Session III: Closing the Empathy Gap: The Role of Education in Responding to the Crisis of Connection


This Paper will explore the “crisis of connection” and the way in which it has become manifest in the treatment of refugee children in schools, and in modern society generally. Despite the fact that schools in the US have historically played a central role in integrating new immigrants into American society, they are increasingly unequipped and unprepared to respond adequately to the needs of the new wave of refugees and unaccompanied minors. Moreover, with growing hostility toward immigrants expressed by politicians, civic groups and the media, public willingness to assist schools in serving the new arrivals has eroded. This Paper explores the role of education in overcoming the crisis of connection by drawing attention to schools and districts that have responded with compassion, empathy and a willingness to develop creative solutions to address the critical needs of refugee children. Drawing on research carried out at several such schools and through the analysis of several case studies, the Paper will show how education can overcome xenophobia and serve as a resource for promoting recognition of “common interests” that transcend differences based on nationality and legal status.