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Education Opinion

Is the Accountability Movement to Blame for a Lack of Empathy?

By Megan M. Allen — February 06, 2017 2 min read
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A kindness campaign is in full swing in our house.

I have the word sprinkled throughout its walls, hoping that it becomes the emphasis of both our family’s subconscious thoughts and nightly dinner conversations. I got the idea from my sister, and I think it’s brilliant. The word is scattered all over our house in at least five different places.


Because I think there is a lack of empathy in our country, and I’m doing my best to raise four human beings that will work hard to do something about it.

On a recent CBS Sunday Morning, they posted a statistic that sums up why kindness campaigns are more necessary now than ever. They stated that 45 percent of people polled were in favor of the immigration ban, with 51 percent opposed. There are a variety of polls regarding this and the results are pretty constant despite the sources: about a 50/50 split.

Combine this with the pushback to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the treatment of our LGBTQ community, the attempts to invalidate the feelings and experiences of black and brown Americans, our seeming lack of understand and/or compassion for the poor, our inability to try to understand that it’s not okay that women must still hold signs and march even though it’s 2017...it seems to me like we have an empathy problem in our county.

I have been mulling around the potential causes of this (perceived?) lack of empathy. And I think I claim some responsibility as a classroom teacher.

I spent most of my classroom teacher life in Florida, where we were so scripted, scrutinized, and lacked autonomy as teachers. We were restricted with what we could teach and how we could teach. Not that we couldn’t focus on empathy through great texts or service projects, but we were limited in how much we could do. We were governed by the accountability movement. The system we created as a state and country seems to have forgetten the many of the lessons of the heart. Of being human among a world of human beings.

So I’m throwing this out there:

Has the accountability movement helped create generations of citizens who were so focused on math and reading that they missed out on time for the soft skills? Is one of the reasons we are not seeming empathetic as a country because we have pushed social studies to the side, not emphasizing the valuable lessons learned throughout history and the world? Not able to connect to our fellow human beings and their experiences?

Can we link this back to A Nation at Risk in the early 1980’s, to No Child Left Behind in the early 2000’s, and make a claim that narrowing our school curriculum has narrowed our ability to empathize with our fellow humans? Has this competition, rating, and ranking in schools caused us to lose sight on what is important: being kind and helping our fellow humans?

A few tangential but possibly related connections:

So what do you think? Do we have an empathy problem, and has education reform played a part in shaping this?

Photo courtesy of Darinka Maia.

The opinions expressed in An Edugeek’s Guide to K-12 Practice and Policy are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.