By Patricia Bailey
SEL, Social Emotional Learning, as portrayed on the Highline Schools website, entails common sense and universally agreed-on values. It helps students identify feelings, regulate emotions, develop a “can-do” attitude and cultivate a “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” mindset. These are all excellent concepts and practices for the classroom and for life.
However, SEL underwent radical changes in 2020 and is not the value-neutral program it used to be. In this testimony, I will quote extensively from Max Eden’s research on SEL. Eden is an education researcher at the American Enterprise Institute and testifies before congress. I will send Eden’s concise testimony to you via email.*
Mr. Eden has four major criticisms, but I will cite only three.
First, he found SEL has become an ideologically charged enterprise. Second, he maintains the data collection involved in SEL implementation poses major risks to the privacy of students and their families. Third, SEL implementation tends to resemble the practice of unlicensed therapy.
#1. In 2020, the neutral competencies of SEL became value-laden, with values derived from Critical Race Theory. It is now called “Transformative SEL.” These values are “clearly not morally or politically neutral.” Public documents and leadership statements suggest an open embrace of political and ideological goals.
#2. “Even parents who are broadly sympathetic to liberal ideology on race and gender may still be perturbed by the school surveys that have become central to SEL implementation. These surveys ask students highly-sensitive questions about their mood, their beliefs, their family, and even their sexuality. Parents are not always informed about the nature of these questions, nor do they have strong reason to trust that the answers will remain private.” Hackers recently stole the personal information of over 820,000 students in New York City Public Schools. There is expectation of further hacks and data privacy violations.
#3. SEL, in practice, effectively asks teachers to act as therapists. Teachers are encouraged to uncover and address “trauma,” probe into students’ psyches and teach a certain schema through which children learn to see their relationships. School boards must realize the dangers in this and also that medical ethics prohibits the practice of therapy by unlicensed individuals, like, for example, classroom teachers.
In summary, Max Eden predicts there will be parent outrage against the new iteration of SEL, and policymakers need to address the political, privacy, and ethical concerns that SEL raises before implementation.