We are grateful to the Federalist for posting the latest article on social emotional learning from Jane Robbins of the American Principles Project and Dr. Effrem:
It is great that Georgia has joined Tennessee in withdrawing from the CASEL SEL standards movement, but sadly, CASEL is pushing on with a new effort detailed in the article along with a detailed discussion of the dangers of SEL.
This summer the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)announced it had chosen eight states to collaborate on creating K-12 “social emotional learning” (SEL) standards. All students, from kindergartners through high-school seniors, would be measured on five “non-cognitive” factors: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
Under such a system teachers become essentially therapists, and students become essentially patients. Supposedly this will clear away the psychological deadwood that obstructs a student’s path to academic achievement.
But less than two months later, two of the CASEL states (Tennessee
) have withdrawn from the initiative. Parents have begun to realize the dangers of SEL and to challenge their schools’ lemming-like march toward psychological manipulation of children.
Federal Government Probes Students’ Psyches
We’ve written about the push by the U.S. Department of Education (USED) and the rest of the progressive education establishment to transform education from academic content instruction to molding and assessing children’s attitudes, mindsets, and behaviors. The infamous “outcome-based education” (OBE) in the 1990s began the trend, and Head Start and the Common Core national standards advance the same foundational principles.
The new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) ramps up the trend in several ways. ESSA requires rating schools based partly on “nonacademic” factors, which may include measures of SEL. It also pours money into SEL programs, “which may include engaging or supporting families at school or at home” (i.e., home visits by bureaucrats).
Other provisions include training school personnel on “when and how to refer . . . children with, or at risk of, mental illness,” and implementing programs for children who are deemed “at-risk” of academic or social problems, without ever defining “at-risk.” Similar ESSA language urges school officials to cast a wide net for special education in school-wide “intervention” and “support” programs, allowing schools to sidestep parental consent requirements for formal evaluations.
Beyond ESSA, at least three other federal initiatives aim to monitor children’s attitudes and beliefs. One is the planned revision of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the test referred to as “the nation’s report card,” to assess mindsets and school climate. This revision has been challenged not only on constitutional and privacy grounds, but as a violation of federal law. Of course, law is merely an inconvenience to the Obama administration.
The second effort would fund federally controlled and funded “social emotional research” in the proposed Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA
)—a bill supported by individuals and corporations that will profit handsomely from all this sensitive data to help them mold worker bees
for the global economy.
A third federal initiative is USED’s bribery of states to promote SEL standards and data-gathering on preschool children via the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants. These grants, along with the preschool grants in ESSA and Head Start, promote “Baby Common Core”-style SEL standards and data-collection and preserving this in states’ student-data systems. So now every child’s permanent dossier can include how well he played with others when he was four.
Should Government Track Students’ Thoughts, Feelings?
The problems with SEL are both philosophical and operational. Parents rightly object that the school (which means the government) has no business analyzing and trying to change a child’s psychological makeup. It’s one thing to enforce discipline in a classroom and encourage individual students to do their best; good teachers have done that from time immemorial. It’s quite another to assess students on their compliance with highly subjective behavioral standards that may measure personality and individual or family beliefs more than objective shortcomings in performance. The school exists to assist parents in educating their children, not to replace them in that role.
Writing in trade publication Education Week, a SEL consultant touts a new assessment “to generate data about such character strengths as responsibility, resilience, teamwork, curiosity, and leadership.” This violation of both privacy and freedom of conscience is also an alarming effort to standardize children, who normally develop at very different rates and in very different ways, to fit government-determined norms. The government has no right to collect data on any child’s “character strengths,” which are the most personal aspects of a child’s psyche. Period.
The operational problems are also daunting. Who will be assessing a child using these subjective criteria? Psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors undergo years of training to delve into this murky area. But even these experts admit there are no firm criteria for mental-health diagnoses, especially in children. The World Health Organization, hardly a bastion of conservative medical or political thought, warned: “Childhood and adolescence being developmental phases, it is difficult to draw clear boundaries between phenomena that are part of normal development and others that are abnormal.”
Through SEL, however, the government wants to have teachers making such evaluations. Psychologist Dr. Gary Thompson has emphasized
that placing this type of responsibility in the hands of untrained even if well-meaning people can be dangerous for the children who may be improperly labeled. These dangers can include even forced treatment
with medications that have harmful side effects, or threatened or actual removal of children
from their homes if parents refuse the treatment.
Student self-reporting such as surveys, another common means of compiling SEL data, is similarly unreliable. Prominent SEL proponents Dr. Angela Duckworth and David
Yeager have pointed out that students may interpret survey questions differently from how the creators intended, and that the questions are unlikely to detect incremental changes. As parents of teenaged boys can attest, many children will treat such surveys as a joke and gladly take the opportunity to respond in the most outrageous manner possible.
Because “perfectly unbiased, unfakeable, and error-free [SEL] measures are an ideal, not a reality,” Duckworth and Yeager argue, such measures should not be used to evaluate schools or teachers. Duckworth was so concerned about using these highly subjective criteria in federally mandated accountability schemes that she withdrewfrom a California project to do just that. But this is exactly what USED is pushing through ESSA, and CASEL through its K-12 standards.
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