"Beautifully gratifying or predominantly painful"? Autoethnographic inquiries into teaching empathy in a secondary school English classroom

by Lerman, Alicia Heather, Ed.D., TEACHERS COLLEGE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, 2016, 225 pages; 10117791


This dissertation explores through autobiography and ethnography the concept of empathy. Relying upon reflexivity as a methodology, the researcher examined her own biases, assumptions, and experiences with the teaching of “difficult knowledge” specifically through lens of first person Holocaust narratives.

The researcher investigated various and contested philosophical and theoretical positions and problematics regarding the concept of empathy. Via self-reflexive forms of autobiographical inquiry, she interrogated both her changing perceptions and expectations as well as her interpretations of interviews with former students. Participants were selected from a 2010 pilot study, in which the researcher conducted an autoethnographic investigation concerning a curricular unit on the Holocaust, forgiveness and Simon Weisenthal’s The Sunflower with her Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition class of high school seniors in New York City.

Arguing that empathy is increasingly relevant and critical, given current world situations, the author grapples with presumptions inherent to empathy’s dominant definition– that emotions are fully coherent. She does so via post-structurally inflected theories about knowledge and subjectivities as ever changing and shifting, unstable, and never fully knowable.

AdviserJanet Miller
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsBehavioral psychology; Secondary education; Rhetoric; Judaic studies
Publication Number10117791

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