“Indeed, how well we do—whether in the classroom or the boardroom—depends more than ever on how well we forge and navigate relationships. In this way, empathy is the new literacy: essential for us to communicate, collaborate and lead.” (From the Start Empathy website)
So much depends on our ability to consider the perspective of another—from our ability to foster healthy relationships to our success as a nation and equitable world.
Empathy is commonly referred to as an essential leadership quality, and Brené Brown has talked extensively on how empathy “fuels connection.”
In an era of extreme divisiveness, we can use historical empathy to help our children (and ourselves) better understand our communities, our nation, and our world today.
So one thing we can do right now in our homes and homeschools to nurture empathy?
Together, read and discuss great literature.
When we read books, we enter into the lives of the characters; we can see and feel through another’s eyes. How else might our children imagine what it was like to live during the Revolution or the Civil Rights Movement, but through great literature?
This year, my 8th grader and I have been studying US History, and I’ve been facilitating a literature & writing group that includes two of her homeschool friends. We’ve recently completed the Seeds of America Trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson. I cannot say enough about the beauty and the power in these historical novels! We were enthralled.
The stories center on the lives of Isabel, Curzon and Ruth, enslaved youth fighting for their freedom during the American Revolution. What an offering—for my thirteen year old daughter to view the birth of our country through the eyes of a thirteen year old enslaved girl . . . a much different perspective than the dominant narrative studied in history books. The writing is exquisite, full of metaphor and imagery and characters whom we loved. All of this, and the book is firmly grounded in documented history. Each chapter opens with a primary source quote, giving you plenty of opportunity for further research. The paperback editions each have a reading group guide and an appendix in which the author provides detailed historical context and suggestions for further reading.
Here are some of the assignments we completed, along with links to more teaching tools:
- We use a blank story chart or build our own to recognize and document the components of the story (introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion, theme, conflict, setting)
- We use sticky notes as we read to mark important places in the text, such as: where we have thoughts or questions, or where we learn something about a character, or where the author has used a meaningful literary element (such as a metaphor, simile, imagery, personification, etc.)
- Writing assignments while reading Chains: Write a diary entry from the main character, Isabel’s perspective. The next week, and after reading more (an event/conflict) write another entry showing how her inner thoughts may have changed.
- Essay options after completing Chains:
- Compare and contrast the meaning of freedom from the perspectives of Isabel, the Locktons (Loyalists) and the Patriots.
- How did the lion inside of Isabel develop over the course of the novel?
- Writing assignments while reading Forge: Write a letter to Eben from Curzon, after their argument. Write a response letter from Eben.
- Take a primary source quote, and do further research. For example, use the quote from Jehu Grant’s pension application to learn more about him and read his entire application. Then write a composition on why African Americans would fight for a nation that allowed slavery.
- Creative writing: Re-write a scene from Forge from the perspective of Isabel (Use the same dialogue, but change the narrator’s voice to Isabel’s, for example, page 189 when they are discussing escape, or page 242-244 when they have a heart-to-heart.)
- There are plenty of resource materials to support your study of these books on the author’s website and on the publisher’s (click on resources and downloads for each title).
- Simply read the book together and discuss it!
I did not assign the third book in the trilogy, Ashes, for our required reading. However, we all chose to read it anyway, on our own time. We had to know what would become of Isabel, Curzon and Ruth. We loved it, of course. I am so grateful that I was able to share these books with my daughter and our homeschool group. The conversations and studies led us, I think, to a fuller picture of our country’s origins, with nods toward how to continue to strive toward our shared values and ideals.