The following was contributed by Ashley Movius.
I have five children in the public school system in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, and for this reason I thought it would be prudent to take a look at my county’s SEL guidelines and curriculum. Before I share my story, let me give you a little background on SEL in case you’re unfamiliar with it. This acronym stands for Social and Emotional Learning and was originally established by CASEL, which stands for Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.
CASEL touts the ‘C’ in their acronym as standing for collaboration, where interested parties can come together to promote and develop strategies necessary to help people attain skills needed for a healthy and productive life. According to CASEL, “SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.” This program is specifically aimed at being taught in schools to benefit students from K-12.
CASEL’s founding date is 1994, but there are still no national standards for implementation. Rather, it is up to each state to determine what, and if, any CASEL ideals will be imposed. If, like me, you have been an adult for more than 20 years or so, then you may be wondering how you turned out okay without this program. How did you gain a healthy identity, manage your emotions, achieve goals, develop empathy for others, establish and maintain strong relationships, and make responsible decisions without the help of an SEL curriculum? The logical answer is that your parents likely guided your behavior and experiences in these areas. The SEL curriculum is no replacement for the loving influence and direction of parents.
The purpose of education.
Let me introduce another acronym to you – GCED, or Global Citizenship Education, an initiative promoted by the UN. One of their aims is to augment the entire purpose of academic education. In fact, on their website for this initiative, they say, “It is not enough for education to produce individuals who can read, write, and count.” Yet I would argue that this is, and should be, the main purpose of our educational system. To promote more than this encroaches on the rights and duties of parents. What our world leaders should be encouraging, in regard to more “peaceful, tolerant and inclusive societies,” is the vital role that parents play in child rearing. There is simply no replacement for the time a child spends at their mothers’ knee, taking in the essential lessons of life. The key to a stronger, more harmonious society does not lie in government programs, state standards, or school curriculum. It lies in the strength and unity of the family, for which there is no replacement.
A quest to get answers.
Now, allow me to relate my personal experience of seeking to learn more about SEL and its role in my child’s school. After a presentation was shared on SEL during one of our recent school board meetings, I began to wonder why I hadn’t, as a parent, been able to view the curriculum before it was implemented. I found information online stating that our county would introduce a curriculum beginning in the 2024-2025 school year. Feeling confused, I decided that I needed to go directly to the source and ask for some clarification, so I emailed our middle school principal. She was not able to answer my questions, except to confirm that there is no set curriculum at this time, and she forwarded my questions to the Social Emotional Learning Supervisor for our county’s schools.
My inquiries were valid and paramount, since what my children learn in school can have far-reaching effects. For example, what credentials are held by the teachers whose job is now to teach children how to “develop healthy identities”? What input can parents obtain in how this curriculum is implemented? Why haven’t schools been more transparent about how they are using SEL standards? If there is no set curriculum in place yet, why is it being taught weekly?
The SEL supervisor responded to me with some basic information, but still failed to answer my questions directly. I crafted a new email with concerns, specific questions, and direct quotes from the county’s informational pages on this topic and sent it on again. The email I received in response was not from the principal nor the SEL supervisor, but from the director of the Student Services Department. She also did not answer all of my queries, but invited me to meet with her in person. Call me crazy, but I would like to keep a written record of all that is said on this topic considering how difficult it is to get answers from the very people who should have them. If truth be told, my concerns have increased as I realize that no one is willing to answer my questions in a straightforward manner, and who would be better to do so than the Social and Emotional Learning Supervisor for the schools?
My quest for clarity is ongoing as the answers to many of my questions remain a mystery. I find it ironic that the first letter in CASEL’s name stands for collaboration, because up until I forced the issue at my child’s school, and even after, there has been very little information given about how I can be involved in this crucial matter.
What is being taught at your child’s school?
Parents all around the country have been putting in the work to determine what is contained in their school’s SEL curriculum. A group of parents in Oregon are concerned about the lack of transparency from their schools and their inability to have a say in their children’s education. Not only do they feel that their children are being taught ideologies that they disagree with, there is also no system in place for them to collaborate with their schools. Their voices feel unheard. In Tennessee, the schools have implemented a curriculum called Wit & Widsom Social Emotional Learning based on inappropriate topics which include, but are not limited to, death, rape, skin color, and anti-family themes. It is also common for SEL curriculum to include surveys, which can be used to discern how your child views certain ideologies. Parents in a county in Florida are asking pertinent questions about these surveys, such as, what steps are taken when students don’t conform and can parents gain access to the data.
As a parent, you should be taking the steps necessary to be informed about your child’s education. If you are not aware of how the schools in your area are using the SEL standards, I urge you to contact them and ask direct questions about what is being taught. A simple Google search will reveal your county and state information on SEL – read it and strive to understand it. Little is more important than discerning what your child is being taught in school, and as the parent, you should have the first word. You may find that the knowledge you gain will raise concerns regarding your child’s instruction. This awareness will empower you to take action, possibly by consulting with school administrators on the implementation of SEL and informing other parents in your area. But you won’t know until you ask.
Robyn JensenDecember 20, 2022
I looked up my district's SEL policy. What a load of BS--nice sounding words with very little meaning. When they started talking about equity is when the alarm bells started ringing. I do not understand how a district in the lowest quintile in a state near the bottom in terms or student accomplishment can spend time, money and resources on such drivel.
James ScottDecember 20, 2022
It seems those in education go to great lengths to keep curricula confidential, that “they know how to instruct the kids but don’t want parental intrusion. Yet there so many that don’t come away knowing how to read or do simple arithmetic.