Empathy Influences Learning Through Cultural Exploration

Nov 2, 2016 | All School, Humanities, Impact, Inquiry, Lower School News, Share the Well, Upper School News

img_6351Humanities 9, MVPS’s new interdisciplinary course, has continued its exploration of the human experience. At the beginning of the year, the Connections Canopy provided the freshmen class with an opportunity to see how connection is vital to a fulfilling life. This week, the students were able to have a unique experience to hear from a special guest speaker who once again reiterated the importance of connection within a community.

Dean Seneca, a senior health scientist at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke to the students about his American Indian experience. His discussion concluded the first unit in Humanities, where they took a deep dive into American Indian voices. Seneca tied in the universal themes of growing up and community found in the novel the class read, Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, with his own stories of living on a reservation. He also shared about the intricate and, at many times painful, history of the American Indians and the United States government. He concluded his talk with a courageous call to action for our students. He implored them to be leaders where they are, drawing upon examples as familiar as Martin Luther King., Jr and Barack Obama to Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee nation and Sequoyah, the first person to create a dictionary of the Cherokee language.

Afterwards, the students expressed their gratitude for this conversation, saying that he “inspired us to keep our minds open and empathetic.” Judging from the array of questions posed by the students for Seneca, the students are embracing their rigorous journey through what defines the human experience as they will continue to wrestle with how identities are shaped by global context and what factors shape their values and beliefs.
Threading the empathy needle through to grade 4, Dean Seneca was also able to connect his experiences to their respective Explorers Unit. He discussed hunting and gathering, similarities and disagreements between different Indian tribes, going on journeys and deciding when to stop to claim land, the struggles his people have endured and how they remain connected to this day through Facebook.
One fourth grader asked, “What should we call your people?” To which Mr. Seneca responded, “We prefer the term ‘American Indian’ as there are many groups of people who might fall into the ‘Native American’ category – such as Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians.
At the end of the discussion, Seneca shared, “Above all, I am so excited that Mount Vernon has taken the initiative to learn more about American Indians. It is so important, especially in areas where not a lot of native people are present. There is not a lot of cultural competency in the Southeast. There are no federally recognized tribes in Georgia, so now that more people have a willingness to learn about us, through sympathy and empathy, I am confident that the knowledge of the culture, lifestyle, and tribal sovereignty of our people will be better understood.”img_2354 img_6349img_6353