Pedagogies of Kindness and Respect

On the Lives and Education of Children

by Paul L. Thomas (Volume editor) Paul R. Carr (Volume editor) Julie A. Gorlewski (Volume editor) Brad J. Porfilio (Volume editor)
©2015 Textbook VIII, 316 Pages


Pedagogies of Kindness and Respect presents a wide variety of concepts from scholars and practitioners who discuss pedagogies of kindness, an alternative to the «no excuses» ideology now dominating the way that children are raised and educated in the U.S. today. The fields of education, and especially early childhood education, include some histories and perspectives that treat those who are younger with kindness and respect. This book demonstrates an informed awareness of this history and the ways that old and new ideas can counter current conditions that are harmful to both those who are younger and those who are older, while avoiding the reconstitution of the romantic, innocent child who needs to be saved by more advanced adults. Two interpretations of the upbringing of children are investigated and challenged, one suggesting that the poor do not know how to raise their children and thus need help, while the other looks at those who are privileged and therefore know how to nurture their young. These opposing views have been discussed and problematized for more than thirty years. Pedagogies of Kindness and Respect investigates the issue of why this circumstance has continued and even worsened today.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction: “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
  • Section One: Theoretical Framework
  • Chapter One: Public Education and the Ethics of Care: Toward a Politics of Kindness?
  • Chapter Two: Are We Educating Our Children Within a Culture of Care?
  • Chapter Three: No Excuses for “No Excuses”: Counternarratives and Student Agency
  • Chapter Four: Empathic Education for a Compassionate Nation: A Pedagogy of Kindness and Respect for Healing Educational Trauma
  • Section Two: Pedagogies of Kindness and Children
  • Chapter Five: Renewing the Confucian Tradition: Kindness and Respect in Children’s Everyday Schooling
  • Chapter Six: “When I explain it, you’ll understand”: Children’s Voices on Educational Care
  • Chapter Seven: Prekindergarten Policy and Politics: Discursive (Inter)play on Readying the Ideal Learner
  • Chapter Eight: Nurtured Nature: The Connection Between Care for Children and Care for the Environment
  • Section Three: Curricular Dimensions of the Pedagogies of Kindness
  • Chapter Nine: Love, Learning, and the Arts
  • Chapter Ten: Aesthetic Reading and Historical Empathy: Humanizing Approaches to “Letter From Birmingham Jail”
  • Chapter Eleven: Re-Storying “Progress” Through Familial Curriculum Making: Toward a Husbandry of Rooted Lives
  • Chapter Twelve: Music Education, Character Development, and Advocacy: The Philosophy of Shinichi Suzuki
  • Chapter Thirteen: Tough Kindness: Reconciling Student Needs and Interests in 1940s Black Progressive High Schools
  • Chapter Fourteen: Doodles, Birds, and Abstract Words: The Experience of Caring
  • Chapter Fifteen: No More Disrespect: Teaching All Students to Question Right and Wrong in History
  • Section Four: The Political Economy of the Pedagogies of Kindness
  • Chapter Sixteen: Peace Education About the Lives of Children
  • Chapter Seventeen: Acknowledging and Validating LGBT Identities: Toward a Pedagogy of Compassion
  • Chapter Eighteen: Reclaiming Kindness, Courage, and Compassionate Justice in Difficult Educational Times
  • Chapter Ninteen: A Critical Pedagogy of Care and Respect: What Queer Literacy Pedagogy Can Teach Us About Education for Freedom
  • Chapter Twenty: Toward Pedagogies of “Senseless Kindness” in Critical Education
  • Author Biographies
  • Index

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“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”


Eliot Rosewater in Kurt Vonnegut’s (1965) God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater implores: “‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind”’ (p. 129). In Sandra Cisneros’s (2004) short story “Eleven,” Rachel sits in class on her eleventh birthday, a day when she is confronted by her teacher about a found red sweater that the teacher is certain belongs to Rachel: “‘Of course it’s yours,’ Mrs. Price says. ‘I remember you wearing it once.’ Because she’s older and the teacher, she’s right and I’m not” (p. 42). While these are fictional representations, children’s lives are realized in a state of powerlessness, silenced by the hierarchy of authority. The sweater in Cisneros’s story is, in fact, not Rachel’s, but as the narration reveals, truth is secondary to hierarchy, subjugated by codified authority.

Throughout the world, children tend to experience not only silencing but also a level of harshness not tolerated among adults. The twenty-first century remains a callous place for children in their lives and their schools, notably in the U.S. where childhood poverty is over 22% and the new majority of public schools serve children in poverty (Southern Education Foundation, 2013). But more than the conditions of children’s lives and schools in the twenty-first century is worth addressing. As Barbara Kingsolver (1995) details in “Somebody’s Baby”:

What I discovered in Spain was a culture that held children to be meringues and éclairs. My own culture, it seemed to me in retrospect, tended to regard children as a sort of toxic-waste product: a necessary evil, maybe, but if it’s not our own we don’t want to see it or hear it or, God help us, smell it. (p. 100) ← 1 | 2 →

A sort of cultural antagonism and authoritarian control of children pervades the U.S., especially intensified during the current 30-year cycle of public education accountability.1 If children in the U.S. survive the gauntlet that is their K–12 education, as young adults they must look forward to crushing debt to attend college so that they can enter a nearly nonexistent workforce. But there is a caveat to this experience: This is primarily the reality for “other people’s children” (Delpit, 2006, 2012), that new majority in U.S. public schools (Southern Education Foundation, 2013), and those children living in homes of the working poor, the working class, and the dwindling middle class.

Children of the privileged are exempt.

This volume, then, collects a wide variety of accessible chapters from scholars and practitioners to explore pedagogies of kindness and respect, an alternative to the “no excuses” ideology (Thomas, Porfilio, Gorlewski, & Carr, 2014) dominating how children are raised and educated. Instead of imagining, however, we seek to examine the theoretical, sociopolitical, life-and-schooling, and arts-based elements that bring kindness and respect into reality.


The following chapters are divided into four sections, opening with “Section 1: Theoretical Framework.” In Chapter 1, Rachel K. Brickner explains that neoliberal approaches have reconceived public education in terms of a market model, promoting policy reforms that punish students, educators, and schools falling short of market expectations. Because it corresponds to a central function of schools—caring for students—an ethic-of-care framework can effectively reframe the demands of public education advocates. Drawing on examples from Chicago, Portland, St. Paul, and Milwaukee, Brickner shows how some teachers’ unions have been able to foster a politics of kindness, which focuses public dialogue on the care that students deserve so they can flourish as individuals and citizens.

Chapter 2 by Michael Burger asserts that improving students’ scores on high-stakes exams with maximum efficiency has become synonymous with improving educational quality and accountability. This has occurred not because it actually improves schools, but because regulators can easily assess students’ responses and describe their scores. However, that focus tends to dissociate caring from education and dispirits its professionals. Burger argues that we can improve the education that teachers provide while increasing their ability to care for each of their students if we re-envision information technologies in education as tools that can help manage the complexity of instructional transactions instead of treating teachers and students as commoditized resources and outputs. ← 2 | 3 →

In Chapter 3, Sharon M. Chubbuck and Brandon Buck note that the implied message of the “no excuses” schools, that no child’s zip code should determine his/her academic success, sounds like an anti-deficit counternarrative of capability. The strict, punitive practices used, however, communicate deficiency. The authors contrast that approach with a narrative understanding of learning, where students negotiate the intersection of competing narratives/counternarratives, in order to maintain self-congruence. This understanding of learning suggests a pedagogy sparking students’ agency to negotiate counternarratives. The result is a kinder, more respectful pedagogy.

Concluding the first section, Chapter 4 by Lee-Anne Gray examines “Empathic Education for a Compassionate Nation” as an educational model promoting kindness and respect while healing educational trauma. It resonates with children’s need for freedom to play, explore, wonder, inquire, share, and have fun at any age. Compassionate educational practices honor children, not because it’s utopian and whimsical, but because it’s the best practice for bringing people together, to participate fully in a democratic society. Through experiences of co-learning facilitated by design thinking, adults and young people experience radical aliveness, which re-wires the brain for health, reversing and mitigating the effects of educational trauma.

“Section 2: Pedagogies of Kindness and Children,” begins with Chapter 5, by Jiacheng Li and Mei Ni. Though having experienced interruptions due to historical and contemporary events, Confucianism-based traditional Chinese education is still embedded in the modern schooling system of China. The Confucian principle Ren focuses on the concept of kindness and respect, and reformers are encouraging it to be restored to Chinese children’s everyday schooling with peers, teachers, and parents. With Chinese government policies in favor of more kindness and respect as part of school reform, achievements of some influential education projects have emerged, as well as quick development of Chinese pedagogy with bold goals of connecting the traditional wisdom and new challenges.

Maria K. McKenna’s Chapter 6 focuses on the lived experiences of youth in educational spaces and how they understand the phenomenon of care in those spaces. Based on a yearlong intensive phenomenological study of sixteen adolescents from urban public and private school settings, the concept of educational care, as first presented by Nel Noddings, is unpacked via children’s artwork, writing, interviews, and surveys. A complex picture of educational care emerges.

In Chapter 7, Angela C. Passero, Carrie L. Gentner, and Vonzell Agosto illustrate how Florida’s voluntary prekindergarten education policy forwards a particular conception of prekindergarten/ers and the implications of such policies in facilitating socially just and kind programs through critical discourse analysis. This study uses assemblage policy as the theoretical framework and is situated amid concerns about neoliberal influences on policy negotiations concerning prekindergarten/ers. ← 3 | 4 → Findings suggest contradictory interplay between policy documents including creation of the term age-appropriate progress, conveyance of a narrow band of meaning and associated goals for the terms readiness and literacy, and misuse of the term screener. Further, disproportionate emphasis on emergent literacy standards was found to narrow conceptualizations of the ideal prekindergarten learner as ready to progress appropriately toward literacy performance.

Chiara D’Amore and Denise Mitten’s Chapter 8 argues that a healthy environment, secure parent-child relationships, and time in nature are interwoven and mutually supportive birthrights for all children. Common Western parenting practices can increase material wants, adding to environmental problems. The authors claim that it is imperative that we raise children in a way that nurtures their innate capacity for personal, social, and ecological connection and kindness. This can be achieved through a parenting pedagogy that fosters secure relationships between children and their caregivers and includes frequent contact with nature. To be kind and respectful of children is to ensure that they have a habitable, healthy planet to call home.

With Chapter 9, Jane E. Dalton moves the volume into “Section 3: Curricular Dimensions of the Pedagogies of Kindness.” Dalton asserts that the grading, testing, and standardized curriculum that leave many students on the fringes must be replaced with a pedagogy of love that is strengthened through the arts to build classrooms where all students can learn, be expressive, work collaboratively, and be valued for their individual gifts. Artistic experience can be deeply profound, influential, and academically rich in the lives of children. Offering multiple pathways for learning and a vast array of symbolic language to strengthen self-understanding, the arts deepen learning using creative expression that is both unique and authentic.

Chapter 10 by Jason L. Endacott, Christian Z. Goering, and Joseph E. O’Brien presents the notion that the fixation on developing career-ready workplace skills threatens to further narrow the purpose of a public education to an economic function, thereby privileging efficiency and compliance over many important democratic dispositions. This narrow-minded approach is troubling and calls for pedagogical approaches that reinforce the importance of kindness and respect as desirable attributes and educational outcomes in our pluralistic world. This chapter describes how the humanistic promotion of empathy in history and literature through a reading of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” can support the complex ideas, decision making, and moral judgment that help develop democratic citizens.

Sarah Fischer, in Chapter 11, argues that seeking to transcend place, the reductionist discourses and industrialized notions of progress that dominate current standards-based educational reform movements have permeated early childhood. Wendell Berry’s writing on the industrialization of agriculture, particularly ← 4 | 5 → his call to renew husbandry, is explored as a metaphor for pedagogies of kindness and respect, which validate the rootedness and complexity of familial curriculum making. This is illustrated with two contrasting vignettes of Isabella and her son as they experience a placeless preschool curriculum and engage in familial curriculum making as a subversive act of re-storying identity.

One commonly touted rationale for advocating music’s inclusion in schools is that music participation aids in the development of character, explains Karin S. Hendricks in Chapter 12. This chapter presents Shinichi Suzuki’s approach to music education, highlighting four philosophical principles by which it claims to influence character development: (1) character as an antecedent to ability; (2) the value of effort; (3) community, equality, and harmony; and (4) parental responsibility. Hendricks also questions the appropriateness of implementing the Suzuki approach in a culture and time different than it was originally intended, and explores the various implications that this philosophy might have for music education advocates.

In Chapter 13, Craig Kridel examines the common phenomena of the tough-but-caring teacher who students fear and adore. Specifically, he examines this type of educator who participated in the 1940s Secondary School Study, an experimental program for black high schools sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation’s General Education Board. Rather than describing these teachers from a psychological perspective, Kridel explains a curricular and instructional method of “tough kindness” by introducing one of the perennial issues of progressive education—the conception of needs.

“What constitutes pedagogies of kindness and respect?” asks Karinna Riddett-Moore in Chapter 14, adding, “How might kindness and respect be presented as curricular aims of the visual arts?” This chapter models how experiences of kindness and respect, here defined as authentic caring, is a curricular aim of the arts, engaging in projects of self-formation. To help unsettle the readers’ notion of caring and keep the concept of teaching care in play, the author presents three contradictory yet critical glimpses into the challenges and assumptions that come with taking on caring as an explicit learning objective.

In Chapter 15, which concludes this section, Laura J. Dull and Diana B. Turk argue that kind and respectful teachers believe that all students, regardless of race, disability, and other forms of difference, are capable of engaging in deep historical thinking—and they select and modify materials to facilitate this thinking by taking the time to determine students’ learning needs as well as their strengths and cultures. Drawing from their Teaching Recent Global History project, the authors describe how, by engaging in Howard Zinn’s “questions of right and wrong and justice,” students from a poor neighborhood began to see themselves as part of a larger movement of those who have been disenfranchised across time and space. ← 5 | 6 →

“Section 4: The Political Economy of the Pedagogies of Kindness” is the concluding section of this volume. In Chapter 16, Candice C. Carter writes that exposure to and education about violence normalizes harm as a response to conflict. Indirect as well as direct violence hampers healthy child development. Structural conflicts and wars hinder well-being and perpetuate violence. Peace education emerged from hope for avoidance of harm and destruction. As contextually responsive instruction about the lives of children in the present and future, peace education occurs in multiple ways. Across global contexts, peace education promotes respect for differences and kindness in communicative processes.

In Chapter 17, A. Scott Henderson explains that educators and policymakers have begun to utilize various pedagogies to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students form positive identities—and to feel comfortable in expressing those identities in school settings. This chapter examines three of these pedagogies: (1) the use of gay teen fiction as a curricular resource; (2) mandates that all students be instructed in LGBT materials; and (3) creation of separate LGBT schools. Such pedagogies are a vital part of the larger project to maintain schools as sanctuaries from intolerance, as well as countervailing influences against the dehumanizing tendencies of corporatist schooling.

Based on a keynote address, Ursula A. Kelly’s Chapter 18 examines the sources and meanings of violence in contemporary consumer culture and the role of loving kindness and compassionate justice to counter violence and to contribute to healthier, more resilient, and more peaceful communities. The discussion is organized around two questions posed by theologian and philosopher Jean Vanier: “Where is the violence coming from?” and “What is its meaning?” It is contextualized with examples drawn from the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In Chapter 19, Cammie Kim Lin details a high school English teacher’s queer-inclusive teaching practices, exploring how a critical pedagogy of care and respect emerges when the fundamental commitments of critical pedagogy and care ethics are coupled. Drawing on the work of Maxine Greene and Nel Noddings, the author argues that a pedagogy of care and respect must emphasize the development of critical capacities that enable students to understand and seek to transform themselves and the world—remaking it as a place of kindness, care, and respect for all.

In Chapter 20, Michalinos Zembylas, Robert Hattam and Maija Lanas problematize the too-easy categorization of kindness in superficial or romanticized terms and highlight the notion of senseless kindness. Drawing on Grossman’s Life and Fate and Levinas’s philosophy of the “face” and linking this intellectual inquiry with socially engaged Buddhism, the authors suggest that an ethics and politics of senseless kindness may be developed in ways that pay attention to the needs of ← 6 | 7 → vulnerable people. The analysis explores the conditions under which students and teachers can critically engage with the notion and the practice of senseless kindness; the vision of this endeavor is to inspire small acts of kindness that establish solidarity with others.


1. Adapted from P. L. Thomas, “The U.S. Formula for Children and the Choices We Refuse to Make” (24 October 2014), The Becoming Radical. http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/the-u-s-formula-for-children-and-the-choices-we-refuse-to-make/


Cisneros, S. (2004). Vintage Cisneros. New York: Vintage Books.

Delpit, L. (2006). Other people’s children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: The New Press.

Delpit, L. (2012). “Multiplication is for white people”: Raising expectations for other people’s children. New York: The New Press.

Kingsolver, B. (1995). High tide in Tucson: Essays from now and never. New York: Perennial.

Southern Education Foundation. (2013, October). A new majority: Low income students in the South and nation. Atlanta, GA. Retrieved from http://www.southerneducation.org/getattachment/817a35f1-abb9-4d6a-8c2e-5514d4a6d7d9/Test-Publication-4.aspx

Thomas, P. L., Porfilio, B. J., Gorlewski, J., & Carr, P. R. (2014). Social context reform: A pedagogy of equity and opportunity. New York: Routledge.

Vonnegut, K. (1965). God bless you, Mr. Rosewater or pearls before swine. New York: Delta.


VIII, 316
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (July)
Empathic education, care Empathic education kindness care
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. VIII, 316 pp.

Biographical notes

Paul L. Thomas (Volume editor) Paul R. Carr (Volume editor) Julie A. Gorlewski (Volume editor) Brad J. Porfilio (Volume editor)

P. L. Thomas is an associate professor of education at Furman University. The National Council of Teachers of English recognized his blogging with the 2013 George Orwell Award, and he is currently a column editor for English Journal. Follow his work on Twitter (@plthomasEdD) and at The Becoming Radical (http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/).


Title: Pedagogies of Kindness and Respect
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