by Karen R. Effrem, MD
The Pioneer Institute, a national leader in the fight against Common Core and other horrible corporatist and global education reform ideas, today released a new study titled “Social-Emotional Learning: K–12 Education as New Age Nanny State.” The study — which I was honored to co-author with attorney and researcher Jane Robbins and Dr. Kevin Ryan, a professor emeritus of Boston University, who wrote the foreword — came to many important conclusions. Here are some of them highlighted in Pioneer’s press release and video:
Proponents of SEL call for focusing less on academic content and knowledge in schools, and more on student attributes, mindsets, values, and behaviors. Not only are the goals of SEL ill-defined, but they also raise significant, unanswered questions about what attitudes should be promoted.
“It’s one thing to direct your own moral, ethical, and emotional development or that of your children,” said Jane Robbins, co-author of “Social-Emotional Learning: K-12 Education as New-Age Nanny State.” “But having a government vendor or unqualified public school officials implement an SEL curriculum based on coffee-table psychology is quite another.”
Educational software developers purport to have created products that can determine a number of sensitive personality traits through students’ interaction with digital platforms. Much of this monitoring occurs without the consent of children or their parents. Some software — especially for video gaming — goes beyond assessing traits, and aims to encourage the production of students who are well suited for a workforce development-centered education.
“This technology, when coupled with SEL, will further spread the recent wave of amateur, unqualified psychoanalysis in schools,” said Dr. Karen Effrem, M.D., who co-authored the study with Robbins. “Given the uncertainty around diagnosis and treatment of mental or emotional problems, even by highly trained physicians, the SEL movement runs the risk of further increasing the trend toward dangerous over-diagnosis and over-medication of American schoolchildren.”
Social-emotional learning is being interwoven into the Common Core State Standards and school efforts to implement competency-based education (CBE). CBE digitally documents the attainment of various skills with the goal of demonstrating that a student is ready to move on in his or her “personalized learning path.” SEL and CBE are heavily weighted toward a conception of education as focused on workforce development rather than preparing active, informed citizens.
As the calls for increased school-based mental health screening, data collection and treatment become more intense and numerous in light of school shootings such as that in Parkland, Fla., this study serves as a counter-weight to those calls. It thoroughly covers the lack of scientific support for SEL assessments and programs, particularly for mental health screening with astronomically high subjectivity and false positive rates; the lack of effectiveness data for school-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS — see pp. 15-16); and the dangers of over-diagnosis by untrained school personnel and treatment with drugs that have many harmful, if not fatal side effects (see p. 30).
The mingling of SEL with Common Core has allowed the very orderly, objective discipline of math to be degraded with fuzzy, subjective issues like “grit” and a “growth mindset,” which even the staunchest proponents like “grit guru” Angela Duckworth and other researchers admit are not supported by reliable assessments or significant beneficial outcomes (see pp. 18-20). Moreover, numerous stakeholder groups have admitted that Common Core is tightly tied to SEL. Education Week admitted that SEL is being used for lessons in social justice, and Richard Hess and Grant Addison of the American Enterprise Institute have also shown how Common Core professional development lessons are taking a hard left turn into racial politics and social justice.
SEL skills, called competencies by the American School Counselors’ Association, are often infused in the computerized skills testing of CBE — which has failed in multiple jurisdictions where it has been tried. It will be important for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran to be extremely careful as they seek to fully rid the Sunshine State of Common Core that they do not allow corporate and establishment interests to keep SEL parameters in new standards and do not expand CBE in that state so as to prevent the efforts to “streamline testing” (as called for in the executive order) from becoming online SEL profiling in the embedded assessments.
Finally, this study provides a significant intellectual counter-balance to the recently published Aspen National Commission on Social Emotional and Academic Learning report, which we have briefly covered when it came out.
Please share this report widely with teachers, school board members, legislators and members of Congress. Take a stand for the academic achievement, data privacy, freedom of conscience, health, and the ability of your children and grandchildren to determine their own futures! Thank you!