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Critics of Social Emotional Learning Standards Call It a Fad, ‘Non-Academic Common Core’

Critics of Social Emotional Learning Standards Call It a Fad, ‘Non-Academic Common Core’

This month, it was announced that eight states will be collaborating directly with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) to develop social emotional learning standards to guide students in state classrooms. The goal is to have a set of standards for public review as early as next spring.

For those unfamiliar, social emotional learning is defined by CASEL as "the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

CASEL has defined five core competencies it says should guide social emotional learning and are the five areas states will focus on while drafting their standards: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making.

While only eight states are involved in the process, 40 states had expressed interest in the project, indicating just how high the general interest level is when it comes to figuring out how to best educate children in SEL.

Not to mention the country’s new education legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act, includes several provisions that CASEL has applauded for supporting SEL on a national level.

For the very first time, states are allowed to define student success through non-academic factors that relate back to SEL. CASEL also applauds language that promotes “safe and healthy students” in the process of supporting student achievement.

Some experts believe that this increased support of things like SEL, character education and the like is a direct result of a “happiness enlightenment.”

Stephanie Davis, founder of Laughology, says in a blog post on the International Positive Education Network’s website that for the first time, governments around the world are starting to take happiness seriously.

"Governments across the world are taking happiness seriously, [realizing] that happiness and well-being should be at the core of public policy because individuals and [organizations] are better, healthier and more productive when they are happy,” she writes. 

But not everyone agrees that it is the government’s nor the school’s place to teach students how to be happy. A series of articles have emerged this week from critics who are referring to an increase of SEL in schools as nothing more than a “fad,” with one critic bemoaning SEL standards for being the non-academic version of the Common Core.

”…here we have government demanding that young people exhibit certain feelings and social behaviors, and if they don’t, their schools could be dinged for it. That’s not only manipulative but creepy,” writes The Federalist’s Joy Pullman in an impassioned critique of SEL.

"[T]his is all about psychologically and emotionally manipulating children in order to push a certain political agenda," she argues.

While expressing a similar criticism, Townhall’s Jane Robbins also questions how teachers will be trained to effectively implement such standards.

"Assessment and development of students’ social and emotional skills is risky business. What kind of training will teachers or other school personnel have for this responsibility?” she asks.

"When non-psychologists dabble in these murky waters, the result is tremendously subjective analyses of what a child is thinking or feeling as opposed to what the government thinks he should be thinking or feeling."

To Robbins, SEL is nothing more than a big education fad that is destined to fail. Pullman, who refers to SEL as a non-academic version of Common Core, agrees.

Their opinions, of course, won’t stop the eight states working with CASEL from developing SEL standards, but it’s good to note that they exist nonetheless among the excited chatter for what’s to come.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor


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