Sunday, September 27, 2009

Facet #5: Empathy

Now, this Facet was a bit hard to come to terms with as I could not see how this could play a role in assessing a student's knowledge. Going by my own interpretation of the word, I know empathy to be defined as the ability to emotionally understand all sides/participants of an argument.

Applying that definition to education is a bit tricky but I think our class discussion helped me figured out a way to do that. Take for instance Orwell's 1984 (Again!). As readers, it goes without saying that we all feel for Winston's journey. The trials and tribulations he faces under the political and interpersonal oppression are immense and clearly have the reader root for him every step of the way. His antagonist, O'Brien, often earns the reader's scorn and bears responsibility for finally breaking Winston's spirit.

Thinking back to our discussion, this interpretation seems heavily one sided. As readers, we're naturally drawn to the hero but perhaps our sympathies should sway more towards O'Brien. His existence is filled with tragedy as he does not contain the critical reasoning that gives Winston a shot at freedom. Much more than that, we as readers are far less likely to be like Winston should we find ourselves in a similar situation. The reality of it is that we would more than likely fill O'Brien's shoes.

With that said, it is here that empathy becomes a critical aspect of the learning process. A reader's understanding of the text definitely coincides with their ability to cheer for Winston's possible victory. However, a truly accomplished reader would find that their own existence mirrors O'Briens's and thus deserves more of our empathy and sympathy. A reader being able to acknowledge that walks away with a much deeper understanding of the text.

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