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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Education teaches empathy

Saichand Chowdary
Students work on the third level of the Campus Center. Photo by Saichand Chowdary / Mass Media Staff.

Reading headlines lately can be pretty bleak, especially as a lover of literature. I love literature so much that I plan to make a career of it, which is why the recent news about Florida’s change to their curriculum has been so disheartening.

For those who may be out of the loop, Florida school districts have received a myriad of new rules that have come down the pipeline of the office of Governor Ron DeSantis and all his accomplices. Some of these rules include integrating conservative media into the classroom, removing books that don’t fit a very specific mold set by the Department of Education, and requiring parental approval on nicknames—a notion that could keep transgender students closeted, or out them all together.

This, of course, corresponds almost too perfectly with Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill, which prohibits or limits teachers from discussing LGBTQ+ matters in schools. Depending on the grades, discussion of LGBTQ+ matters are banned entirely, seeing as Florida lawmakers find discussing families that don’t fit into the perfect White, heteronormative ideal to be “developmentally inappropriate” for children grades pre-kindergarten through grade eight, according to Matt Lavietes for NBC News (1). Although supporters claim this can give parents more control over their children and their education, it also sets up a harmful ideology of bigotry and denial.

Anyway, back to the books. As I said, this is a bleak time to love literature, and just to love learning. According to the list provided by the Florida Department of Education (2), these books that were banned aren’t just the expected books—books about LGBTQ+ people, sex or violence—but also books about race, growing up and historical events such as the Holocaust.

One book entitled “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health” was banned in three counties. This book is no different than the American Girl “Caring and Keeping of You” book many young girls of this generation got. It is important, vital information for development; never mind the books showcasing stories of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC individuals. Books with representation are critically important not only for those who may see themselves in these novels, but to those who may gain new perspectives on life.

However, this perspective doesn’t just come from picking up a book. What many conservative lawmakers fail to realize is that no amount of curriculum changes, book banning or paper-white history can keep young minds from becoming more and more empathetic.

Although Florida may be moving to adopt videos into their curriculum from the notorious PragerUa conservative nonprofit media company that, according to Ayana Archie at NPR, has made such claims as: feminism was “a ‘mean-spirited, small minded and oppressive philosophy,’” and “slavery abolitionist Frederick Douglass (said) that while slavery was wrong and evil, it was a compromise the Founding Fathers had to make to ‘achieve something great,’”(3)their children are still being exposed to different cultures and lifestyles simply by attending school. Not only that, but the internet has given people more access to other people from all across the globe, removing them from their secluded worlds of decades past.

Now, it would—and should—be obvious to some that this is all intentional. A rigorous curriculum with altered facts is just the first step towards segregation and censorship, resulting in generations of youth in Florida completely misinformed. Here is the interesting thing, though, no amount of stifling can hide this information. Children will grow up, and they’ll go to college; possibly out of state. In college, they’ll take classes not only on math and science, but also things on world culture and art, all of which can showcase new perspectives than shown in primary education.

Sometimes when I talk to my grandfather about college, he’ll be quick to ask a question about how school “isn’t brainwashing me, right?” I, of course, always answer no, because that’s the long and short of it—they aren’t. If seeing other perspectives and understanding them is brainwashing, then yes; I’m being brainwashed by the liberal university agenda. Alert Fox News, they’ve got another story to fill their airtime! But I think it’s just teaching me to be a more compassionate and understanding person.

For example, I’m taking a class this semester called “Moral and Social Problems.” It’s an introductory Philosophy course, and—as the course name suggests—the class explores plenty of moral and social issues in today’s society, such as animal rights, abortion and the right to immigrate. The professor, Chris Zurn, told us he wasn’t going to tell us how to think, but rather present both sides of the issue and their arguments, allowing us to come to a conclusion on our own.

On the flip side, I’m taking two classes that broaden my horizons and allow me to think about the world for what it actually is. These could, hypothetically, be considered “liberal brainwashing,” but as a future member of working society, specifically in education, I wanted to expand my horizons and learn everything I can. The two classes—one on the government and politics of the United States, and the other on sexuality studies—allow me to gain a broader scope on not only the history of the country I live in, but also the people impacted by the laws and hardships created by this country. This knowledge, in turn, can allow me to make changes and impact future generations as a professional in education.

According to a study done in 2021 by María José Gutiérrez-Cobo et al., which was published in the National Library of Medicine, “participants with a college education had higher scores on cognitive empathy than those with a lower educational level. Additionally, the relationship between age and cognitive empathy fit an inverted-U-shaped curve, consistent with the data found for cognitive and emotional intelligence.” (4)

Am I saying everyone with a college degree is perfectly empathetic? Of course not. Our current lawmakers have proven that’s not the case. However, education—in any form—can make people more empathetic. You just have to be more open to it.

  1. https://www.nbcnews.com/nbc-out/out-news/florida-school-districts-removed-roughly-300-books-last-school-year-rcna104367https://www.nbcnews.com/nbc-out/out-news/florida-school-districts-removed-roughly-300-books-last-school-year-rcna104367
  2. https://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/5574/urlt/2223ObjectionList.pdf
  3. https://www.npr.org/2023/08/14/1193557432/florida-education-private-schools-prageru-desantis
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34078514/#:~:text=Participants%20with%20a%20college%20education,for%20cognitive%20and%20emotional%20intelligence
About the Contributor
Katrina Sanville, Editor-In-Chief