Writing for AEI, Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Frederick M. Hess explore what is needed to make social and emotional learning (SEL) thrive in today’s schools.
The report offers seven suggestions for SEL advocates and funders as they seek to deliver on SEL’s promise and avoid its pitfalls. Suggestions include:
- Slow down and focus on getting it right.
- Be clear about what SEL is and is not.
- Make sure that character and civic education loom large in the SEL portfolio.
- Making schools safer is an appealing facet of SEL, so long as the transcendent point is student safety, not adult agendas.
- Parental enthusiasm for SEL is healthy, but it ought not become a free pass for academic frailty.
- Make it a priority to develop valid, reliable, intuitive metrics for SEL — and be honest about their limits.
- In celebrating “evidence-based” practices and encouraging further research, be wary of analysts who give short shrift to how their findings translate to the real world.
The authors argue that the case for SEL must not become an excuse to diminish attention to academic skills and knowledge or serve to deflect educators from the centrality of academic instruction. They warn that SEL will be counted a dismal failure if it encourages educators to settle for pillowy paeans to “happiness,” “self-esteem,” and “inclusivity” at the expense of harder things such as character, virtue, civility, and self-discipline.