Just read this, really interesting. Longish excerpt:
We know that humans are hardwired to be aggressive and selfish. But a growing body of research is demonstrating that there is also a biological basis for human compassion. Brain scans reveal that when we contemplate violence done to others we activate the same regions in our brains that fire up when mothers gaze at their children, suggesting that caring for strangers may be instinctual. When we help others, areas of the brain associated with pleasure also light up. Research by Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello indicates that toddlers as young as 18 months behave altruistically....
More important, we are beginning to understand how to nurture this biological potential. It seems that it’s not only possible to make people kinder, it’s possible to do it systematically at scale – at least with school children. That’s what one organization based in Toronto called Roots of Empathy has done.
Here’s how it works: Roots arranges monthly class visits by a mother and her baby (who must be between two and four months old at the beginning of the school year). Each month, for nine months, a trained instructor guides a classroom using a standard curriculum that involves three 40-minute visits – a pre-visit, a baby visit, and a post-visit. The program runs from kindergarten to seventh grade. During the baby visits, the children sit around the baby and mother (sometimes it’s a father) on a green blanket (which represents new life and nature) and they try to understand the baby’s feelings. The instructor helps by labeling them. “It’s a launch pad for them to understand their own feelings and the feelings of others,” explains Gordon. “It carries over to the rest of class.”
I have visited several public schools in low-income neighborhoods in Toronto to observe Roots of Empathy’s work. What I find most fascinating is how the baby actually changes the children’s behavior. Teachers have confirmed my impressions: tough kids smile, disruptive kids focus, shy kids open up. In a seventh grade class, I found 12-year-olds unabashedly singing nursery rhymes.
The baby seems to act like a heart-softening magnet. No one fully understands why.
Before I saw this article, I had already been thinking in a vague way about bullying and why it seems to be a newly severe problem. I was thinking of starting a discussion here about it.
Is it the same as it's always been but it's just getting more attention lately?
If there is actually more of it, does it have to do with less unstructured free play time, for kids to figure out social stuff without adult interference?
This now makes me wonder if segregation by age has something to do with it (if there actually is more now than in the past, and I guess that depends on "past," too -- 25 years ago? 50? 500?).
In the pretty recent past, it was pretty common for kids of widely varying ages to spend more time together, if not in large families than in heterogenous neighborhood play groups. A bit further back than that you have one-room schoolhouses. And back further than that and you have extended family groups (not just the nuclear family but cousins etc.) with older kids taking care of younger ones.
Perhaps "it takes a village" goes the other way too -- the village benefits from helping to raise that baby.