Cultivating Empathic Listening in Democratic Education

In this collaborative, mixed methods case study, Molly Andolina (Political Science) and Hilary Conklin (Education) explore processes that allow for empathic listening in democratic education and the outcomes promoted by empathic listening. The case focuses on an action civics curriculum—Project Soapbox—implemented in a demographically diverse exurban high school. Findings highlight how, among both students and adults, listening to Project Soapbox speeches led to greater learning about and valuing of new perspectives, increased empathy, greater understanding across difference, and a deepened sense of connection and trust. The data revealed four inter-related conditions or practices that appeared to promote empathic listening: deliberate community building that surfaced students’ values; the opportunity for all students to speak and be heard; active listening practices; and the willingness to be vulnerable and share personal stories. We propose a theory of empathic listening in democratic education and contend that empathic listening is a civic skill that can and should be taught. Further, the humanizing form of empathic listening we describe here is one civic tool that could address the deep inequalities that plague our democracy.

Hilary G. Conklin
Professor of Education
College of Education

Hillary Conklin Image

A former middle and high school social studies teacher, Hilary Conklin’s teaching and research are anchored by a vision of democratic, justice-oriented teaching, learning, and teacher education. Guided by these commitments, her research explores the design of teacher preparation experiences, the impact of these experiences on teachers’ practices and their students’ learning, and youth learning from civic education. Dr. Conklin’s research has been funded by the Spencer Foundation, the Brinson Foundation, and a National Academy of Education-Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship. She has written about her research in academic journals and in media outlets including The Atlantic, Time, and The Washington Post. Most recently, she was the lead author on a commissioned paper for the National Academy of Education’s Civic Reasoning and Discourse project.