Naming the world - Teaching Empathy Institute
Teaching Empathy Institute works to establish emotionally and physically safe learning communities for elementary, middle and high school students and the adults who work with them. Working in the Hudson Valley of New York, TEI creates tailor-made programs designed to foster dialogue about social culture building while strengthening the capacity for the infusion of empathy and compassion into all aspects of the learning experience.
Teaching Empathy Institute, SEL, Social and emotional learning, mindfulness, diversity, education, bullying, anti-bullying, k-12, learning, david levine, school of belonging
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Naming the world

Monument for Paulo Freire in Brasília, Photo by Wikimedia user Brandizzi Beginning in the late 1950’s, educator and social activist Paulo Freire was working on an adult literacy project among the peasants in his native Brazil. Freire’s challenge was to teach illiterate workers how to read. What Freire soon found out was that the ignorance in which these people lived forced them into a “culture of silence”. The rulers of the country had the power and voice, while these peasants had neither. Freire found fault with the existing system of education, which he felt enforced the social inequalities already in place. Instead he developed his own system, a “pedagogy of the oppressed,” in which he taught people to appreciate what they already knew, to take control of their own knowledge and to create, with some assistance and encouragement, their own educations. This was achieved through a process Freire called “naming the world,” in which dialogue between humans created a shared sense of what the world was- a process of defining the world and the place of the self within the world. Freire’s process of learning brought with it a sense of dignity. He not only had success in teaching his students how to read but, more significantly, he helped them come to “a new awareness of self stirred by a new hope.” Their newfound awareness gave them more power over the quality of their day-to-day existence.

From Freire’s work and subsequent discoveries regarding the relationship between learning and a person’s sense of hope and dignity we can derive the following lesson: That which is unnamed is invisible. A teacher’s job is to name the world.

Once something is named for a person, that person will have the ability to re-create it, enhance it, change it, or stay away from it. The things people do well, their competencies, can also be named. Once they have been identified they can be put into their survival file.  Unless something is named for us we might not know it exists, we might not be aware of it. This is the great gift a teacher can bestow onto a student: making the invisible visible.