Social, emotional, but where’s the learning?

First graders react to the question, “What face do you make when your mother compliments you?” during a class session called “Feeling Faces” at Public School 24 in New York City. — Emile Wamsteker for Education Week

Teachers are using Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) to manage classes, reports Education Week.

Already dubious about SEL’s claims to make children nicer and prepare them for the 21st century, Katharine Beals sees SEL for classroom management as intrusive and manipulative.

It starts with an obvious tactic: “Giving students input in classroom rules and making them make amends and apologize when they hurt someone’s feelings.” Students also learn simple vocabulary words related to feelings, practice identifying their emotions and act out their feelings.

It all takes more time than a traditional incentives-based classroom management system, a teacher tells Education Week.

The program also invades students’ privacy, writes Beals.

Students convene for class meetings, during which they express their feelings and solve problems.

. . . Ms. Diaz said she has conversations with the class about not repeating what they hear from members of their “class family.” In addition, she explains that as a mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect, she must pass on certain information to counselors and administrators.

Also, Ms. Diaz said, she warns parents at the start of the year that their children may open up to her about what’s going on at home.

One activity sounds like “emotional abuse” to Beals.

Maria Diaz’s 5th graders were revisiting a lesson in social-emotional learning they’d done recently in which they drew pictures of themselves and then listened to a story. Each time students heard a “put-down,” or a hurtful statement about someone in the story, Ms. Diaz had them tear off a piece of their self-portraits in a show of empathy.

. . . The “put-downs” activity . . . brought much of the class to tears.

The goal is to make kids “more responsible and empathetic,” writes Beals. These are “two traits which the teachers we’ve read about, as well the architects of these programs, appear to be lacking in spades.”

“SEL-based classrooms also do not work for every child,” Ed Week admits. “Students with behavioral issues may require an extrinsic-rewards system or a more structured approach.”

Beals asks: “Why are we forcing students who don’t have behavioral issues to waste so much time on these privacy-invading, time-wasting exercises?”

Is SEL useful, harmless or manipulative?

About Joanne


  1. Is SEL useful, harmless or manipulative?

    I couldn’t say in a scientific sense.

    But I know I would have absolutely, utterly hated it as a child.

    Hell, I’d hate that as an adult, too.

    And people wonder why the schools have a bad reputation and people don’t think they’re worth the expense…

    • “…I couldn’t say in a scientific sense….”

      And that hits the crux of the problem. Even if your intentions are good, the classroom is not an appropriate venue for psychological experimentation. There are plenty of ways to reinforce good behavior and diminish bad behavior, or help kids socialize more constructively, that do not involve untrained teachers running small group therapy sessions or leading classroom exercises that may have been designed by somebody no more qualified than they are, or that should be administered (if at all) by somebody who is properly trained.

      • Oh come on. Of course the classroom’s an appropriate venue for experimentation of any sort although the word “experimentation” implies scientific rigor which is superfluous.

        Both historically and legally there ins’t really all that much in the way of barriers to experimenting on kids with only the prospect of public outrage acting as deterrent. Those who propose the experiments and those who give their permission risk nothing so self-evidently idiotic experiments, or policies if the bother of a sketchy attempt to prove efficacy can be ignored, are fairly common.

        The question that ought to be asked, in the context of the public education system, is why kids shouldn’t be experimented upon?

        A new batch will, like clockwork, show up next year and an old batch disappear into, well, who cares where they go, right? So the supply’s ensured. The law requires the kids to be delivered up to the public education system regardless of efficacy or safety or propensity to treat the kids like experimental animals and those who do the experimenting are free from worries about being held responsible for any adverse results.

        For those proposing the experiments there’s the prospect of professional recognition and personal gain. Taken together with the lack of any liability one has to wonder why there isn’t more experimentation on kids.

  2. Stacy in NJ says:

    It makes sense that this program is being imposed on the mostly poor and immigrant population in NYC public schools. Affluent parents would NEVER tolerate this type of psycho-babble b.s.

  3. I would guess that these schools are taking a huge risk of law suits for doing psychological harm. I wonder if they sought advice from legal counsel concerning these risks.

  4. They did some of this kind of stuff when I was in junior high. It felt creepy and intrusive to me, and I couldn’t see that it made the rude or bullying students any less so. (we did an exercise on ‘discrimination’ which essentially gave the bullies free rein on the day their favorite target was in the “discriminated against” group)

    Also, it took time away from actual instruction in academic subjects.

  5. Ann in L.A. says:

    Psychologists don’t barge into classrooms and attempt to teach; teachers shouldn’t pretend to be psychologists!

    Becoming a psych councilor is a long and complicated process for a reason: you can do damage if it’s done wrongly. Teachers have, at best, taken a few child psych courses during ed school; they likely have no clinical experience.

    Furthermore, I doubt any child psychologist would run a group with 20 diverse kids. One I know maxes out at 6, and usually has 4-5, and all of them are in a similar place emotionally and socially.

  6. Say some kid in one of these sessions commits suicide. I wouldn’t want to be the lawyer defending the school against a law suit resulting from something like that even if I was pretty sure that the sessions had nothing to do with the suicide.

  7. I’m all for teaching little kids not to do things that are mean, and one way that they can tell that they are being mean is if other kids are upset. ‘It’s not a joke if they’re not laughing’ can be useful, too. Other than that, though, I’d prefer for teaches to have a ‘Behavior X will not be tolerated in this classroom’ stance.

    I’ve worked with youth at church, and even in a safe environment where there are a lot of caring adults around and we definitely talked about how people treat each other and how we related to our families, any exercise that had a bunch of kids in tears would have been stopped. We never had kids that felt that ‘pushed’, but had it happened, we would have worked through it individually or with a small group…sitting in their chairs, crying, is not appropriate.

  8. Jerry Doctor says:

    Child abuse – pure and simple. And done for the worst possible reason. It allows those in charge to tell everyone how much they care about these poor little kids that obviously lack the ability to amount to anything unless they run their lives for them.

  9. Typical Libtard TOUCHY-FEELY do-gooder NONSENSE!!!

  10. Who needs to learn anything? You simply need to remember how to stay in line, keep quiet, and do whatever the ones in control (the elites, the 1%, etc.) tell you to do. The K-12 schools are doing their jobs masterfully well; they’re dumbing down the population and preparing all the “rest of us” for lives as cattle, in a prison without bars many would rather die than leave…

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      It’s a Brave New World and we all can’t be Alphas. Gammas have it really good. They get a ration of soma daily.

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    When you’re doing this stuff, you’re not generating any papers to correct.
    Coincidence? I think not.