“Social Emotional Learning” Standards Continue Ominous National March


As chronicled in multiple articles (also here and here) and the Pioneer Institute white paper authored by attorney Jane Robbins and myself, efforts to impose government-determined norms for the attitudes, values, and beliefs of the nation’s children beginning in preschool are becoming disturbingly relentless.

Despite lots of concerns by Ohio parents and pro-family state school board members, as well as troubling data provided by Education Liberty Watch, (summarized here) and activism by Eagle Forum and Concerned Women for America, the full Ohio state board adopted statewide SEL standards by an 11-6 vote. Although there were promises made that students, teachers, and schools would not be assessed or rated on these standards, the strategic plan putting the SEL standards adoption into motion the previous year clearly states in several places that they would be. The board also voted down a resolution by member Kirstin Hill, who led the opposition, to codify that these standards would not be assessed.

Clearly, the Ohio Department of Education plans to assess these standards in the future when they think people will have forgotten these apparently empty promises. One wonders: if they really did intend to keep their promises of no assessments and local control of programming, then why were the standards imposed in the first place?

Presidential candidate and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has also significantly changed school discipline policies in that city’s public schools, both by imposing social emotional learning programs and restorative justice programs. SEL is going to be in every middle school in the city. According to the New York Post editorial board:

And if that doesn’t give you confidence, first lady Chirlane McCray’s ThriveNYC initiative is also part of the solution, as it sends 85 special social workers (along with 115 more already funded by the City Council) into the schools to counsel “students facing emotional distress.”

Yes, Thrive, with its near-perfect record of . . . being unable to show results.

The mayor’s edict is to eliminate police involvement in what he and the school chancellor call minor crimes like drinking, smoking marijuana and graffiti on school grounds. Staff and school safety agents are to employ “restorative justice” and SEL programs instead. The Post also notes:

 This, when those same kids struggle to learn basic math and English… Misbehaving kids will most likely get warning cards or mandatory counseling for pot possession and other crimes: Suspension and arrest are last resorts that City Hall strongly discourages.

All this is a doubling-down on years-long softening of discipline — policies that have produced the first murder in a city school in decades, and (per state Education Department data) a 27% rise in “dangerous instruments” (i.e., guns and knives) confiscated in the schools over four years.

De Blasio insists that the drop in school crime rates proves his policies are working — skipping over the fact that his policies basically order much less reporting of crime.

[Chancellor] Carranza loves to claim that his policies help black and brown kids, yet they’re the ones most at risk from in-school violence.

This is all about ideology and politics, and nothing to do with protecting the children.

If you are thinking that this is reminiscent of the Obama era weakening of school discipline that was nationally modeled at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that many experts felt contributed to the tragic massacre there in 2018 (see here and here), you would be exactly right.

In the best move of the federal School Safety Commission (summarized here), the Obama Dear Colleague Letter on school safety was recommended for rescission, which to their great credit, was accomplished shortly after by then Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. It is very sad that de Blasio is doubling down on these failed and scientifically dubious policies. In addition, he has expanded preschool throughout the city, despite that program also having a significant proportion of subjective and anti-parent SEL standards, which may be one of the reasons as discussed in last week’s column and many other places it is not very helpful and can be harmful.

The last piece of evidence I would offer for this steady and depressing march toward government mandated SEL is a statement by another Democrat presidential candidate, Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, who said in the first night of the Democratic presidential debate:

You’re talking about in the schools. These kids are traumatized. I support all the gun reforms here. We need to start dealing with the trauma that our kids have. We need trauma-based care in every school. We need social and emotional learning in every school.

Ninety percent of the shooters who do school shootings come from the school they’re in, and 73 percent of them feel shamed, traumatized, or bullied. We need to make sure that these kids feel connected to the school. That means a mental health counselor in every single school in the United States. We need to start playing offense. If our kids are so traumatized that they’re getting a gun and going into our schools, we’re doing something wrong, too, and we need reform around trauma-based care.

Unfortunately, the congressman is ignoring lots of evidence that SEL and mental screening does not work to prevent school violence. Ryan has been an SEL supporter for a long time and is making it a major centerpiece of his education policy platform. He was actually honest enough to admit that SEL is an integral part of Common Core and more important than academics during final debate on the Every Student Succeeds Act:

Although various other establishment outlets, including even some that promoted Common Core, are now trying to comfort parents that SEL is all sweetness and light if it is implemented their way and not as they themselves ran rough-shod over the Common Core concerns of parents and others (i.e. Thomas B. Fordham Institute), their promises are already ringing hollow. It is imperative that parents of all political persuasions become more aware of the dangers to privacy, parental autonomy, and religious freedom that are inherent in the expansion of SEL and inform their candidates, holding them accountable at the ballot box. Please review the resources linked here and on this site.

Our society cannot succumb to this expansion of fuzzy, unscientific, anti-parent and anti-freedom control of our children’s hearts and minds, analogous to the Chinese social credit system. Do not fall for the false promises of the reformers that gave us Common Core and to which SEL is tightly linked. Stand strong and continue to oppose SEL!

Karen R. Effrem, MD

Dr. Karen Effrem and her husband have three children. She is trained as a pediatrician and serves as national education issues chairman for Eagle Forum and president of Education Liberty Watch.

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