Reprinted from Wendy Hart’s blog: https://wendy4asd.blogspot.com/2018/10/what-kinds-of-human-beings-do-we-wish.html
SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING
“The most controversial issues of the twenty-first century will pertain to the ends and means of modifying human behavior and who shall determine them. The first educational question will not be ‘what knowledge is of the most worth?’ but ‘what kinds of human beings do we wish to produce?’ The possibilities virtually defy our imagination.” –John Goodlad
There are so many buzzwords in education these days: 21st Century Learning, Social-emotional Learning (SEL), GRIT, the 4-C’s (or the 6-C’s), Response to Intervention, Critical Thinking, STEM, Project-based learning, Guide-on-the-side, Engineering Design Model, Workforce, etc. etc. etc. It’s hard to keep up with them all or even understand what they all mean.
Social Emotional Learning or SEL first really made its appearance (from my perspective) in the Federal re-authorization of No Child Left Behind, called ESSA. In additional to academic measures, the Feds want us to use “non-cognitive” measures to assess how well schools are doing. It came to prominence with a focus on GRIT, and a TED talk by a professor who wrote a book on the subject. Now SEL is everywhere. The idea is that kids should learn, not just academics, but the skills and dispositions to be successful in the workforce (aka the 21st Century because human nature magically shifted in 2001, I guess). So, the purpose of schools has shifted from basic academics to creating a comprehensive person. The only problem is whose vision of that “correct human being” is being implemented? And is that really what we want from public education? Who should determine what kind of human being your child should become? Who is the “we” in ‘what kinds of human beings do we wish to produce’? (Does the word produce come across as a bit creepy to anyone else?)
On one hand, I can appreciate and understand that we want kids to be well-rounded, kind-hearted, honest, and sympathetic. On the other, what is the purpose of public schools? Well that goes back to the age-old debate. Everyone thinks of it as something different, and way back when, our district mission statement included “democracy” as the purpose of schools. I disagree. I think for public schools, the purpose should be academic excellence. Everything else, should be left to the individual child and his/her family. That’s not to say that teachers don’t teach, especially by example, kindness and honesty. They do. But that’s just part of being a good human being, right? When we focus on dispositions, we necessarily remove our focus from reading, writing, and [a]rithmetic. Supposedly, we are doing both academics (what we are calling the Right Side of the Pyramid) as well as SEL (the Left Side of the Pyramid). Our goal should be to educate, not to tell you what the purpose of that education is supposed to be.
The other problem I see, is who decides what the appropriate dispositions are for our children to possess? And what are those definitions? I’ve found, too often, sadly, that when someone uses a word that sounds good, their meaning may be completely different from my own.
In Alpine, we are focused on the 6 C’s (4 of which are borrowed from the 21st Century Learning 4 C’s). They are: Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Character, Citizenship. All sound great. But what of the child who is introverted and Collaboration means lots of group-work projects? She might do very well academically IF she’s allowed to work alone, but in a group? Not so much. She is learning that she must go along with the group, and the knowledge she gains isn’t as important as the “collaboration” with others. It also puts young children in a very difficult position if they disagree with how something is going or what is being said. Citizenship: what kinds of student advocacy do you want your child engaged in? What if those citizenship perspectives differ from those of your family? And Critical Thinking (also known as Higher-order thinking) has at least one definition in education that I would whole-heartedly disagree with.
“…a student attains ‘higher order thinking’ when he no longer believes in right or wrong”. “A large part of what we call good teaching is a teacher´s ability to obtain affective [emotional] objectives by challenging the student’s fixed beliefs. …a large part of what we call teaching is that the teacher should be able to use education to reorganize a child’s thoughts, attitudes, and feelings.” —Benjamin Bloom
In short, it’s wrong to be rewarding personality types instead of the knowledge that every child is capable of acquiring. It’s also wrong to possibly, modify a child’s thoughts, attitudes and feelings, not through reason and the discovery of truth but by using emotional objectives to challenge their ‘fixed beliefs’, those beliefs instilled in them by their families.
If you agree with this shift, then you will be pleased. If not, you may want to speak up about this dilution of academics with dispositions.