By Larry Sand
As a longtime teacher, I have seen firsthand that education is a fad-filled field. Culturally responsive education, inventive spelling, new math, experiential learning, balanced literacy, etc. are educational styles that have come and gone and come and gone and….
One of the more enduring educational whims is Social Emotional Learning (SEL) which took off in the 1990s when the Collaborative to Advance Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) came into being, and hosted a conference with researchers, educators, child advocates, and others in the field. By integrating SEL in schools, the faithful claimed that they could “teach students critical life skills that will not only help their personal development but also their academic performance as well” and this, in turn, “creates a culture in which students and teachers respect one another and enjoy being together, further strengthening relationships and motivating both students and teachers to do their best.”
But as American Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Robert Pondiscio explains, SEL has drifted ever closer to being a central purpose of education without a full and proper examination of its role, and has become an unwelcome intrusion into what has been traditionally the work of families, faith, culture, and other institutions. This has led to “schools assuming powers and responsibilities far beyond their brief and educators working beyond their training and expertise.” In other words, SEL has turned teachers into unlicensed psychotherapists. (It’s worth noting that schools acting as therapists is rather ironic. As Erika Sanzi, director of outreach at Parents Defending Education, points out, schools are heavily involved with inflicting emotional damage on children. Whether teaching about the looming global warming apocalypse, that white 6-year-olds are oppressors, or that kids are viral vectors who could pass a deadly case of Covid to grandma, schools are cruelly creating unnecessary fears in children. As a result of this misinformation, it’s hardly surprising that the CDC reports, as of 2019, “diagnosable mental, emotional or behavioral” disorders afflicted roughly one in five children under the age of 17.)
To bolster their sales pitch, the CASEL hucksters insist that SEL is “evidence-based.” But as Max Eden – a Research Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute – notes, that argument is weak. He writes, “A 2017 RAND Corporation review identified 68 SEL studies meeting three tiers of evidentiary rigor. No studies within the top tier of evidentiary strength demonstrated benefits to academic achievement. Only one study within the second tier found benefits to academic achievement. Studies categorized within the third, weakest, tier of evidentiary rigor showed benefits across a variety of metrics, and we could debate how much stock to put in them.”
As first implemented, SEL was purely therapeutic in nature. It took a very dark turn, however, in 2020 when CASEL announced an ideological shift to “Transformative SEL,” which calls for students to “critically examine root causes of inequity.”
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