Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Can altruism be taught?

Parker middle schoolers sort items at the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.

Making bowl selections at the Empty Bowls hunger awareness evening last week.  8th graders organized the event and raised over $1,150 for Joseph's House, a homeless shelter in Troy.
Developing empathy, sympathy, compassion, kindness and charity is a process that takes lots of practice.  Offering opportunities for children to do good, to "see themselves and frame their own behavior as generous, kind, and helpful" is critical.

For the last four weeks, the whole middle school has gone to the Regional Food Bank on Friday afternoons to do what ever needs doing there: sorting rotten from good cucumbers or organizing boxes of toiletries.  It is truly "hands-on" and it helps them understand the massive logistics of  ameliorating local hunger.  It gives them practice in what we hope will be a life-long habit of helping others. 

What is their reward? As I used to tell my own children, "Your reward is the satisfaction of a job well done."  Research shows that material reinforcement is not the most effective way to stimulate generosity - it's the "warm glow" that works.  In the New York Times article, Understanding How Children Develop Empathy, Perry Klaus, MD, tells about the brain chemistry that makes this so.

No comments: