Confronting the Other: Understanding Empathy

  • Jim Garrett University of Georgia
  • Kyle Greenwalt Michigan State University
Keywords: empathy, humanities education, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, love, education for social justice


The concept of empathy is strongly at play across the field of education. In analyzing literature from which this concept both emerges and presently appears, this review elaborates on what empathy affords the educational enterprise. Drawing from theorists from diverse fields of inquiry, among them education research, phenomenology, and psychoanalysis, we focus on the limits of empathy while questioning what lies beyond. We find that deployments of empathy might actually create more distance between self and other rather than bring about more understanding across difference. Further, in looking at the literature on empathy there is an insufficient attention to broader social considerations that impact understandings of the other. In light of what we find to be problematic about the idea and uses of empathy in education, the paper concludes with speculations about how practicing educators might adequately address the inherent problems within learning across difference.

Author Biographies

Jim Garrett, University of Georgia
Department of Elementary and Social Studies Education, Temporary Lecturer
Kyle Greenwalt, Michigan State University
Department of Teacher Education, Assistant Professor
How to Cite
Garrett, J., & Greenwalt, K. (2010). Confronting the Other: Understanding Empathy. Current Issues in Education, 13(4). Retrieved from