Friday, May 28, 2010

Today's School Reformers Less Empathetic, Too

The Answer Sheet:

A new University of Michigan study shows that since 2000, college students have become less empathetic than before.

Compared to college kids of the late 1970s, the study said, today’s are less likely to agree with statements such as "I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective" and "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me."

The meta-analysis was led by Sara Konrath, a researcher at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and was presented in Boston at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science. She analyzed data on empathy among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years.

"We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000," said Konrath, who is also affiliated with the University of Rochester Department of Psychiatry. "College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait."

I don't have a study to prove it, but it certainly feels like this change has deeply affected how school reform plays out in the age of TFA and the Broad Academy. Not to say that the public has historically been sympathetic to poor and minority students in the past and now they're not. But the tenor of the "reformers" has certainly changed. There is a willfully unfeeling hardness now that you wouldn't have seen fifteen or twenty years ago, which may be an extension of the phenomenon described in this study.

Also... in addition to not being a nice person, you can't actually design an effective incentive structure for someone else if you can't empathize with them.

4 comments:

Jenny said...

"There is a willfully unfeeling hardness now that you wouldn't have seen fifteen or twenty years ago, which may be an extension of the phenomenon described in this study."

This is something that has been nagging at me for some time. The hardness you describe, both in education issues as well as immigration, poverty, and such. This study is fascinating.

Scott said...

That is one of the things that strikes me about teaching at both the high school and university levels... how cynical the students are! The stereotype of the idealistic student naively trying to change the world bears no resemblance to reality.

Bill Kerr said...

Empathy is one essential factor but programs such as Engelmann's Direct Instruction are often accused of lacking empathy although they seem to be effective. This article (Scripted lessons start a classroom revival) provides evidence of such methods turning around the situation in one of the most disadvantaged educational communities in Australia. It can be hard to work out where good intentions end and tough love begins.

Tom Hoffman said...

Bill,

We're kind of beyond that point right now in the US. What I'm thinking of now is more the "OK, we're going to close X schools now, and quite frankly, the less we know about the schools we're closing the better," thing we're doing at the moment.