Empathy Is The True Catalyst For Understanding

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Empathy is the true catalyst for understanding. For the past several years, my Spanish department has been working toward rewriting our curriculum to include comprehensible input and storytelling about complex issues like immigration, social injustice and identity. While I have always told stories about myself, I 've realized that compelling and interesting stories about real and even fictional people impact my students exponentially. When my students hear Gaby Moreno singing about an Ave que Emigra, they feel her longing for Guatemala, her home country, in a way that I can’t describe through a lecture. One of the high points of my teaching career occurred several years ago when a particularly racist student wrote in his final essay about…show more content…
When I signed up for French, I naturally but incorrectly assumed that I would learn about all things French. But my second language study started as many high school students did: it was the mid 80’s and my high school teacher was using the audiolingual method. The class consisted of the arduous task of memorizing vocabulary, conjugating verbs, and decoding simple sentences-with no cultural context whatsoever. While I didn’t find French to be particularly difficult, I wasn’t enthusiastic about rote memorization. When I was given an opportunity to drop French in order to join a select choir, I didn’t think twice. My mid 1980’s high school didn’t really push second language study, so I figured that this was the end of my foray into language study. Perhaps it just wasn’t for me…
However, by the end of my freshman year, I had a new interest in language and culture. This interest was not fueled by academic curiosity but rather by the simple desire to connect and understand others. I had begun dating a Mexican-American boy and his family intrigued me. My boyfriend’s mother, Doris, and father, Enrique, met in the 60’s during Enrique’s annual migration from Mexico to southern Missouri as a harvest worker. The two had met, fallen in love, and moved to Mexico where they started their family. Four children and 12 years later, they returned to the U.S. to enroll their kids in public school. What
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