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Social Emotional Learning-Proceed With Caution

Although we homeschool our children, I have been paying more attention to what is going on with the public and charter school systems in the past few years. My children had a little bit of time in the public school system when I was sick, and I learned a lot about the public school system.

I also had started my bachelors in early elementary education, and that was in 1999. And, there were some causes then that I was questioning. I felt that there wasn’t a true development of the whole child. There was a huge focus on getting kids to take standardized tests . Mastering education isn’t rote memorization-it is understanding information. I always wanted to know why I needed to learn something, and that sometimes annoyed some of my teachers. Unfortunately, the standard school system isn’t ready for learners like myself. The system wants regurgitation of facts, spit out like a machine.

I have been looking at the Social Emotional Learning for a few months and topically it seems like a great idea. Have students identify their emotions and teachers work with them. However, teachers aren’t behaviorists. They aren’t therapists either. In the school systems, right now, there are a lot of issues with behavior problems in classrooms. This can be caused by a myriad of problems that I can just touch upon in this short article. Broken home life, lack of sleep, lack of adequate nutrition, too much screen time, not enough exercise, not enough positive parent interaction, negative parent interaction, negative peer interaction are just some of the reasons.

We are putting more on the backs of the teachers in the classroom to manage which isn’t fair or appropriate.

What is Social Emotional Learning?

From the CASEL.ORG site, it is the “process through which all young people and adults aquire and apply the knowledge, skills, 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.”

That all sounds pretty positive. Social Emotional Learning sounds like something you want your child to learn, right? So, why am I bringing this up? Shouldn’t this be in the classroom?

Well, sort of.

It should be mostly in our homes and our communities, first and foremost. When we put policies in the classroom setting, it takes the pressure off of the parent and community and puts it on the school system. But shouldn’t this be taught in the school system? Wouldn’t we want kids to have help with their emotions?

Can you think of other campaigns in your school system growing up? Anti-Bullying campaigns, DARE, anti-cyber bullying campaigns, attendance awareness, safe sex campaigns, healthy eating campaigns etc. How did those work out? How are they playing out?

Teachers should be helping students create an environment where they feel safe. And many times, students do feel safer in school than they do at home. However, the attention that a child receives in the classroom is no substitute for the attention that they receive from a parent. Kids benefit from relationships that have long lasting impacts and when they know that are not replaceable. Programs like Big Brothers, Big Sisters have had more meaningful impacts for youth because of the long-term commitments and one-on-one relationships.

The proponents of SEL believe that there is long term improvements in students skills, attitudes, academic performance and a decline in students’ anxiety, behavior problems and substance use, however, a student needs long lasting relationships with a mentor and this is not a typical relationship in a classroom setting.

Misguided approach

CASEL starts in the classroom and expects that schools will replicate the the approach from the classroom, families and caregivers will replicate the schools approach, and communities will replicate the prior approach. The approach also believes that there should be equitable learning environments and coordinating practices across the settings of classrooms, schools, families and communities. This is unfortunately ignorant of the different dynamics of family and community life in different parts of country. SEL believes that the families should take advice from the professionals in the classroom to model what is going on at home.

Parents need to go into schools to advocate for their child because the professionals can’t see what the parent can. A parent sees the struggles a child has, day in and day out. A teacher only would see a fraction of who the child truly is.

Instead of being a classroom first approach, it should be a community inward approach. One of the pieces of the CASEL pie is relationship skills, and this is completely missing the mark. A classroom should not be telling a community how to operate. A classroom is a vacuum. It is also being socially unaware, which is another piece of the CASEL pie.


The most worrisome of the SEL is collecting data. What type of data are proponents of Social Emotional Learning collecting on your child? Did your child have a bad day at school? Is this going in a permanent folder for behavior analysis?

The data collected on SEL is worrisome because a teacher has 25-30 students and may only have a few moments of time to see each individual student. And, when do they really pay attention to the student? Probably either at their worst or at their best. What information will be collected on students?

As of 2019, there are more than 2000 pieces of legislation and all 50 states have standards for this. How can there be standards for something like emotions? Teaching emotions to children? Or behavior modification?

Why is Social Emotional Learning being promoted?

There are always new fads in education. As I stated above, there was the anti-bullying campaigns, DARE, etc and they come and go. These can be money makers and push kids to focus on a few good things. Sometimes they are totally irrelevant things when we are completely missing the mark on Reading, Math and Science. The US now ranks 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science. That is probably something that we need to focus on.

There is also a focus on the traumas that students are facing and that it bleeds into the classroom. Each student is coming in with their own story and reading a story about trauma from a young adult book isn’t necessarily going to fix a student’s problem. It may cause more trauma to the student by pushing more emotions on them that they are not ready for. Many of the YA books bring up situations and ideas that some students aren’t ready for.

Do kids need to have their emotions in check? Absolutely! But, as Americans we need to focus on the responsibility and realize that there is a shortage of time in a school day in how to impact a student. Also important is the neuron connections that happen in the first few years and that children need parental and caregiver time. That may be a hard pill to swallow, but the focus of pushing kids to school at 1,2 and three is not helping children with their social emotional bonding, it is hurting them.

Social Emotional Learning Starts Very Young

Unfortunately because we have pushed for kids in daycare at young ages we are reaping the problems that have been sown. While it often is impossible for a parent to stay home with children while they are young, it sometimes can be a lifestyle choice and should be taken into consideration.

Social emotional learning cannot create bonds that aren’t there. While children are resilient, we cannot push for children to have relationships with people that will not be around for the long term. Children need parents and caregivers in their lives to continually encourage them and keep them from harm.

A program like SEL will not succeed if the seeds at home aren’t planted and sustained, no matter how hard a school system tries. And, it is not fair to judge a school on this type of system. Nor is it fair to judge or grade a student on these type of indices.

Lost Cause?

I don’t believe that students are a lost cause, but I believe that we need to have licensed therapists working with students. As I stated above, a teacher is in the classroom to hopefully make the classroom comfortable for their students. There is only so many hours in a day and so much a teacher can do. A teacher cannot promote SEL one day a week for 30 minutes and call it successful either. Some students will have natural self awareness and ability to regulate emotions and some students will need help on this. However a classroom cannot break down for a student who is having a break down.

Letting Students Have a Voice

When we are putting emotional teaching into education that is taught by the masses, we aren’t giving the students an opportunity to fully explore their emotions. A student may go along with what everyone is saying just to stop the conversation, which is common in trauma. If we really want to help students that have experienced trauma, forcing it in the classroom setting is not always appropriate. It would be more appropriate in a one on one setting or with a trusted adult, not in a place where they could be bullied for their trauma.

The students voice will be muted if they also know they will be graded or assessed for their true expressions. Instead of becoming resilient, they will become resentful.

Moving Forward

Let’s bring parents and the community as the main provider of the social and emotional teachers for our youth. Our schools should focus on educating our children in the basics like reading, writing, science, and math. Right now, this isn’t being mastered by the masses, so why are we going to add more to a system that is already burdened?

Behavior problems in the classrooms are continuing to explode. Teachers need more time to work on creating environments where the kids can learn, and the administration needs to help with this, not add more to the teachers plates. Parents and caregivers need to let a teacher know if there is something going on at home that may affect a student. If a teacher notices there is something off with a student, there should be parent and family involvement and counselor involvement as well. There may be some trauma that a student doesn’t want or need to share with a whole class. Many times it is not developmentally appropriate for the traumas to be shared with the entire class. It may traumatize more students causing even more harm.

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