A large coalition of educator organizations, parents groups and researchers is coming together like Voltron to fight against conservative restrictions on lessons that help students better cope with their emotions.
On Thursday, 20 national organizations announced that they had formed a group called Leading With SEL to offer “research-based information on social and emotional learning and help broaden awareness of the benefits of supporting the social, emotional, and academic development of all children.”
In the announcement, the group said it’s “actively championing what we know from three decades of research: Social and emotional learning (SEL) belongs in schools.” SEL lesson plans focus on developing five key areas: self-management, self-awareness, relationship skills, social awareness and responsible decision-making.
Social and emotional learning has come under attack amid the conservative movement’s revolt against accurate teachings of American history, including lessons about race- and gender-based atrocities. That movement has deliberately used the misnomer “critical race theory” (a totally separate thing) to fearmonger over these lessons.
According to NBC News last year:
Conservative groups argue that social emotional learning has become a “Trojan horse” for critical race theory, a separate academic concept that examines how systemic racism is embedded in society. They point to SEL lessons that encourage children to celebrate diversity, sometimes introducing students to conversations about race, gender and sexuality.
That same report noted the antidemocratic sentiment fueling this conservative crusade:
The attention to social emotional learning in particular has been further fueled by loyalists to former President Donald Trump. The Center for Renewing America, which was started by a former Trump administration official, published a glossary that claimed that teachers and counselors were embedding critical race theory into social emotional learning programs. And state GOP lawmakers who tried to stop certification of Joe Biden’s win in the presidential election in Wisconsin proposed legislation that would outlaw social emotional learning and other educational concepts that they labeled as “state-sanctioned racism.”
Right-wing attacks on social and emotional learning have come at a time when Republicans are trying to stoke white grievance and flat-out racism in America. It’s troubling and telling that they’re attacking lessons meant to help children — including many white children — cope with their emotions in a safe and sensitive way, rather than resort to hate or destruction.
In April, I wrote about an NPR/Ipsos poll showing that 76% of parents approved of the way they had been kept abreast of their child’s curriculum. And 73% of parents indicated that their kid would benefit from mental health counseling. This new coalition is a sign that many parents and educators are refusing to cede control over our nation’s classrooms to conservatives.