Emotional Learning Perfectly Suits Democrats

Published September 17, 2019

Other than Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) weaponizing the failed desegregation relic of mandatory busing to bludgeon frontrunner Joe Biden, the Democrats said little about their vision for transforming education in their first two rounds of presidential nomination debates.

During round three September 12 in Houston, perhaps they will latch onto the hottest fad in public education right now: social-emotional learning (SEL). As much as emotion is steering the party far to the left on a wide range of social issues, SEL should be a natural fit.

Indeed, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), who is totally sold on SEL, worked in the following plug when his fellow candidates were talking up gun control in the opening debate, “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.” Ryan’s campaign did not meet the polling and finance thresholds for him to make debate three; however, the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio have motivated the other Democratic candidates to tout tight governmental control as the way to reduce such mayhem.

Sadly, far too many of the government-run schools are so plagued with violence they merit being turned into trauma centers. Therefore, freedom should be part of the answer. Parents should have the right to transfer their children to safe schools. Fortunately, The Heartland Institute has developed a voucher program—Child Safety Accounts—designed for just such an exigency.

Unfortunately, Ryan and many of his Democratic friends favor a one-size-fits-all government school system that eliminates individual choice, undermines student safety, and lacks academic rigor.

For instance, another presidential pretender, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (along with the city’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray) recently wrote that this fall the Big Apple would be “revolutionizing its school system by initiating the nation’s most comprehensive approach to social-emotional learning in every classroom.” Students, they promise, “will get more comfortable talking openly and clearly about their feelings,” while learning “to embrace diversity” and “challenge stereotypes.”

What could possibly go wrong when government schools are shaping and recording children’s feelings, as well as their social attitudes? And when official indoctrination totally supplants parental guidance?

Don’t assume that because de Blasio and Ryan poll somewhere between 0 and 1 percent in the crowded Democratic field that SEL is not favored by party big wigs. Indeed, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives recently approved, on a 226 to 203 (mostly) party-line vote, a spending bill that would provide $260 million for “whole child” SEL initiatives.

That may be peanuts compared to the other kooky ideas being pushed by other candidates. Just consider the mega-billions it would cost for Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) plan to cancel the student-loan debt of 42 million people. Even worse, what about Joe Biden’s proposal to triple the outlay for the failed LBJ-era Title I program while starting universal preschool? Not to be outdone, let’s not forget the gargantuan pay raise Harris plans to give all public school teachers ($13,500) from the federal treasury.

Even if this spending measure is passed by the GOP-controlled Senate before the August recess, SEL is likely to swell greatly in future years. Securing a beachhead for federalized emotional education is just the first step.

Unsurprisingly, the Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) hailed the House spending bill as a “political landmark.” CASEL has been the prime mover of SEL going all the way back to 1993.

Under SEL, teachers will be the unlicensed psychologists called upon to monitor and manipulate their students’ attitudes, dispositions, and feelings. How will they know what to teach? Not to worry. CASEL’s overseers specify the “core competencies” of SEL that all schools should transmit: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Subjectivity clearly will factor into measuring students’ levels of competence.

What is particularly worrisome is the likelihood that SEL teams will test students for their grasp of these so-called skills and preserve the results in data banks. On its website, CASEL brags that it is “working in partnership to make key advancements in social and emotional competence assessment for preK-12 schools.”

So a negative entry in a “competence assessment” about a bright but introverted child who prefers to work in solitude (like many inventors and innovators) could follow him or her for a lifetime.

It would be wonderful if a few Democrats would question the premise of an education fad that steals valuable time from academic studies. Don’t bet on it happening. Given that the socialistic dreams of the New Left Democrats depend on emotions overruling reason, it is highly unlikely Democrats would favor a common-sense education policy that favors academics over emotions.