National Writing Project

Educating for Empathy: Literacy Learning and Civic Engagement

Nicole Mirra

List Price $29.95
NWP's Price $23.96

Educating for Empathy presents a compelling framework for thinking about the purpose and practice of literacy education in a politically polarized world. Mirra proposes a model of critical civic empathy that encourages secondary ELA teachers to consider how issues of power and inequity play out in the literacy classroom and how to envision literacy practices as a means of civic engagement. The book reviews core elements of ELA instruction—response to literature, classroom discussion, research, and digital literacy—and demonstrates how these activities can be adapted to foster critical thinking and empathetic perspectives among students. Chapters depict teachers and students engaging in this transformative learning, offer concrete strategies for the classroom, and pose questions to guide school communities in collaborative reflection.

Book Features:

  • Responds to our current, divisive political climate to explore what empathy really means and what it takes to teach for it.
  • Explores an innovative concept of critical civic empathy that goes beyond simply being nice to others and emphasizes making positive changes in government and society.
  • Provides an engaging synthesis of theory and practice that shows how foundational ELA activities can be used to support the development of empathy and civic engagement.
  • Focuses on both personal empathy (seeing other points of view) and global empathy (understanding the power of position and privilege in social interactions).
  • Includes real-world examples from a variety of schools and discussion questions at the end of each chapter.


"At a time when civil discourse and civic life are deteriorating, Nicole Mirra's book is welcome indeed. This passionate, engaging book will inspire not only secondary teachers of English, but all teachers throughout the K–12 years and beyond to encourage civic engagement and address the widespread absence of empathy for those different from us. Equally accessible and theoretical, Educating for Empathy describes mindsets and specific teaching practices that embody what it means to educate for empathy. If educators were to follow Mirra's model of critical civic empathy, we will have come a long way toward educating and motivating young people to become involved, engaged, and caring citizens.."
—Sonia Nieto, professor emerita, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

"In Educating for Empathy: Literacy Learning and Civic Engagement, Nicole Mirra demonstrates how empathy and care are not merely `soft' interpersonal skills, but intellectually rigorous forms of critical discernment crucial for projects of educational equity and transformation. Deeply grounded in respectful research partnerships with youth and teachers, elegantly crafted, and ultimately hopeful, this is a book that will resonate with and inspire educators in these precarious times."
—Gerald Campano, University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education

"If ever there were a time for a book on empathy in education, the moment is now. Nicole Mirra's book highlights some of the practical benefits of empathy for literacy educators and their students. Through Mirra's insightful theorizing and poignant examples of critical empathy, I am left with the hope that we can move one step closer to a more loving, empathetic, and civically engaged society."
—Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Teachers College, Columbia University

About the Author:
Nicole Mirra is an assistant professor of urban teacher education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Graduate School of Education.