A Look into Social-Emotional Learning
Many states have sought to address controversial curriculum in K-12 schools over the past two years by either banning such curriculum or enhancing transparency requirements to keep parents informed of what is being taught to their students. But lawmakers and parents should be aware of a concept called social-emotional learning (SEL), which is often not included in curriculum standards but instead utilized to improve student mental health.
The concept of SEL was developed and promoted by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) in 1994. They define SEL as “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.” They also define five pillars of SEL, which include self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and social awareness. CASEL also developed a more specific type of SEL called “Transformative SEL,” which focuses on “transforming inequitable settings and systems, and promoting justice-oriented civic engagement.”
SEL objectives were wisely created to address student mental health concerns, recognizing that schools play a broader role in shaping student behavior and emotions in addition to academics. Kids spend most of their days in school at a time when their social and emotional skills are developing, so it makes sense that some of their personal skills and values will inevitably be shaped by their teachers and peers. However, parents must be well-informed of this content when it is being taught to their students, as they are the ones ultimately responsible for choosing what values are instilled in their children.
The original concept of SEL was and still is a good one that recognizes the importance of mental health in K-12 schools and takes positive steps to promote it. However, SEL is also utilized to promote concepts that many parents and lawmakers would find controversial.
When it comes to school curriculum, a transparent, open, and honest process ensures that the standards are truly directed toward improving student mental health and not pursuing a particular political agenda. This is why curriculum transparency is a key component of ALEC’s American Civics and History Act, which establishes a set of best practices for state policymakers looking to strengthen civics and history requirements/standards.
ALEC’s Education Savings Account Act model policy is another solution for state lawmakers. It ensures that education dollars are directed by parents and ultimately follow the student to whatever educational environment is best for them. Whether it be controversial curriculum, bullying, transportation issues, or other reasons, this policy addresses the needs and concerns of all families by providing maximum funding flexibility and freedom in education.