Americans as a whole seem more divided than ever, but according to Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common project, they still tend to care for each other despite their differences.
Yet the findings in the new report, Do Americans Really Care for Each Other?, aren’t all good news, because it turns out that most Americans aren’t actually practicing care in their daily lives.
Adults, on the whole, are far more likely to view biases and racism as defects in other people, while they are also prone to prioritizing their own happiness over caring for others. This extends to young people as well. In a 2014 survey conducted by Making Caring Common, the group found that high school students are far more likely to prioritize success — including happiness and achievement — over caring for others.
The new report outlines several issues that have exacerbated the problem of caring, including:
- Relying on unhealthy cultural and community norms and traditions
- Struggling to hold both negative feelings and compassion
- Falling back on biases and stereotypes when uncertain, scared, or angry
So, when it comes to young people and learning, where does caring fit into the equation? HGSE Senior Lecturer Richard Weissbourd, a co-author of the report and faculty director of the Making Caring Common Project, says it's essential to enhance our capacity to care for others— across difference, division, and bias.
“We need to be far more intentional and systematic about developing our capacity — and our children’s capacity — to care for and tend to others and our collective fate,” Weissbourd said to HGSE News.
Through Making Caring Common’s Caring Schools Network and its work with K–12 students, researchers have developed ways to help students effectively understand and recognize biases and gain the skills to have constructive conversations around challenging topics.
Even when topics move into more controversial areas, co-author and Senior Research and Evaluation Manager Milena Batanova says the lessons learned through this intentional work allow students to focus on individuals rather than get caught up in differing opinions.
“We need to remember that this work is about people and skills rather than specific content,” Batanova says. “It’s about the process and what it takes to try to understand people, to learn about them, and to be generally curious to develop the skills to take that care further.”