A couple of months ago, we published an article about social and emotional learning. I’d seen some parents in our school district complaining about it, and the schools had decided to let families opt their children out of an SEL survey they were conducting. I was curious about the hullabaloo, did some research, and it seemed mostly harmless. (Our kids did the survey.) I wanted someone smart to explain to me why this was becoming an issue. And I figured that our readers would, too.
Fortunately, I have a long list of experts I can turn to on a wide range of subjects. In this case, I reached out to Frederick Hess, the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. In his piece, he explained that:
There’s much about SEL that appeals. It’s stuff that good schools (and parents) have always done, and it’s been a healthy course correction for an education system that’s been test-obsessed in recent decades while giving short shrift to character development and civic formation. … But as with so many well-meaning education reforms, SEL has a Jekyll-and-Hyde aspect. As has been true with the Common Core and “anti-racist education” (née critical race theory), SEL can be reasonably described both as a sensible, innocuous attempt to tackle a real challenge and, too often, an excuse for a blue, bubbled industry of education funders, advocates, professors, and trainers to promote faddish nonsense and ideological agendas. The latter is why SEL invariably comes up as a justification for doing away with traditional grading, eliminating advanced math, subjecting students and staff to “privilege walks,” or teaching first-graders about gender identity.