Educational empathy

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Educational empathy is the ability to vicariously sense the educational experiences of other people (esp. children), and prior self.


Educational empathy cannot capitalize on the prior knowledge of an individual we empathize with. We do not sit in his head to know what he knows, and how his concept network is organized semantically.

This is why educational empathy has very little to do with actual empathy, and more to do with understanding of the learning process. Only by understanding how the brain works can we effectively predict emotional states and educational outcomes in the wake of learning.

Deficits in educational empathy lay at the foundation of the Prussian model of schooling. Adults project their own educational experiences on new generations and design an educational system that is increasingly harmful. The increase in the harm comes from the dissonance between learning opportunities exposed to young people and the reality of learning at school. This dissonance leads to an increase in legal, psychological and even pharmaceutical measures aimed at keeping children at school. See: Adults are incapable of empathy in education

Prior knowledge

The importance of prior knowledge and semantic framework in learning can be illustrated with the Jigsaw puzzle metaphor. The first step towards educational empathy is the understanding of the Fundamental Law of Learning.

As we have no access to a complete semantic structure of knowledge in a student's brain, only the student herself can make judgement on the perceived value of knowledge

As knowledge is networked, telling a student that a branch of knowledge is important is futile. Telling a student that he should learn things that he fails to perceive as important is harmful. All we can do is to casually drop seeds of inspiration and hope they take root.

Forcing children to learn things they do not want to learn is a prime example and outcome of a deficit in educational empathy.

Curse of knowledge

Deficits in educational empathy are less about the deficits in empathy, and they are more about the deficits in knowledge. However, ignorance is not the only cause of deficits. Curse of knowledge has its own contribution to empathy deficits. The bigger the knowledge of the individual, the harder it is to empathize with the perceptions of a less knowledgeable individual. Incidentally, curse of knowledge can be used to explain why decades of incremental reading do not significantly contribute to a sense of being more knowledgeable. Not only is it hard to empathize with a child. It is also hard to empathize with one's own brain from the past.

Curse of knowledge is not a uniquely adult phenomenon. Small children will easily misjudge learning abilities of other children. They can deem themselves vastly superior to smaller children, or assume that things that are easy for themselves are easy for others.


SuperMemo Guru provides dozens of examples in where adults can exercise their educational empathy by understanding the learning perceptions of the child:

This glossary entry is used to explain texts in SuperMemo Guru series on memory, learning, creativity, and problem solving