GUEST EDITORIAL: Teaching Compassion
Lincoln Middle/SOTA II/Coulee Montessori
School District of LaCrosse
It seemed like an assignment that would come together quickly. With my experience, it should not be difficult to create a lesson about compassion to share with our 6th grade art students. More specifically, my task was to offer a different perspective on the subject, as students were engaged in creating personal art work representing their own interpretation of compassion.
This activity was in conjunction with the many school and community events inspired by the LaCrosse Compassion Project. Beginning May 2, more than 6000, 6”x 6” art panels, created by LaCrosse students, will be displayed at the Pump House Regional Art Center and other satellite locations – each with an artist’s statement explaining the meaning of their work.
My goal was to help our students visualize compassion in such a way that they could accurately transfer their feelings to canvas. It is easier said than done. To represent something that is based in emotion, on a physical surface, requires some thinking outside the box. To make this connection, we considered other aspects of the human experience, of human history, where people were able to represent emotions through some characters or art form.
We discussed many things, from the emotion evident in the cave wall paintings of earlier humans, to the power of words as represented in personal letters, throughout the centuries, sent one to another. What about the human emotion contained in poetry or lyrics? We all agreed that we had a favorite song whose lyrics spoke directly to our emotions.
We discussed easily found evidence of art representing human emotion, on a simple scale, such as seen on greeting cards. Existing as a sort of “everyman’s gallery”, greeting cards – usually categorized by event or emotion – frequently offer many recognized artistic symbols that are universally understood, such as a “heart” for the emotion of love, or a beautiful sunset scene on sympathy cards, suggesting the end of life.
It can still be a challenge to consider what compassion is and what it looks like in action. Many may simply consider charity as compassion. Although charity is clearly compassionate, not all compassion involves charity.
Dedicated teachers are successful because they realize that compassion is a fundamental foundation of a successful classroom and a cooperative school. These educators understand that an essential component of their mission is to model these compassionate behaviors to their students and encourage this type of behavior at all times. I see this day in and day out – teachers guiding their students, delivering their curriculum with expertise, while at the same time helping their students understand the true power of compassionate behavior.
It was at this point in lesson planning that I recalled what I learned about the I-35 Bridge Memorial in Minneapolis. It was on August 1, 2007 that 13 individuals lost their lives in the horrific, rush-hour bridge collapse. If you haven’t seen this sensitive and moving memorial, you must.
In addition to 13 stunning pillars, one for each victim, a black granite wall contains a statement offering hope, healing, and consolation to the reader. Penned by family members of those who died, it states, “Our lives are not only defined by what happens, but by how we act in the face of it. Not only by what life brings us, but by what we bring to life. Selfless actions and compassion create enduring community out of tragic events.”
It was thrilling to see how our 6th grade art students internalized the idea of compassion and how they were able to expand the depth and scope of it in our classroom discussions. They allowed me to see it from their perspective, reminding me of their fresh insight and youthful wisdom.
And, as is often the case when one open’s their mind, I learned more than I ever imagined about compassion. Imagine that.