Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

The Use of Sociocultural Poetry to Assist Gifted Students in Developing Empathy for the Lived Experiences of Others

Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

The Use of Sociocultural Poetry to Assist Gifted Students in Developing Empathy for the Lived Experiences of Others

Article excerpt

Sociocultural poetry can be used in conjunction with a 6-step counselor empathy model to help gifted students understand the lived experiences of others, as well as to help these same students explore their own feelings and thoughts about self in relation to the world. The model can also be utilized to assist in the development of basic empathy skills.

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So, today,
I think that I'll echo the beauty of the sun,
the song of the birds
and then
I think that I'll echo the color of the grass,
because like the grass my color is rich.
So rich that the weeds can't even touch me.
Their poisonous lies and century old indignation can't
   destroy me,
because like the grass,
you might step on me,
cut me,
cause me to fall,
but, just give me a minute
and I'll come back and stand up just as tall!

The above verse is from a poem written by the author entitled "Today I Think I'll Echo..." (Ingram, 2000a). The poem is particularly appropriate to describe the resiliency of the disenfranchised. Specifically, this poem speaks to the resilience of many African Americans who strive to resist systematic oppression of dominant-discourse ideology, which espouses norms based on spoken, written, and behavioral expectations. Although much has been written about working with diverse populations (Garcia & Zea, 1997; Pedersen, Draguns, Lonner, & Trimble, 1996; Robinson & Howard, 2000; Uba, 1994), teachers still decry the dearth of classroom strategies that can help students "connect" with fundamental concepts of cultural competence and multiculturalism.

I believe that identifying methods to encourage students to relate to the experiences of others is integral to genuine understanding of cultural diversity and, more importantly, to understand self in relation to the world.

An approach I have found helpful is the introduction of poetry; specifically sociocultural poetry; into the curriculum as a way to reach empathy skills that foster self-understanding and self-acceptance and aid in the process of understanding culturally diverse lived experiences. I define sociocultural rat poetry as writings that address the social, cultural, and racial lived experiences of members of oppressed groups. Lived experiences are defined as the stories and narratives that people share about themselves and their world (Ingram & Moule, 2001). Furthermore, perspectives about self and others are developed from the systematic exploration of individual and collective lived experiences (Aponte, Rivers, & Wohl, 1995; Sue & Sue, 1990; Uba, 1994).

It is my view that understanding writings such as the introductory verse above can serve as valuable keys to self-reflection, learning, and retaining information about another person's thoughts and feelings. This belief is supported by current knowledge of how the brain functions. One part of human memory, which Martindale (1991) labeled episodic memory, assembles experience into stories. Because stories, and often poems, contain lived experiences, lessons, and wisdom, they are remembered long after facts fade (Watson, 1997). "Stories and narratives, whether personal or fictional, provide meaning and belonging in our lives" (Witherell & Noddings, p. 1). "Stories have the power to direct and change our lives" (Noddings, 1991, p. 85). Stories are "pearls of wisdom." In African and other oral traditions, understanding of life is conveyed through stories. The layers of complexity and even ambiguity found and digested from stories and poems add to the understanding of adversity that oppressed people face, for both students and teachers. More importantly, the metaphoric content in these writings has sustained me, an African American assistant professor at a predominantly white institution, both personally and professionally. Through these writings, I have found voice to challenge critically the documented historical, racial, and cultural stereotypes that exist about people of color (Dubois, 1968; Takaki, 1994; Wallace, 1979). …

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