Exploring different perspectives: How critical thinking can help middle schoolers develop empathy and understanding for others

Apr 5, 2023 | Perspectives

I. Introduction

Middle school is a crucial time in a child’s life because it’s when they are first exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking. Additionally, this is a time when children learn to develop their sense of empathy– i.e. putting themselves in someone else’s shoes and considering how their own actions may affect others. In this article, we’ll talk about how critical thinking, empathy, and understanding for others are related, as well as how middle schoolers can get better at these skills.

II. Understanding Empathy

Empathy is being able to understand and feel what other people are feeling. In middle school, kids start to learn empathy by recognizing and feeling what their peers are feeling. At this important age, kids start to realize that other people have feelings and emotions just like them.

Let’s say that a middle school student is having trouble at home and is clearly upset in class. One of their classmates notices and comes up to them after class to ask if they’re okay. The student who is upset tells a classmate what’s going on, and the classmate listens carefully and says supportive things. The classmate shows empathy by noticing that their friend is having a hard time. By taking the time to listen and offer help, they show that they understand and care about their friend’s well-being. This kind of behavior can make a big difference in a student’s life and help create a culture of empathy and understanding in the classroom.

III. The Importance of Empathy and Understanding for Others

Understanding and caring about other people are important skills that have a big impact on a student’s success in school and in life. Here are some ways in which empathy is important:

First, empathy makes people kinder and helpful to others. Students are more likely to be kind and helpful to their peers if they understand and care about what others are going through.

Second, empathy makes schools safer places to be. When students understand and care about others, they are more likely to make their school a place where everyone is welcome and respected. This can help stop bullying and other bad behavior.

Third, empathy helps students get along with each other. When students can understand and empathize with others, they are more likely to make friends with them, which can make the school feel like a community where everyone belongs.

Lastly, having empathy helps them do well in school. When students can understand and care about what other people are going through, they are more likely to be able to communicate well, work with others, and work toward common goals. These are important skills that will help you do well in school and in life.

IV. The Relationship Between Critical Thinking, Empathy, and Understanding for Others

As people, we are always meeting and talking to people from different places, cultures, and times. It is important to understand and care about other people if you want to have meaningful relationships and get through conflicts. But not everyone is naturally good at these things. To develop them, you have to work at it, and one way to do that is to think critically.

Critical thinking is the process of looking at information in an unbiased way and making decisions based on that analysis. It means putting assumptions to the test, looking at things from different points of view, and using logic and reason to come to a conclusion. Critical thinking can help us understand and care about other people by letting us see things from their point of view.

When we think critically, we question our own beliefs and assumptions. We think about different points of view and look for evidence to back up what we believe. By doing this, we can learn more about other people’s lives and points of view.

For example, let’s say a friend of yours has been acting in a way that bothers or frustrates you. You could just say that what they do is selfish or annoying. But if you think critically, you might start to think about other things that could be causing them to act the way they do. They might be going through a hard time in their personal life or be having trouble with their mental health. By thinking about these things, you’ll be able to understand and feel for your friend’s situation better.

Critical thinking can also help us recognize and question stereotypes and biases, which can make us more empathetic and understanding. Imagine that a middle school teacher is leading a discussion about how different cultures have helped make America what it is today. One student says, “We need to build a wall because Mexicans only want to come to the US to get welfare benefits.” This is obviously an offensive stereotype about Mexicans and why they come to the US, but it can also be a teachable moment.

The teacher, who has been taught how to think critically, knows that this is a racist statement and challenges it by asking the student to show proof or evidence. The teacher may ask questions like, “Where did you hear that?”, “Where did you read that?” or “What evidence do you have to back up that statement?”

These questions force the student to think analytically about where they got their opinions, and whether or not those sources are credible. For example, if this was something they heard at Thanksgiving dinner from Uncle Bob, they may realize that Uncle Bob isn’t a reliable source on matters of immigrant labor statistics. The student might feel defensive or embarrassed, but critical thinking forces everyone in the class to look at what they believe and whether or not those beliefs come from a place of fact, rumor, or downright “fake news”.

The teacher could also show credible evidence to the contrary– showing evidence, for example from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics which shows that Latino Americans actually have a higher labor force participation rate than non-Latino Americans. Then, the students could think for themselves whether or not they want to believe the US BLS, or Uncle Bob.

This is an example of how students can use their critical thinking skills to become better empaths.

V. Five steps to developing empathy and understanding at school

  1. Model Empathy: Teachers and staff members should model empathetic behavior by actively listening to students, showing concern for their well-being, and demonstrating respect and understanding for their perspectives and experiences.
  2. Teach What Empathy Is and Why It Matters: It’s important for students to know what empathy is and why it’s important. Teachers can use activities, stories, and discussions in the classroom to help students understand what empathy is and how it helps people get along with each other. Encourage students to use their critical thinking skills in order to convince themselves of the value of empathy.
  3. Practice: Students can get better at being empathetic by practicing it. Teachers can get students to do activities that require them to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and see things from their point of view. Role-playing and telling stories are also good ways to help students to use their critical thinking skills to learn to care about others.
  4. Set Clear Ethical Expectations: Teachers should make sure their students know what is expected of them in terms of ethics in the classroom. This means teaching people to care about and respect others and making it clear that bullying, discrimination, and other kinds of bad behavior will not be accepted.
  5. Make School Culture and Climate a Priority: Creating a culture of empathy and understanding takes time and work that never ends. Teachers and staff should make it a priority to create a safe, welcoming, and supportive learning environment where all students feel valued and respected.

By taking these steps, middle school students can develop empathy and understanding for others, which can help create a positive and supportive learning environment for all students.


Empathy and understanding for others are critical skills for success in school and in life. By developing critical thinking skills, middle schoolers can learn to understand and empathize with others, even if they disagree with them. Teachers can help develop these skills by modeling empathy, teaching what empathy is and why it matters, providing opportunities for practice, setting clear ethical expectations, and making school culture and climate a priority. Follow our website for more helpful articles on developing critical thinking skills in children.

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