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Empathy: the concept that dare not speak its name?

Why is empathy a contentious aspect of school history?

Because several commentators questioned its validity, and argued that it was a form of "dumbing down"; vague and sentimental imaginative writing instead of command of "the facts" and rigorous historical analysis. Although it was incorporated into the criteria for the GCSE exam in the late 1980s, the assault on it was so high profile in the national press, that there was a tendency in subsequent documentation to actually avoid the word "empathy", (hence Peter Clements' article in Teaching History No. 85, 1996: pp. 6-8, 'Historical Empathy- R.I.P.?')

(Below) Audrey Hepburn explains empathy

Although the word empathy is not mentioned explicitly in the most recent curriculum specification for history, the National Curriculum does say that:

'pupils should be taught to describe and analyse the relationships between the characteristic features of the periods and societies studied including the experiences and range of ideas, beliefs and attitudes of men, women and children in the past.' (KSU 2a), and 'to analyse and explain the reasons for, and results of, the historical events, situations and changes in the periods studied.' (KSU 2c)

Limits on word length meant that it was not possible to include a developed section on the empathy debate in the book, so this section is just to provide a bit more detail on empathy, as it does seem to be an area that interests some PGCE students, judging by the number of assignments on the topic.



An example

An example at GCSE level


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