You better watch out, you better not cry,
Better not pout, I’m telling you why
Santa Claus (and SEL assessment are)
comin’ to town.
~Song lyrics to “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” by Songwriters: Haven Gillespie / J. Fred Coots (with alteration).
Why is there such an intense push for social-emotional learning (SEL) involving young children in school? We used to do such assessment when children presented problems in the classroom or at home. But now it’s like Santa and the Elf on the Shelf are spying on children in school year round, not in a lighthearted way, but with intense scrutiny. By the way, some parents are not keen on spying elves.
How does one align a preschooler’s or kindergartner’s behavior to standards? Young children are learning and changing all the time, and parents are supposed to teach values to children. Why is the school taking over their job? Also, it’s not like teachers haven’t been teaching young students how to behave too.
SEL is about something else.
We are told by groups like the Brookings Institute that social emotional learning is necessary because early childhood education programs across the United States are more academic than ever before. They provide a link to the 2016 Bassok, Latham, and Rorem study, “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?”
While no one can deny that schools and society are pushing children to learn faster, many parents and teachers are concerned about this trend. Why would they want to align their child’s behavior to standards that will push students to learn beyond what’s developmentally appropriate?
Aren’t teachers and parents tired of academic standards? Most parents I know are sick of Common Core. SEL is connected to Common Core. It’s the behavioral component. Many articles surface combining the two, like this one from Edutopia.
We also know that measuring soft skills is difficult.
“Strategies for Social Emotional Learning: Preschool an Elementary Grade Student Learning Standards and Assessment” (CASEL 2016), is a report partially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (p.8). That’s no surprise. The authors of the report admit that SEL assessment for young children lacks validity and reliability when it comes to assessment methods “especially for this age range,” but they are going ahead and assessing little children anyway. (p.6).
Despite having no idea how so much assessment, or SEL programs, are going to turn out for young, impressionable minds, SEL is more costly than having an elf controlling your child’s behavior from a shelf. Schools and school districts have spent about $640 million per year on SEL-related products and programs. Teachers invest approximately $20–46 billion per year on SEL.
SEL appears to be the marshmallow world of evidence-based curricula and instruction, loose goals, benchmarks, and tools for universal and targeted screening and progress monitoring.
We can only hope that the big guy living at the North Pole, will have mercy on children whose parents have problems, or when the children themselves struggle with mental illness or an array of other difficulties.
How long will Santa keep the data? When does he decide that a child’s behavior has changed and they are once again worthy of his attention?
Do we want obedient students, or children who ask questions?
Surely, we want our students to be loving and to contribute to society, but won’t that come with real relationships in classrooms with small class sizes managed by well-qualified teachers?
Scripted programs seem forced and elves that follow you around are simply annoying.
And, not to be critical of Santa, but I would rather have a child who is nice just because it is the right thing to be, not because they’re being watched and there will be more presents under the tree.