MAT Alumni Research Link Between Arts and Empathy

Antioch University Seattle Masters of of Arts in Teaching alums Kyla Crawford (’17) and Tahirih Pirnia (’17) and Education Core Faculty Dr. Jeana M. Hrepich will present their research poster, “Art for Empathy’s Sake: Making the World Inclusive Again” at the annual conference for the National Council for the Social Studies November 17-19.

The research premise is that art has the potential to amplify empathic reactions for self as well as toward others. As an in-road to civic engagement, the presenters believe that both consumption and production of arts can inspire a movement of the heart that propels individuals to act. Swanger (1993) defines empathy as “the precursor of compassion that enables one to act on behalf of others” (p. 41). The researchers concur that arts-based inquiry may “leave us transformed, linked newly and empathically, to our fellow humans” (p.44).

The presenters will showcase a half dozen examples of “the arts” from their classrooms including spoken word, photography, visual art, and sculpture designed to propel students toward empathic conceptual understandings and actions. Drawing substantially on Maxine Greene, who writes about how the imagination can link us to others, lessons range from primary to middle level grades, and all take as a starting point the present moment in America, in which, according to recent data by the Southern Poverty Law Center, teachers are reporting both an increase in bullying as well as feelings of fear among children.

In opposition to emerging nationalistic rhetoric and policy, this research fully underscores its commitment to what Jeffers (2009) calls, “An openness to others and their ideas, or what can be called empathy, [which] is fundamentally important to art education, probably now more than ever, as students must learn to cross political, cultural, and religious divides if they are to understand increasingly accessible global images” (p. 19).

Kyla currently teaches fourth graders at Thorndyke Elementary School in Tukwila and Tahirih is a first grade teacher at Valhalla Elementary School in Federal Way.

Jeffers, C.S. (2009). “Within Connections: Empathy, Mirror Neurons, and Art Education. Art
Education. 62(2), 21-24, 33-34.

Swanger, D. (1993). “The Arts, Empathy, and Aristotle.” The Journal of Aesthetic Education.
27(1), 41-49.

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