How Social and Emotional Learning as the Primary Focus is Coming in all the Windows

How would you feel if you heard your child’s principal declare openly that “what students know is not nearly as important as how they feel”? And you then did some follow-up research into Educational Leadership doctorates and discovered that is just one of the poisonous ideas they teach. What if I told you there was widespread excitement among administrators about new definitions of Growth and student achievement because they include social and emotional learning? And the expressed relief that “this will make us look so much better after the cheating scandals.” And that those definitions are being pushed by your federal government under those state waivers under No Child Left Behind.

Supporters have never been able to get the social and emotional learning (SEL) explicit permission through Congress. Making school about group work and social interactions and an emphasis on the psychological and emotional are just not politically popular. Manipulating and monitoring a student’s personality while also limiting what they can know factually or can do intellectually is terribly popular though among anyone who has ever had the ambition of using the schools to create a desired mindset for political change. In fact, the scheming essays and reports always note the need to push the SEL emphasis by the middle grades at the latest. Research it seems shows we are far less pliable after the age of 15 or so. Lovely stuff to read.

How then is it coming in? Some comes in through a “developmental” emphasis. They conveniently leave out the part about minimizing linguistic or cognitive development since these crucial areas are not equal among everyone. People differ in those capacities so out they go. Instead we get an emphasis on physical, social/interactive, psychological/emotional, and ethical development. These areas are deemed equally accessible to all more or less. Especially with group activities as the core. Then there’s the added advantage that none of these areas creates a mindset likely to call “Baloney!” on whatever bad idea is being pushed by Someone With Authority.

It thus comes in quietly under the cover of “soft skills” in a state statute or “life skills” in that new school or district charter. Or your district may be implementing the SEL emphasis while complaining about bullying. The need for a Positive School Climate to make sure nothing bad ever happens among students and everyone is always treated respectfully. Even when they say something really stupid. Mustn’t snicker anymore.  Need Character Education that emphasizes the mental health of each child. Or the Happiness research from England. How about a School Climate audit from the now renamed Center for Social and Emotional Education? With the slogan “Educating minds and hearts, because the Three R’s are not enough.”

How about federal agencies trying to turn all “negative actions with an intent to harm” into a federal problem whenever there is an imbalance of power between the students? No I am not kidding. shows the pressure being put on the states and districts to do something in advance of any problem. With the SEL remedies already printed up and ready to be hired for SEL professional development.

It’s interesting that the most common reaction to that GAO report among adults is what a tremendous tool it will give adults to bully children while they are in school. Especially able children or students with unique opinions or who would rather remain a distinct individual. Who really do not enjoy or have much use for the idea that a group, any group, comes  first. The sort of kid that looks at the adult who says “I am because we are” is an appropriate slogan for life in the 21st century and asks if he is joking.

When I was writing the previous post on the misleading use of charters, I had the image of some well-paid school superintendent without any record of personal academic achievement trying to climb on the back of the bright, talented high school student and whispering in her ear: “You A students think you are so smart. I’ll show you now.” Let’s face it. An SEL school focus licenses some fairly mediocre people who have not been honest with us about what their actual intentions are towards the schools and our children and our tax money. It gives them official permission to let loose with the power of the state behind them with every thought of envy they have ever had. Toward anyone. About anything. The entire Greenie Meanie instincts of the Ages.

You think it can’t happen in your child’s school? How about the National Center for Learning Disabilities recently requiring that all students should be subjected to the PBIS, Positive Behaviors Interventions and Supports, frameworks? And that PBIS behavioral goals should be embedded in all the academic classes. Think any official will tell you? Or that Common Core must be implemented using A Whole Child approach. How about the fact that the new AdvancED accreditation standards obligate the schools to collect data on each child’s physical, social, and emotional needs? Must have been a typo. No one seems to be interested anymore in what, beyond basic concepts, the child actually knows. Although I did read a complaint recently from a professor complaining about the superliterate student and how they made others feel with their superior knowledge.

What does personal freedom mean in a country requiring these types of intrusions in its public schools? And this level of monitoring? Because this is the bulk of the data you keep hearing about. The feedback is much more likely to be undesirable attitudes and beliefs. Going into an official longitudinal database. More stimulus dollars at work! It certainly won’t be “this child really needs to brush up on their knowledge of what led to World War 2.” No. We wouldn’t want the students or parents or taxpayers to be aware of what is happening. Because together and informed they might be able to stop it.

10 thoughts on “How Social and Emotional Learning as the Primary Focus is Coming in all the Windows

  1. Respectfully, I think you are overstating the case. Just because educators are aware of more than the three R’s, that doesn’t make public education a nefarious hotbed of social brainwashing. Group work doesn’t kill individuality; humans are social creatures, and some of our best work comes out of great minds working together, bouncing ideas off of each other, and tweaking each other’s work.
    As a public educator, I can tell you that the school has no database of students’ personality types. And whether or not a teacher actively tries to learn more about his her students (and every good educator does), just being in the classroom everyday gives one access to each child’s strengths and areas that could use more development.
    IMHO, delivering content–while the primary role of a teacher–is not the only role. I’m thinking of one of my son’s high school teachers in particular who knew him well enough to know that he was “coasting” in a gen-ed level English class. She pushed him to do more, and you know what? Slacker that he was, he rose to the occasion. My son is 22 now, and he recently told me that he would regularly skip Enviro Science (in which he made an A), to sit in on his English teacher’s AP class.
    For me, his English teacher’s knowledge of my son on a personal level ended up greatly enriching his learning and his passion for literature and writing. She certainly had a far greater impact than the science teacher who didn’t notice or care that he wasn’t in class (she never contacted me about his absesnces) and still awarded him an A.
    So I’m okay with teachers knowing more about my own child than how he performs on independent, content-based work, and I think it’s good for all kids. No one is *replacing* strong content with soft skills. Many educators (but certainly not most of them) work in opportunities for students to learn some of these skills while they learn the content. Working in a group gives students an opportunity to practice the skills that they will need to use in the workplace. What’s wrong with that?

    • Kate-some of what I am quoting has come out within the last few weeks to a few months ago. Or is embodied in legislation passed in the last session or is coming from school districts like Reno Nevada or Colorado that are considered to be leading edge in interweaving the Positive School Climate emphasis and PBIS.

      The Reno super was then brought to Charlotte to move them further along. Charlotte has come to Fulton to have the same effect. It takes time to get this in place. I just happen to be monitoring legislation and regulation as well as the special ed websites. was a post from May 15. In the comment section you will see a commenter detailing what PBIS looks like in a school in Gwinnett County. The ink was barely dry on Georgia HB 186 that gave the legislative permission to target soft skills and in they came.

      Charlotte was using PBIS in its schools. They were also using outcomes based education through PEAK-Performance Excellence for All Kids which Fulton has said it will be using and Understanding by Design. UbD is an updated version of Ralph Tyler’s work described in that same May 15 post.

      If there is some group work, that’s not a problem. The strong content delivery is inconsistent with the student-directed emphasis decreed by Cambridge Ed in its Quality Reviews. It also happens to be barred by AdvancED’s Standards of Quality.

      Finally where this is all going is that school is to be about a deep as in grounded in emotion understanding of yourself and other people, not subject matter knowledge. I know. I have the books and documents declaring the aim by people in a position to make it happen.

      I am glad your 22-year old had such wonderful experiences. The purpose of this blog is to say “this is coming. This is being put in place. It will have a tragic result. Let’s talk about this in advance.” For the 6, 10 and 14 year olds who will still be in K-12 as this comes into full implementation. For the kids who will not like the higher ed changes tied to Common Core.

      When I talk about Gypsy Principals and Gypsy Supers, I am only being a little sarcastic. This comes into place because the next promotion and salary increase for administrators is putting these policies into effect with fidelity, using that to move on, and leavig the successor with the consequences.

      The ultimate purpose of the effective teacher evals and having a PLC is to leave fine teachers like you with no recourse. Implement or quit.

      I think that replies to your concerns. You are welcome to disagree with me anytime.

      I wouldn’t write it if I was not looking at overwhelming evidence of what is coming. I’d like to go ahead and start moving to higher ground before I can actually see the tsunami.

      • Thanks for the detailed response. I’m in a school that you’re very familiar with, and we have a gypsy super and principal as well. I understand your concerns about starting early to circumvent problems in the future. I guess being in public ed, I realize that teachers often don’t do what they’re mandated to do, and generally with very little consequence. Not saying that’s a good thing, but it seems to be true. Moreover, teachers see the silly mandates as just one more useless thing to do, and proceed not to do it, or do as little as possible to be in compliance–or perceived compliance.
        The pendulum swings and in three years we’ve forgotten all about authentic assessments (remember those?) or CC because the next, new, new thing is all the rage. Not that we shouldn’t be aware of what’s coming down the pike, but there’s some other fresh hell coming down right behind it. I suppose when educators are in the trenches and really care about kids, they mostly ignore the BS and then do what’s best for students. The fresh hell goes stale pretty quickly. 😉

        • All true but I don’t see this as a local phenomenon. I see how it fits into the national and international template.

          I get much great info from the UK and Australia where this is further along. It is not the least bit pretty.

          I taught myself an awful lot of political theory and economics and history. I will track back through the footnotes of the research being relied upon and then locate the original of the book or article. I am on the insider mailing lists so I get real-time info of what is coming in the US. Because I know what it looks like elsewhere now and was is ultimately sought, I have pulled why and how we got here in the book. That’s the autopsy of all the things that have never made sense.

          In the mean time I am trying to stop the forward motion of what would be an economic catastrophe. There’s a reason a number of financial blogs have cited posts> That’s how I think and they seem to recognize it’s a valid analysis that no one has ever combined before.

          Hang in there. I am glad you seem to recognize the spirit in which I write this.

  2. This all sounds remarkably similar to almost a century ago(1918) when the NEA issued its Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education and “democracy” became the focus of public education in America. It led to approximately a half century of the dumbing down of American students because cognitive development and the acquisition of knowledge became almost taboo in our public schools.

    And here we go again? Come on. How can this run away train of insanity be stopped?

    • Hi Paul. Welcome.

      Talking about the reality and cutting through the PR sales pitch is a good start.

      Recognizing the unknown and unappreciated conflicts of interest that permeate education.

      It’s not that the scheming will achieve its desired goals but it will wreck much of what does work. And alter the course of too many lives at great expense.

      If you have not read, it is an important part of what is going on now.

      One of those unappreciated things I have mentioned is the fact that it was the regional accreditors behind the 8 Year Study. So using education for economic, social, and political transformation, without it being apparent in time, was always lurking in the background of what accreditors pushed. They now have almost complete sovereignty over what goes on. So we are hurtling towards an abyss at the moment.

      So, yes, I have stopped to scream at the top of my lungs through this blog. Please join me any time to share what you see and hear.

  3. Today’s world is a war of dogmas, which have been long held, for varied time periods up to and including all of known history and more, and thus well entrenched. This is true even in the hard sciences, which are all in an unrecognized crisis of incompetence, characteristic of the times (although the false dogmas there are only a century or two old–still enough to be taken as gospel today). A good watchphrase is, “He who knows only his own generation remains always a child.” A people taught from youth only according to what are essentially the fads of the decade, or the generation, or even the century, is a civilization started on a downward slope, that accelerates suddenly to the point of dislocation and violent confrontation of opposing ideas. Only new knowledge, new real expertise, about the far past can harmonize the many divisive dogmas currently at war in our society and in the world. And academics have been brought up in recent generations to dismiss and deny the new knowledge that is in fact coming out, through individuals like me (and especially by me, as I am an independent physicist with hard knowledge that corrects both science and religion, about the true origin of the world, and its continuing myths, as we know it).

    • I agree. I was just finishing up yet another aspect of where education is taking us and once again it won’t work. This time it was Communitarian Amitai Etzioni’s most recent book Common Ground:New America, New World and his push to use education to create new moral values that will then foster global peace. No that just means you are unarmed and unwitting when the bully comes after you. These plans to remake human nature via education all come to national grief.

      But most of the people pushing do not know enough history or hard science to recognize that this cannot work. That we are courting catastrophe by trying.

      Thank you for visiting and commenting. There’s a lot here. You will especially appreciate the most recent post on the Julian Simon/Paul Ehrlich wager. Simon was right but Ehrlich is about to prevail by using the government’s monopoly over education practices. policies, and curriculum to create a new, more amenable mindset.

      Or as I wrote on May 31 “If Facts Won’t Cooperate, There is Always Pedagogy.”

  4. Hello Robin

    I just noticed that you replied to a comment I posted to PJ media about PBIS.
    Could we correspond? I work in the schools in a menial position, could not get a full-time teaching job (teacher of record) in spite of a content-specific degree plus having fulfilled a 2-year plus certification program and student-teaching (not a quickie BS thing.) I could tell you some things.

    • Sure. Use the contact me email address.

      And I have now confirmed PBIS is global and being ramped up now in Europe and even Turkey.

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