Salon magazine has an interesting article here about a practice in Danish schools of setting aside an hour every week for a classroom discussion of problems or issues, with a treat, such as cake, to enjoy afterwards.
The purpose of this practice is to teach kids to feel empathy for each other, the idea being that when they hear of each other's problems and issues they will become more sympathetic. Many of the comments, however, noted that when they were in a group like this, the group often ended up abusing certain kids.
I think anyone running a group like this needs special training so the group does not devolve into an abusive, blame certain kids kind of exercise. I prefer that schools teach common courtesy, which involves being polite to everyone, and not shutting certain kids out.
I've always noticed in my many years of teaching that many of my most empathetic kids were the avid readers. I think continually being pulled into different narrators' viewpoints enlarged their own.