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The Controversial Evolution of Social-Emotional Learning in Public Schools [Video]



What You Need To Know!

  • The concept of social-emotional learning (SEL) is evolving to include spiritual and ethical teachings, which could lead to state-sanctioned religion and raise questions about whose beliefs are being taught in public schools.
  • SEL was originally defined as the process through which children acquire the skills to manage emotions, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations effectively.
  • However, in 2020, the Collaborative for Academic Social Emotional Learning (CASEL) updated its definition and core competencies to include racial and equity lenses, as well as transforming SEL into a tool to develop “justice-oriented, global citizens.”

Social-emotional learning (SEL) has become a fundamental part of the education system, with its five core competencies — self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making — integrated into the curricula and assessments of many schools.

However, the definition and purpose of SEL have undergone a transformation in recent years, prompting debates about the appropriateness of teaching spiritual and ethical beliefs in public schools.

The Collaborative for Academic Social Emotional Learning (CASEL), which has been a leading voice in defining and promoting SEL since its inception in 1994, has revised its definition to reflect the belief that SEL should be taught through a racial and equity lens.

According to CASEL, Transformative SEL aims to “address issues such as power, privilege, prejudice, discrimination, social justice, empowerment, and self-determination” in order to create “justice-oriented, global citizens.” Critics argue that this approach promotes a specific worldview and is not neutral or objective.

Furthermore, there is an increasing trend towards incorporating spirituality into SEL programs, with some advocating for the inclusion of spiritual teachings as part of the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model. The WSCC model, created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), aims to foster collaboration between public health and education sectors to provide comprehensive health services for students.

However, some question the appropriateness of public schools teaching spiritual beliefs, which can conflict with families’ religious and cultural values.

Critics argue that state-sponsored SEL programs that promote specific beliefs or values violate the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause. The First Amendment prohibits the government from making laws that respect the establishment of religion or prohibit the free exercise thereof.

The responsibility of teaching moral character should remain in the hands of families, rather than public schools backed by organizations with political or societal agendas.


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