Penn State

PSU looking to teach care, compassion

There are some things that you just can’t learn in a classroom. Or can you?

You can teach someone to read. Can you teach them to read someone else’s heart?

You can teach someone to add. Can you teach them to add value to someone else’s life?

You can teach someone science. Can you teach them the chemistry of kindness?

Penn State is trying.

New gifts at the university are being used to address empathy and relationships through study in the College of Health and Human Development.

Alumna Edna Bennett Pierce has endowed a new professorship in the college specifically to study caring and compassion.

“Educators spend energy teaching facts,” said Pierce. “Care and compassion is much more nebulous than that. It’s hard to put a finger on it. It’s one of the most important issues in the world and yet in very few places is it being taught or stressed. I just see this professorship as a very far-reaching way to do it.”

HHD researchers have found that children’s social and emotional development in their early years help show what kind of people they will become. The way children become aware of how people care for each other shapes them.

Mark Greenberg holds the Edna Peterson Bennett endowed chair in prevention research. He is also stepping forward, with wife and fellow researcher Christa Turksma, to fund a series of lectures on compassion.

“When and how does a child learn to be kind and compassionate, and what can communities, schools, teachers and parents do to nurture these essential qualities?” Greenberg said.

Penn State has stepped forward in recent years, attempting to battle back against the Jerry Sandusky scandal with the work of The Network on Child Protection and Well-Being, an effort to look at the dark side of what can happen in a child’s life and the lifelines that can be thrown to them.

With the new gifts from Pierce, Greenberg and Turksma, including a graduate fellowship from Pierce for student study of compassion, the university is also turning its lens on the bright side of childhood.

Every year, thousands of children come across Penn State’s campuses for various reasons, from community events to sports activities to summer camps to field trips. The university has made the safety of children a priority, with mandatory classes for employees and strict regulations about protection and reporting.

But childhood is more than childproofing. It’s also helping kids learn about helping hands.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce