted through film.  The teacher should make equal time in passively watching the film and actively discussing how the film could be viewed through a peace-building lens rather than a violent one (as is often the case).  The teacher may also choose a film that specifically highlights problems also present in the students’ environment to not only give students alternative endings, but to make students question why these problems are present in their community.  The application of film can be used to promote first empathy and then, community building.  The goal of using this film concept is promoting human rights education in the classroom by teaching students the skills (critical thinking and public speaking) to fight for democratic justice in their own community.  I think both high school teachers and film students/human activists could benefit from starting film clubs in their schools/communities.

Resources: – The Dhanak Film Club website – An article from the January 2011 edition of “Trail Blazer” (An Indian youth magazine) describing the power of film screening as a peace pedagogy

Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots


One of my hero’s growing up was Dr. Jane Goodall.  Here  was a woman,  in the 1960’s, going alone into the jungles of Tanzania with a notebook and binoculars to study and save chimpanzees.    Though she met with extraordinary difficulties and  fierce adversaries,  she has managed to become a world renown authority on chimpanzees, conservation and the plight of endangered species world wide.  She is a  leading, passionate force for change  through her Jane Goodall Institute and now has “branched out” to schools and youth with her Roots and Shoots Foundation.

Dr. Jane Goodall, a UN Messenger of Peace, is the founder of the Roots and Shoots Program,  which aims to connect students to real life service learning projects of THEIR OWN choosing.   Dr. Jane began this project in 1991, when she felt that she was meeting so many children who lacked hope for the future.  She wanted to provide them with an opportunity to “think about the world’s problems and to roll up their sleeves and tackle them”.

The projects are curriculum based and encourage youth (elementary through college) to make positive changes in their own communities.  The projects have three components, which intertwine and depend upon one another.  These components are: the animal community, the human community and the environment.  The students are encouraged to identify problems and to take concrete actions.  In working together students gain a sense of empowerment that comes from helping others.

The service projects are looked upon as campaigns.   Students act as participants but also as leaders.  The web site gives examples of past campaigns but encourages students to create meaningful projects for their own communities.   The site has lesson plans to access,  Professional Development Opportunities, Career Explorations, Projects of the Month, Extension Activities,  and Family Activities.

The web site helps students and teachers plan, organize, coordinate and report/register their campaigns.  An important aspect of the projects is engaging the communities.  Dr. Jane believes that community centered conservation programs are critical to the survival of endangered species and conservation projects.

This is a fantastic, well designed and well supported,  global environmental humanitarian youth program that relies on the participants to “work for peace”.  Currently operating in  120 countries with 150,000 members,  is an amazing example of a peaceable skill building and community building organization.  As we “Peacelearners” say…..check it out!

MindUP- A Social and Emotional Learning Curriculum


In these days of celebrity excesses and their often and very public demonstrations of questionable/objectionable behaviors;  it is refreshing to see that one celebrity is throwing her weight towards children’s success in school.

Goldie Hawn has started a foundation that focuses on the social and emotional learning of children.  She wanted to “bring children back to a sense of well-being”, and was distraught over the high dropout rates, violence in schools, the culture of bullying and was looking for a way to improve kid’s focus, energy and to help teachers to build classroom community.   Her program called MindUP has conducted research into “mindfulness” in the classroom, provides mentors for participating schools and has developed a book and curriculum to give teachers the tools to use in their classrooms.  These lessons fit into any schedule and require minimal prep time; they are geared towards grades 3 through 5.

I was most struck by the children and their reactions to MindUP.  As you can see in the video, the students really felt the benefits of mindfulness.  It helped them to calm down, to focus and to evaluate situations more clearly. They even taught the practices to their siblings and parents. Now that is true learning!

In learning “mindfulness” the children were learning about HOW they think.  They took “brain breaks” to breath and to relax, to quiet down their emotions and focus (3 or 4 times a day for two to five minutes).   In quieting down, the prefrontal cortex lights up and this is where executive functioning (creating, innovating, retaining information, and making connections) takes place.   Truly, this type of focusing is important for learning.

MindUP is currently being used in schools in the US, in Canada, Britain and Venezuela.  The research has shown so far that bullying and aggression has gone down on the playgrounds of participating schools.

There are four tenets of the MindUP program.  The first is “Let’s Get Focused” which helps the children learn about brain functionality.  The second is “Pay Attention to Our Senses” which prepares and teaches the students about mindful listening and exploring the senses.  The third is “It’s All About Attitude” helping the students choose optimism and lastly the fourth is “Taking Action Mindfully” which includes lessons on acting with gratitude.  (Recently, there have been several articles in the Washington Post on Happiness or the Pursuit of Happiness, which strongly link happiness with gratefulness).  This all sounds a bit preachy but I found it to be quite down to earth and doable.  The lessons can easily segue into language arts, science, social studies and math curriculums.

My favorite example was of a teacher who placed a huge water bottle full of water in front of her students and had them practice their “mindfulness” while she added drops of food coloring to the water.  She gradually worked this lesson into a lesson of the color chart and what happens to and how colors mix.  She let the children explain how watching the color disperses made them feel, or what it looked like to them.  It gave the students wonderful images to call upon during their daily mindfulness sessions.

The MindUP program addresses at least two pillars of peace.  Certainly, this methodology is develops Community Building by directing attention to the classroom as a place of safety and support and by going beyond the classroom to teach children concrete means of dealing with emotions and feelings.  Also, this program acts to Nurture our Emotional Intelligences by recognizing that everyone needs to take breaks during the day, to breath, to reflect, and to listen to his or her hearts.

Note:  The book MindUP Curriculum is for sale for $18.74 through Scholastic Books.  The website  outlines the process for becoming a MindUP school.

Voices [Education Project]


The mission of Voices is to share unbiased accounts of war by those who have experienced war first hand in order to “heal the wounds and lay the ground work for peaceful world”.

In addition to the stories told by soldiers and civilians, the site provided a wealth of resources for educators such as books, curricula, education packets, and instructional activities that assist with the critical exploration and dialogue of peace education. In addition to the personal narratives, the visual media that is made available through this site provides for a rich background for facilitators.

Stories of Arrival: Youth Voices, a component of the project, allow students who have recently immigrated from countries that are experiencing the hardships of war, to share their experiences using poetry. These stories are heartbreaking but powerful in that they produce a direct connection to young students that have never experienced the reality of war. To listen and share Youth Voices go to:

For information go explore at:

The Happy Planet Index

What a great presentation by Nic Marks of the Happy Planet Index.  There is so much learning to be gleaned from this work.

First, the presentation does a great job taking statistical rankings and measurements that have guided so many economic, social, and development initiatives for the past 70 years and challenging their most basic assumptions – that being, economic growth and levels of production are appropriate ways to measure a country’s well-being.  In so doing, this challenge forces humans to recognize what it is that we might actually measure that will allow us to set goals that actually lead to healthier, happier lives and a healthier, happier planet.

Continue reading

Peace Tech in the Middle East


The Tech Change Blog featured a story on a new hand held teaching device created by Stanford PhD student, Elizabeth Buckner.  The device is designed to teach students in Israel and Palestine about what life is like “on the other side.”  See her talk about it in the video above.

Sure, there is sometimes an over emphasis on how much technology can actually do in breaking down barriers between groups in conflict, or even educating about real life situations, but I think its better than nothing.  That’s the way I feel about a lot of technology…I rarely see it as the silver bullet in addressing an issue, but certain technological tools are just that…tools.  And the more we have in our box the better equipped we will be in meeting certain needs, especially when we need to adapt to different learning environments and different learning styles.

I am curious what technological tools other peace educators are using in their classrooms.  How can computers and internet services like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube and others be used to aid in the peacemaking process or in teaching about peace?