Training empathy

Once, in a course on learning and the brain, we learned that empathy is visible in infants.  So, I thought that implied that empathy is innate and doesn’t change.  Even my recent investigation into Mindset (Dweck, 2009) didn’t shake this belief because I didn’t make the connection.  I don’t think of empathy as something you learn, but if Mindset is to be believed, everything can be learned.  There were two news items about this today:




Last year, my friend and I were both making some copies or something, and I asked how her school year had been.  It was about two weeks before the end, so this seemed like an OK question.  She bristled and said that it had been fine.  She went on that she doesn’t let things get to her, not students and certainly not adults.

My internal translation was that students and certain adults had gotten to her. 


Maybe My Best Interview Ever: NPR Morning Edition

Diane Ravitch's blog

I was interviewed by Steve Inskeep of NPR Morning Edition. It airs today. It may be the best 5-minute summary of “Reign of Error.”

A note to my friends who teach and use educational technology. Contrary to the introduction, I do not oppose technology. I support technology as a tool for teachers, not a replacement for teachers. I know, from direct personal experience, that there are people in board rooms and think tanks who yearn for the day when technology will make it possible to cut costs by having children “taught ” by someone who is in a distant locale, with the added bonus of eliminating teachers’ unions.

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Occasionally, students ask me questions about why math works the way it does. This doesn’t happen enough, in my opinion, but it does happen.  The latest is why, when we perform synthetic substitution, do we use the number as it is, but in synthetic division, there’s some sign trickery.  I have an answer for this.  It’s not super complicated either, but whenever I’ve given the explanation in the past it’s been frustrating and incomprehensible to students.  So, I don’t know if it is worth the time it takes to do that, and that kind of understanding is not necessary for skill performance.  But then, what am I doing? If we don’t care about understanding or make that kind of tradeoff of “well, they don’t really need to know this” that feels like the opposite of mathematics education.  I’m pretty good at explaining things like this, so I don’t think it’s me.  There is such a thing as developmental readiness and that’s what’s happening here.  I think.

What do you do when explanations are over the students’ heads?  Is that just a normal thing that resolves itself with further mathematics study and we shouldn’t worry about it?  I find “that’s just how it works” a completely unacceptable response.


I’m thinking that one way to escape GERM is to go to Canada.  Alberta is moving towards the Finnish model, right?  I seem to remember that.  Any advice would be great.  The problem is that I have an 8 year old’s view of looking for a job because I’ve only had to do it twice in my life.  It turns out that you can’t just apply to the government of Canada and have them place you in a school and I guess find you a place to live.

On the other hand, the best way to escape GERM would be to go to Finland itself.


D.C. charter schools expel students at far higher rates than traditional public schools

Charter schools need the ability to remove students who endanger the safety of the other kids.  I think that’s true.  Also students who make the classrooms less conducive to learning. So far so good.

Well, no duh.  Do charters have some magic urgency to what they’re doing that the rest of us in actual public schools don’t?  If a charter operator took over an entire school district, without the possibility of expulsion, they’d end up recreating the public school system that they replaced.  Without the ability to choose your enrollment, all of the high powered expectations go out the window:

  • no excuses
  • zero tolerance
  • 30+ students per class with direct instruction every day

Towards the end of the article, there is some talk about charter heads setting up an alternative school as an alternative to expulsion.  So it begins.

a letter from Noa Rosinplotz, datapoint

The author at the link below talks a bit about items from the 6th grade assessments where she goes to school.  Here’s a test item and her take on it (the not boldfaced part is her.)

If “Nasser of the Shaduf had been written in the third person, the reader would probably have learned less about which of the following?

a) Nasser’s childhood

b) Nasser’s sisters

c) how Nasser felt about working the shaduf

d) how his father felt about Nasser

I think they’re all a little bit wrong.

homegirl is 12