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?