Dubious Designs

Will Social Emotional Learning Save the World, or Will it SELout Our Future?

In 1994, the Fetzer Institute, whose stated mission is to help build the spiritual foundation for a loving world,1 hosted a meeting of educators to address a concern they had about ineffective and uncoordinated programming in schools. From that meeting emerged the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and a new framework for aligning and coordinating school programming, which they called social and emotional learning (SEL).2

Today CASEL continues to work toward advancing science, practice, and policy related to SEL. It defines SEL by reference to five core competencies: (1) self-awareness, (2) self-management, (3) social awareness, (4) relationship skills, and (5) responsible decision-making.

SEL is put forth as a “whole child” approach to education that promotes intrapersonal, interpersonal, and cognitive competence and that enhances students’ capacity to integrate skills, attitudes, and behaviors so that they may deal effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges.3 CASEL board member Linda Darling-Hammond hails it as a means of solving global problems: “If you look at the state of the world, with conflict and inadequate resources for many people . . . it is our social and emotional intelligence that is going to pull us through to the world that we want.”4

Reason for Surveillance:

To be charitable, SEL appears to be an approach that, in the hands of good teachers with the maturity and character to deal wisely and selflessly with students, could be helpful. I’ve seen educators seamlessly weave those competencies throughout their teaching. But the verbiage being deployed by its founders, funders, and promoters makes it a movement that, at the very least, parents should be eyeing skeptically.

 Consider CASEL’s choices of words: “attitudes,” “behaviors,” and school programming being “aligned” and “coordinated.” And this: “the world that we want.” Who’s this “we” she’s talking about, and what kind of world do they want? And what policies might be put in place to align children’s attitudes and behaviors in the name of pulling us through to it? Ominously missing from most of CASEL’s lofty language are references to the transmission of knowledge (which used to be the purpose of education) and to parents (who used to be respected and deferred to as the primary authorities responsible for directing the education of their children).

These concerns are worrying enough, but there are more questions that will inevitably end in quandaries. By what standards will these core competencies be evaluated? How are they even defined in the first place? Who defines acceptable social awareness? Regardless of anyone’s good intentions, SEL prepares the way for wholesale psychological manipulation of the next generation and a massive re-engineering of U.S. education to advance elitists’ agendas—with or without the consent of the children’s parents.

Most Recent Development:

Like most federal legislation, the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a mixed bag. It requires that nonacademic factors be incorporated into school ratings, thereby granting CASEL a wide onramp for SEL. On the other hand, it broadens states’ flexibility in defining those factors. Some of the language is so broad you could drive a school bus through it.

With CASEL leaping to take the wheel, now is the time for parents and those educators who support them to become informed and take action to ensure that their voices direct how their states define and implement the new guidelines. Because parents will always lay a better spiritual foundation for a loving world for their children than any cadre of elitist bureaucrats building CASELs in the sky.

1. https://fetzer.org/about.
2. https://casel.org/history.
3. https://casel.org/core-competencies.
4. http://thefederalist.com/2016/10/19/schools-ditch-academics-for-emotional-manipulation.

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #49, Summer 2019 Copyright © 2024 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo49/dubious-designs


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