Saturday, March 26, 2011

From play to empathy...

Sitting around the kitchen at a friends while the kids riot in the lounge produced some interesting ideas...

I have never considered the link between imaginative play, empathy and democracy before. Have you?

Novelist Ian McEwan opines that empathy, as in the ability to think and feel what it might be like to be someone else, sits at the centre of morality and is the most important competency our children should be learning.

As children we develop empathy through our play, particularly make-believe or fantasy play. It is here that children get to try out social roles that are outside their world and practice social interactions safely within the context of 'it's just play'. Dramatic play is by its nature full of confrontation and challenge, it the schizophrenic plot and ensuing tension that keeps play interesting as well as throwing up social dilemmas to be worked through where we learn to think outside of ourselves.

Apparently (no references sorry) research of the top one thousand USA crims found that their commonality was a lack of play as children. A lack of empathy enables you to kill randomly, to hurt without caring, to exploit without hesitation. Sound familiar these days?

The totalitarianism of the individual as championed under neoliberalism does not need or nor want empathy. Capitalism does not need or want empathy.

Empathy leads to truer more authentic democracy based on equality, community and mutual aid.

Dramatic play provides the foundation for developing empathy, but to enhance this learning we need to get in there, to be a co-player, to be throwing open-questions, ideas and challenges into the play that keeps it dynamic, but also allows the learners to build social competence.

Think Vygotsky, the Zone of Proximal Development and social justice education.

Now, play like it really matters.

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