“Social and emotional learning” – but by whose standards?

I read last month that Tennessee is adding a new dimension to its school standards.

As the Tennessee Department of Education prepares to roll out new academic standards in math, English, social studies and science, it’s turning attention to creating the state’s first-ever set of standards in a completely new arena — social and emotional learning.

Tennessee will spend the next year on the task as one of eight states chosen to draft new standards focused on students’ emotional well-being and mental health in grades K-12.

That means setting benchmarks for what students should know or be able to do in each grade when it comes to skills such as decision-making, self-awareness, social awareness, self-control, and establishing and maintaining healthy relationships.

The idea is that setting grade-appropriate standards for social and emotional learning can help teachers help their students thrive both in and out of the classroom.

. . .

The standards will be developed in collaboration with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, also known as CASEL, which announced this week that Tennessee will join the initiative along with California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington. The national organization previously has partnered with urban districts including Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools but is branching out into state policy to spread strategies around social and emotional learning.

. . .

“(The standards) will establish social and emotional learning as a priority in education,” said Conner, who has worked with at-risk youth in Tennessee for 30 years.

There’s a lot more at the link.  It’s worth reading in full to grasp the scope of this exercise.

My problem is this.  It looks very much as if CASEL is trying to “homogenize” our youth, teaching them the One True Way to deal with life issues, and inculcating a standard set of responses that ignore individuality and “program” them to deal with life, the universe and everything according to whatever approach is politically correct at the moment.  (Read more about it at their Web site.)  The problem is, that approach can change as easily as the prevailing winds.  Once the structures are in place to impose a standard, or set of standards, then those standards can be replaced with others at the drop of a hat, and the same structures can then be used to “implant” them in our young people.  There’s nothing to stop that happening.

Speaking as a writer, that’s frightening.  It’s Orwell’s “Big Brother” writ large upon our younger population.  We’re actually willingly sending them into a system that openly acknowledges it intends to indoctrinate them, and paying for that system with our tax dollars.  Are we, in the process, funding and encouraging the demise of free thought, and the end of the inquiring mind?  Are we accepting that people can and should be programmed like computers?  And what does that say for the future of writing and books?  Will it be restricted to products that conform to the system – not necessarily through editorial fiat, but because our potential readership has been programmed to reject anything else?

There are those who’ll say that this is nothing new.  They’ll point to the old Jesuit maxim of “Give me the child for seven years, and I will give you the man” to prove their point.  However, I submit there’s a difference.  In the “old days”, there was a moral code in place that controlled the teachers, those providing the formation to the children.  We can make all the rude remarks we like about pedophilia among the clergy, but let’s face it:  there was an awful lot of good done as well, in church schools.  There was a known set of standards in a Christian society, and whether public or private, education hewed to them. “Establish(ing) social and emotional learning as a priority in education” was not among them.  Education was for facts, not feelings – and rightly so, IMHO.

Today, in our post-Christian society, the only standard seems to be that “anything goes”.  There are no common cultural roots any more.  Can the sort of formation promoted by CASEL impart meaningful norms of behavior when there are no longer generally accepted norms?  When guidance counselors can encourage children to explore alternative genders, without consulting or informing their parents, and schools can refer them for medical treatment to permit that, what’s to stop schools indoctrinating their children in behavioral methods and a societal outlook that would be anathema to many parents?  And what does this say for our future as writers?

Of course, there’s also the opposite point of view. If families are no longer providing an environment in which to raise children inculcated with moral and ethical norms and values, is it not the school’s responsibility to try to provide some sort of behavioral framework? I’d argue that it isn’t, but others would then ask who’s going to do so if the school does not. It’s a valid point, and one to which I don’t have an answer right now.

Over to you, friends.  What’s your opinion?  And what, if anything, can we – should we – do about it, particularly as writers?

19 thoughts on ““Social and emotional learning” – but by whose standards?

  1. It would be very easy for the standards to become a justification for abuse or exclusion of unpopular or minority groups. What happens when a child does not meet the standards? Are they held back or are the parents told there child needs treatment.

    1. The way they blame the kid who’s being beaten up for not trying to get along with the other kids — in spades.

  2. Frankly, the whole thing is an exercise in trying to cram everyone into the same cookie cutter, then getting upset when the results turn out badly, or ‘it’s the parents’ fault and we should take away the child for the good of the child.’

    1. Even if there were not hugely confounding measurement issues, probably there is a wider variation in the sets of healthy and healthy enough than there is among examples of specific types of damage.

      Perhaps one pedophile is more like another pedophile than one healthy person is like another healthy person.

      Jails and gallows may well be much more efficient methods of process control for human development than education. You might only get as much appearance of efficiency if you damage a bunch of children in the same way and manage to produce the same diseased state in them. Which process may not be anywhere near as consistent and reliable as fiction would make it sound.

  3. Well… given the that our pooch screwing unionized public educators can’t even teach the kids to read or write… I don’t think we have much to worry about. If you aren’t home or private schooling your kids these days… they’ve already had it.

    1. Very much so. These standards greatly expand the opportunities for the sort of teacher that students tell horror stories about to bully students they don’t like.

    2. The thought that went through my mind … what happens to those kids who test on the high end of the spectrum? They can function in society, but aren’t quite “normal”, thought processes are different, emotional processes can be out-of-whack.

      “When a child goes off in class and a teacher understands what’s going on in that student’s life,” How about teaching them this thing called self-control; that is inappropriate to “go off”. Work for my generation, even those on the “functional” end of the spectrum.

  4. This is going to be another one of those “useful in theory but useless in practice” sorts of things.
    The teachers whose students need this the most–i.e., kids from dysfunctional/nonexistent households–already have a hard enough time teaching them to read, write, and do basic math. This is just another thing that’s going to take away from learning basic skills and add more paperwork, for little to no gain in the supposed objective.
    Meanwhile, the teachers whose students don’t really need this, because they come from functional households, are going to be the only ones who are going to actually be able to give this nonsense any kind of real attention.
    If educational theorists were part of an organized conspiracy to prevent social mobility, they would do nothing different.

    1. Cutting class sizes in half would probably do the most for those kids. Oh, and having a flexible and easy way to move students if the elementary teacher is a bad ‘fit’.

  5. “… setting benchmarks for… social awareness, self-control, and establishing and maintaining healthy relationships.”
    And those who fail to achieve benchmark levels will be — recycled?

  6. Obviously my standards are the best standards.

    If everyone learned to think the way I did, feel the way I did, at the ages I did, it would all be perfect. Perfect hell. At best the Bob the Fool model works for people similar in personality, character, and aptitude to Bob the Fool. It is not clear that my model even really works for me, much less wildly different people.

    Adding a bunch of subjective criteria to attempt to measure and attempt to change is not going to make epicyclic education theory any less of mess.

    Considering the abusers and abuser enablers engaged in the practice of education, that will also not see functional improvements.

    And the Jesuits were not based in common cultural roots. The division of the Western Church from the Eastern Church predates the Jesuit order by at least a century, and the Reformation split in the Western Church precedes or coincides with the formation of the Jesuits.

    In the United States in particular, the vast number of Protestants, at least historically, meant that Catholic religious education was not of a consistent cultural perspective with the rest of the country. (Of course, there has never been any real cultural consistency in the United States.)

    Socialism is in practice a heresy of Christianity, and would be an internally consistent basis for a system of religious education. The extent that social and emotional learning overseen by socialists will be worse for America than traditional Jesuit education was will be dependent on the degree to which socialist civilizations are more incompatible with christian civilizations than catholic civilizations are with protestant civilizations.

  7. It looks very much as if CASEL is trying to “homogenize” our youth, teaching them the One True Way to deal with life issues, and inculcating a standard set of responses that ignore individuality and “program” them to deal with life, the universe and everything according to whatever approach is politically correct at the moment….Once the structures are in place to impose a standard, or set of standards, then those standards can be replaced with others at the drop of a hat, and the same structures can then be used to “implant” them in our young people.

    I agree that this isn’t a good thing, and will almost certainly be abused by teachers and administrators to bully students that they don’t like. I would not, however, worry too much about the schools “implanting” sets of standards in the children. Social planners have always assumed a far greater ability to reprogram people than actually exists. These are education majors, in general the dumbest people in any college. Most of them can barely handle fifth grade math. They aren’t going to be creating a new class of humans

    1. One of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen was when I was wandering through the School of Education at a state college and happened to come across a wall hanging talking about the requirements to be an education major. The GPA required was a 2.5.
      Yeah, a B/C average.
      Hanged if I want someone who can’t manage at least a B average in core and education courses teaching my kids.

  8. Quite a long time ago I recall an initiative to require K-12 teachers to all pass the same basic competency test that students had to pass to graduate.
    They did some trial testing and discovered something like a 50% pass rate before the teachers’ unions got the initiative quashed.
    Just this week I heard the startling statistic that of all the people working directly in the American education system only half had any real interaction with students. Admin and support staff driven by a combination of empire building and the need to satisfy Federal education reporting and compliance efforts accounts for greater than half of our education budgets as Admin generally are paid at higher rates than teachers.

  9. “skills such as decision-making, self-awareness, social awareness, self-control, and establishing and maintaining healthy relationships.”

    Would this require that the *teachers* have demonstrated skills in these things in their own lives?

    (not to mention the curriculum designers)

  10. If self-control was actually taught and retained, that would be a big win. Something far too many kids these days lack. Decision making would also be a win. The rest are just useless. Really kids that already feel entitled are going to become self-aware. Bah.

  11. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (as have many others): Sending your child to public school is little more than legal child abuse. Either teach them yourself, or eat PBJs and drive clunkers to afford a decent private school. sorry/not sorry if this torques off any here that have school age children and being “taught” by those with a C average in the education field.

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