by Karen R. Effrem, MD
The latest report of the National Commission on Social Emotional and Academic Learning continues to promote questionable brain science in the service of having government schools, corporations, or their foundations set norms for and assess the values, attitudes, beliefs, and emotions of students from cradle to career. Here are some of the many reasons this report is so debatable:
The report includes several key statements based on alleged brain science that should raise concern about its validity:
There is much discussion in the paper about issues such as “stereotype threat” and how “if one’s cultural beliefs and values feel at odds with those of the dominant cultural group, the conflict can cause misalignment between a person’s goals and ways of being and the expectations of the setting.” To fix this perceived cultural oppression in the schools, they want government “interventions and supports in the home, school, or community that specifically target cultural well-being [to] improve educational, socioeconomic, and health outcomes.” This social justice focus is not at all surprising given that one of the paper’s authors is Linda Darling Hammond, co-chair of this commission as well as co-chair of the Collaborative for Academic Social Emotional Learning (CASEL) and radical terrorist Bill Ayers’ choice to be Secretary of Education under President Obama.
The government subsidy of fatherless families has been happening since the 1960s, and the sociological problems with that approach have been documented since the 1970s beginning with Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The myriad of studies and articles documenting the downsides of growing up in a single-parent household and collated at wonderful websites like Marripedia is completely ignored in this paper. These downsides include increased social emotional distress and mental illness, school problems and failure, acting out, juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy and drug use. Any paper that makes recommendations about the social emotional, cultural and family status of children without discussing the research around this issue and making recommendations for reversing this destructive policy doesn’t merit much consideration.
Americans concerned about this issue should instead be paying attention to researchers like Dr. William Jeynes of the University of California-Santa Barbara, who did review of data from more than 20,000 African-American and Hispanic high school students in the National Educational Longitudinal Survey. He found the spectacular result that two-parent families and religious observance actually erases the achievement gap. Minority students with intact families and high levels of religiosity scored as well as all white students on most achievement measures and higher than black and Hispanic counterparts without intact families or high religiosity. This is something that more than $2 trillion dollars, SEL, and five decades of oppressive, unconstitutional federal education interference have never come close to achieving.
The list of funders for this commission contains all of the usual suspects — including the Gates Foundation. Three of the funders for this commission are foundations tied to corporations that have profited or will profit handsomely from the expansion of SEL curriculum, monitoring software (Microsoft/Gates) and hardware (Hewlett Packard/Hewlett), or from psychiatric medication when a child is falsely labeled abnormal by these subjective standards and mental screening tools and referred to a mental health professional (Johnson & Johnson/Robert Wood Johnson [RWJ]).
It is also important to note that Johnson & Johnson and RWJ promoted a New Freedom Commission in Mental Health recommendation that heavily supported mental screening and a medication algorithm pushing new (at the time) and expensive antipsychotic medications funded by taxpayers for foster children that were not any more effective than older medications and that had harmful and sometimes deadly side effects. The Johnson & Johnson division Janssen Pharmaceuticals profited over 1000-fold from their investment in this scheme, though the scandal was later exposed by whistleblower Allen Jones and was key to multiple state investigations and lawsuits against the corporation. The advice to follow the money rings true in spades here.
The bottom line is that SEL is a pseudo-scientific concept that will ultimately harm children’s freedom and privacy while increasing government interference and corporate profits. Instead of promoting SEL and all that comes with it, schools should instead: