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3 Ways to Teach Empathy with Media Literacy - The LAMP

3 Ways to Teach Empathy with Media Literacy

By April 20, 2017 News 2 Comments

empathy media literacy

Empathy may be one of the most important social skills we learn as humans.

Without it, not only do we fail to understand how our actions affect others, but we also lack the imagination and creativity needed to design tools and communicate our ideas beyond our own communities of like-minded people. Indeed, without some degree of empathy, we may not be able to communicate at all.

And yet, empathy also happens to be one of the most difficult skills to teach, rife as it is with complexity and emotion. The importance and challenges of teaching empathy have come into renewed focus, thanks in part to bestselling author Dr. Michele Borba’s latest book, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. Other recent events – ranging from the mass shooting in Orlando, to the firestorm caused by a letter from a rape victim read out loud to her attacker, to the growing global refugee crisis – all test our ability to imagine what it must be like to live in another person’s shoes for a day.

In her book, Dr. Borba talks about the concept of “emotional literacy” as she takes readers through a 9-step process for engendering empathy in a world where what she calls the Selfie Syndrome is a growing epidemic among our youth. It so happens that this process aligns with many of the media literacy skills taught by organizations like The LAMP, which teaches youth to comprehend, create and challenge media messages through in-school and after-school programs. Here are 3 ways that teaching media literacy can also help teach empathy.

1. Perspective Taking

Decoding a media message often begins with the person or people who created the message to begin with. Why did they create the message, and what do they want you to do or feel as a result? The answer may seem straightforward to adults: The commercial was created by people who manufacture a product, and they want you to go out and buy the product. In teaching this concept to children, you are teaching that media are a construction, created by a specific author or authors for a specific purpose. At the same time, children are challenged to learn that different people have different desires and needs which may be very different from their own. The complexity of this lesson in empathy can shift according to the complexity of the message being decoded, but the fundamentals are the same whether the students in question are six or sixteen. In both cases, they have to consider what motivates another person.

2. Moral Identity

Processing a media message forces you to consider your ethical values and, by extension, your unique identity. In our programs we frequently experience this when we screen a news story or video clip that some students find offensive, while others struggle to see a problem. Take, for example, this Volkswagen commercial created for the 2013 Super Bowl.

When we showed this in a New York City high school class, just about half of the students laughed but the rest were incredulous, wondering how this ad stereotyping Jamaicans could have gotten made in the first place. One student said that if she had been in the room at Volkswagen, she never would have let something like this continue. Another student said he didn’t see the issue; the ad was saying Jamaicans are happy, and isn’t that a good thing? Our point as media literacy educators was not that one student was wrong or another was right; rather, our point was that different audiences interpret messages in different ways. The students didn’t need to agree on the meaning, but we asked them to respect differing opinions and try to understand alternate perspectives.

3. Teamwork and Collaboration

Teaching media literacy is impossible – and also rather dull – without some kind of hands-on work. That’s why making media is a huge part of what we do at The LAMP, and why so many forward-thinking educators are actively integrating media and technology production as part of their everyday teaching. But when students work together to remix a commercial or produce their own Public Service Announcement, they’re doing more than clicking buttons. They’re also negotiating ideas to create a team project, which means empathizing with other perspectives and making compromises for the good of the group and the task at hand, a practice Dr. Borba extols in chapter seven of her book. In order to be members of a functional group, young people have to think about other perspectives as well as how their own ideas are being received by other members of the group. Learning how to work with others is a vital part of any hands-on media literacy education.

  • Marianne Van Doorn Pérez

    Excellent article on empathy. Very well written. Do not believe it is coincidental that it is exactly what the focus of the APP is in addition to what needs to happen within our family. There are so many members of our immediate family who have absolutely no empathy towards specific individuals or situations which have been occurring for a number of years.

    As related to the APP, the lack of empathy is growing among all races, all creeds, all ages and amongst both sexes. We no longer treat each other like human beings but view each other as disposable property or refuse to even acknowledge some races, individuals and creeds even exist.

    More than 70 refugees have died in the latest boat disaster in the Mediterranean Sea as deaths on the crossings between Libya and Italy reach record highs.

    The Libyan Red Crescent said the bodies of 74 migrants had washed ashore near the city of Zawiyah, which is a hub for smugglers launching boats towards Europe.
    The port’s coastguard posted a video showing a ruined dinghy lying without an engine on the shoreline as the first bodies were recovered.

    It is as if they do not even exist. They, like some of our family members, are ignored and treated like human garbage and no one gives a damn. When are we going to wake up and realize that tragedies like this are completely unnecessary; that every single human life matters and the worst tragedy of all is to be completely ignored.

    There is absolutely no reason this should have happened. There is absolutely no reason this is happening within our own family. Is it going to take a tragedy for US to wake up? For a something horrific to happen – perhaps a death to occur before we realize how precious life is and how wrong it is for hatred to exist between anyone on this planet – most especially within the core of the family unit.

    Satan and his Dominions are alive and well EVERYwhere. He knows if he destroys the family unit, he can take over the world. My Priests are telling me suicide rates have TRIPLED within the last five (5) years; that marriages and families are dissolving like they have never before witnessed. Society is crumbling just as it is within our own family and no one seems to give a damn.

    Yet, when one person reaches out, when a boat full of refugees seeking asylum from a war-torn country where children are starving and dying, this type of tragedy occurs. What is it going to take for us as a family, as a society to wake up?

    This is the type of work I do. I research heart-breaking issues against Human Rights like this day after day, night after night working with over 4,000 like-minded individuals and organizations of all faiths all over the world. THEY have become my family because we are joined together in the common cause of trying to prevent tragedies like this.

    Our mission and goal is to save just one human life; just one is a miracle, and then another, and another and another. We have spoken to women who have had abortions and the fathers of those lost children who cry out in the night for the child they have lost. There are thousands of them like that, yet organizations like Planned Parenthood do not care nor do they think about the repercussions of what will happen to the woman AFTER the abortion once she comes to realize what she has lost, what she has done.

    I have stood outside the clinic in Ft. Collins and spoken with young girls who were going in to HAVE an abortion (they were being coerced by either the father of the child or their family) and also ones who come out after the abortion sobbing hysterically because of the emotional trauma they have just been through.

    We have to come to a point in life when we choose to say that ALL human life is sacred and has a meaning and a purpose. That NO ONE should be disrespected, ignored or verbally, mentally, emotionally or physically abused by members of their OWN family for diseases they had as a child for which they had absolutely NO CONTROL over.

    As with horrific tragedies like the Syrian Refugees, it is the epitome of no one caring enough to come to their rescue and not allow this tragedy to happen.

    When I first heard of it being reported on NPR last evening, they spoke of it as if it were a weather report and then moved on. I was in the car and had to stop and pull over to mourn the loss of so many lives which did not need to be lost.

    I pray our donations to the LAMP are also helping to teach the children HOW and WHY tragedies like this occur and HOW they can do something to help them to be prevented.

    I would love to hear there are programs in place teaching them this.

  • Marianne Van Doorn Pérez

    You are correct in that empathy can be rife with emotion. Thus the reason I can see why my earlier post was removed as it was EXACTLY that – rife with emotion. It is often difficult to separate one’s emotions from empathy when one is so close to the subject. I recently have learned that MANY of our youth attending inner city schools in the Bronx, Queens and other Boroughs so much NEED our empathy due to situations under which they live and survive on a daily basis. This makes them no less than amazing in marching forward to pursue their dreams in spite of what they are dealing within their environment alone. I once lived and worked among the poorest of the poor in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua México where I had the amazing opportunity of working with the youth in a program called BECA (Spanish for ‘Scholarship’). These youth also were no less than amazing as their conditions resembled those of Harlem and Ghettos for they lived in an area called a ‘Barrio’, rife with drug trafficking, high crime and many adverse factors which would keep most of us from wanting to excel in life but much like the youth working through The LAMP, it spurned them on to focus on their dreams, their hopes and their ambitions – their ethical values, their unique identities by trying to overcome what perhaps, their parents had not. Many had survived the Maquiladoras (the sweatshops NAFTA had put into place) and had instead decided to focus on an education. The Media they were receiving from their government was that the poor were not only uneducated but also unable to BE educated so schools were not built in their areas – often above the sixth grade. Were they to have an opportunity to participate in a program such as The LAMP, it would literally open up doors for them they never dreamed possible. Youth of NY, celebrate your accomplishments you have been able to achieve through this absolutely amazing organization!