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After Critical Race Theory, Social-Emotional Learning is the next classroom focus

Some conservatives believe that SEL is a clandestine method of teaching forbidden subjects.

As politicians in the United States consider legislation prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory and having classroom conversations about gender and sexual identity, they’re also broadening its scope to include anything from books to teaching methodologies that focus on feelings.

This form of teaching, known as social-emotional learning, draws on the work that schools have done for years to develop collaborative and comprehensive learning environments for kids. Conservative-led challenges are cropping up at city and state levels, according to critics who believe such educational approaches should be entrusted to parents rather than teachers.

As children learn, social-emotional learning, or SEL, addresses their feelings and interpersonal abilities. SEL is used in a range of programs to assist students develop self-awareness and self-management, as well as responsible decision-making and relationship skills. They include the nonprofit Committee for Children’s Second Step initiatives, as well as best practices produced by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Social-emotional learning, according to experts, can help pupils gain confidence, learn to better manage their emotions, and reduce bullying. In an effort to prevent rising suicide rates, some teachers utilize SEL to help children manage their emotions.

The number of resources available for SEL programs is increasing. According to a survey published last year by Tyton Partners, between November 2019 and April 2021, schools and districts increased SEL spending by 45%, reaching $765 million. According to the research, Covid-19 spurred schools’ interest in SEL programs as a way of addressing distant learning issues.

It depends on the topic. Educators are advised to ask pupils how they feel about difficult classes, perform group activities, and focus on communication skills, according to many guidelines. At the start of the school year, CASEL recommends that teachers “establish shared classroom rules and expectations and consequences so that students can see the impact of their own actions and behaviors on outcomes.”

It suggests that teachers assist students in assessing their strengths, weaknesses, and frustrations with a particular subject, such as math or language arts.

In its anti-racism training, the Second Step program invites children and educators to evaluate power and privilege. When developing multiple strategies to answer the same math problem, students “disagree respectfully,” according to an excerpt from a textbook posted by the New York Times.

For students to excel academically, they need to feel engaged in the classroom, collaborate with their peers, and work through challenges, said Aaliyah A. Samuel, the chief executive officer of CASEL, who has a doctorate in education. “If our nation prioritizes the academic growth of young people, we must also prioritize their social emotional learning.

According to a 2017 study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Medical School, SEL helped pre-kindergarten pupils improve their executive function, better regulate their emotions, and sharpen their social skills. According to the Tyton Partners report, SEL frameworks are frequently used in schools to help reduce achievement gaps for minority and low-income kids.

Over half of schools with a majority of Black and Latino pupils now say mental health and well-being are a top priority. Schools are also more likely to prioritize pupils’ social and emotional competency now than they were in 2019. In addition, according to a 2019 survey by the Aspen Institute, high school students wish they had gained more social and emotional abilities, which businesses value when recruiting.

Across the country, challenges are springing up. In September, the Canyons School District in Salt Lake County, Utah, announced that it will halt its Second Step program and instead create its own to meet Utah State Board of Education criteria. The move came in response to criticism from the conservative group Parents of Patriots and parents who claimed that schools were using social-emotional learning to teach critical race theory and sex education in a hidden manner. One parent in Utah stated in a news release that any SEL program should be “politically and ideologically neutral.”

Other states that have faced SEL challenges include Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Minnesota, and Texas. In February, an Oklahoma state senator presented legislation prohibiting schools from using funds for SEL education.

In Wisconsin, similar legislation has been offered. The Florida Department of Education announced that it has rejected 41% of proposed math textbooks because they did not follow state standards or contained forbidden themes such as CRT and SEL.

It’s not about how you feel about the problem, or to introduce some of these other things, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said in a press conference about SEL being used to teach math. There’s a right answer and a wrong answer.

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