Helping children with their emotions is something teachers have done for years. Certainly, assisting children and teens with appropriate, caring behavior is an important task. And, yes, there are ways to help children feel good about who they are and what they can contribute to the world.
Of course educators should address a child’s feelings and their emotional well-being. Schools should be beautiful settings with lovely activities that tell a child the adults and their community care about them.
But all of the new Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) hype is, unfortunately, simply an afterthought to Common Core. And it doesn’t work when you say, “Oops, we forgot to consider a child’s feelings, so, yep, let’s add some checklists and objectives and we will be good to go.”
It doesn’t work that way.
Last week I wrote about the relatively new social-emotional learning hype that is sweeping the states. SEL4MA is short for Social Emotional Learning (SEL) for Massachusetts, and they began following me on Twitter. I love that they did, because they present all kinds of issues to write about. But it is frightening too.
Like the fact that the two reasons they give for the need to work with children’s SEL are:
- Increase academic achievement (up 11% universally and 17% for at-risk students).
- Reduce the staggering human and financial costs caused by violence, addiction and other social maladies (social-emotional learning skills up 22% and for every one dollar invested in effective SEL, the return is $11 (SEL to Reduce Cost)).
Both of these objectives are not directly about a child’s happiness. They are about getting a child’s achievement levels up and reducing the problems they supposedly cause in society.
While one certainly wants to reduce costs tied to illiteracy and social problems, schools should be about helping the children themselves thrive. All the other stuff falls into place when you accomplish this task.
Herein, one finds the great divide between today’s education reformers and the many educators and parents who understand that the child’s feelings and social well-being must come first.
For example, and at the risk of repeating myself:
- You don’t help a child have a better self-image by sending them to a school building that’s a dangerous facility, ugly in every way, and where they have lead-tainted water to drink.
- Nonstop drilling of subjects that could be enjoyable to learn makes a child hate school.
- You don’t create stress in a child and think that will help them learn better. In other words, you don’t lift their spirits by nonstop testing online with a computer that isn’t a real human.
- You don’t knock out any semblance of socializing—like recess and pleasant lunchtimes—and think that will increase positive vibes in a kid.
- Telling children they need to get grit and keep at it, when they have unprepared teachers who fail to help them learn, isn’t great either.
- Making a child with a disability or second language feel badly due to the unjustified test they failed, and which will keep them back a grade, is depressing.
- Telling a student who worked hard but could not pass the ill-tested standards, that they won’t get a real diploma, doesn’t create positive feelings.
More and more the SEL BS appears to be about social control and not the welfare of the child.
It doesn’t have to be this way! Restructuring our public schools to make them places that address the real needs of children in a positive manner, will, in the long run, make a great America.
Pushing behavioral standards for standards sake just won’t work.
Cynthia B MannLCSW says
As a school counselor for 24 years, I usually felt that I was the Underground Railroad of social emotional issues point person. I had one administrator, out of 4 over the years who supported psycho-social services.. Working in a semi-rural area with 1/2 of the families second language learners & 1/2 below poverty level, there are few community social services. To be succinct, now under the best of circumstances, it is unlikely that kids are getting SEL (other than with classroom teacher)-no counseling, no class meetings, no age-appropriate family life classes. When admin says it’s covered, just know that means someone has been assigned to do a bare minimum and most schools don’t even do that. In California the ratio is probably 1200:1 students-to-counselor now.
If teachers barely have time to teach to the test, in systems that have decimated special edu laws, (“SPED”)who could possibly expect them to teach SEL(if we acronym we can say it faster and not really have to help the next generation be people with empathy & integrity) I fear for the future.
Nancy Bailey says
As a special ed. teacher, school counselors were the greatest! They were always helpful and provided great support for my students and their families. At the high school level, counselors also provide an important link to college and vocations.
But there aren’t enough of them. You’re right. And the social-emotional support side of what they do has been overshadowed in some places by test and college prep. You’re right about that too.
We should have more school counselors who are able to help the school staff provide the necessary SEL support to students. Their role is critical.
And thank you for the important role you have played in the lives of students and also thank you for such an informative comment!