Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.
What Is SEL?
SEL stands for social and emotional learning. It seeks to teach the knowledge and skills necessary to manage emotion, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy, create and maintain relationships. While many children learn these things at an early age, others don’t. It may be due to a condition like autism (ASD) or a lack of good role models. Furthermore, there is almost always room to improve. Learning positive coping skills and conflict de-escalation techniques benefit children and adults alike. This is one of the reasons why SEL has come to the classroom.
Is SEL Being Used in Our Schools?
The answer is yes, and it is taught alongside reading, writing and arithmetic. And, in general, that’s not a problem. Improved social skills in theory will reduce tantrums, fights, explosions of anger and overall drama in the classroom. Children do better when they learn proper etiquette and other forms of “social lubricant”, too.
What’s the problem? It is the injection of critical race theory and similar political theories into the SEL program and thus bring it into the classroom.
Imagine a lecture to elementary school about the gender unicorn and gender as a social construct, years before the kids have taken health class.
Imagine classes on critical race theory teaching kids that they’re all either victims or oppressors, and it is only a degree. That your identity is based only on factors like race, sex, family status, income and not who you are. This doesn’t just undermine Martin Luther King’s vision of judging people by the content of their character instead of their outward appearance. It violates children’s privacy. After all, you’re making them publicly identify these characteristics. In these assignments, they almost always must share them with teachers and fellow students. This results in children talking about everything from broken homes to sexual confusion with teachers who cannot help them. This only does harm.
Furthermore, CRT undermines the benefits of social mixing in school. In schools where these classes are taught, children start to stereotype others. It has been demonstrated to increase division in the schools, as kids realign social groups based on “identity”, even as it reduces empathy and increases pressure to conform to one’s assigned stereotypes. This is the opposite of the goal of any true emotional intelligence education program.
What Are the Key Points for Emotional Intelligence?
- Allow for differences of thought and opinion. Be aware of where others may be coming from, but don’t teach them to make assumptions based on demographics or social factors. Accept that you may have personal biases based on these factors as well as your own experiences.
- Build stronger relationships in school and home so that they can succeed in their personal and professional lives.
- Teach children how to understand their emotions. Teach them how to use their emotions constructively and teach them how to manage them. This includes stress management, empathizing with others, conflict resolution and effective communication. It does not include making children feel guilty or outraged because their teachers told them they should. That is child abuse, and it being done to create aggrieved activists instead of healthy, productive adults.
How Do We Benefit from SEL without Being Problematic?
Social and emotional learning is beneficial when it is done right. Teaching critical race theory and related social justice content as part of SEL is harmful to children and society as a whole.
Most children learn these things at home and from general social interactions. Tools like social stories for autistic children and behavioral counseling for kids in trouble are examples of targeted SEL that should be left to the professionals. We would recommend only having counselors teach social and emotional learning as required instead of trying to teach it to the whole school. This saves teachers time by letting them focus on teaching the 3Rs, while it eliminates the platform for unfair politicization of the schools. Then we can all focus on what is best for our kids and our community.
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