Social-emotional learning (SEL) substitutes government authority for parents’ in children’s most intimate and personal development in pre-K-12 education. If this alone doesn’t concern parents, a transformative version of SEL is being implemented across school districts to train students to become social justice activists.
How did this happen in a state like Idaho? The advancement of SEL began with the federal government, which has enjoyed the eager complicity of state education establishments and non-profits. Public officials eventually rammed SEL into the heart of most public schools.
The first federal push for SEL came through President Bill Clinton Administration's Goals 2000: Educate America Act in 1994. States were required to adopt the statutes’ National Education Goals to receive federal funding through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Goals 2000 was disguised as an effort to prepare all children to be “ready to learn” when they start school.
Instead, the progessive education officials in the federal government stipulated that schools must focus on instilling the supposedly correct attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs in students. This is explicit in Goal 8: “By the year 2000, every school will promote the partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children.” Goal 8 established parents as mere “partners'' with the government in directing their child's education and care. However, as legal precedent and history have shown, parents have the unalienable right to direct their child's education and care — they are not merely subservient partners with the state.
The next federal initiative implementing SEL was the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which produced K-12 standards adopted by Idaho in 2011 in an effort to qualify for Race to the Top funding. The Core went into effect in Idaho during the 2013-2014 school year. Proponents promised that the Core would increase academic rigor in schools. However, Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the presiding SEL authority, demonstrated that many Core standards would not be used for academic achievement but for psychological training of children.
For example, CASEL states, “National model standards often contain elements of social and emotional learning. For example, 42 states and two territories are in the process of adopting the Common Core Standards in Math and English Language Arts, which contain standards on communication (especially speaking and listening), cooperation skills, and problem solving.”
Idaho’s English Language Arts standards contain the type of SEL elements referenced by CASEL. Consider Idaho’s ELA standards for first and second grade students:
“Write narratives in which they recount two or more appropriately sequenced events, include some details regarding what happened, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide some sense of closure.”
This standard expects first and second graders to understand their own thoughts and feelings as well as those of others around them. As Pioneer Institute scholars point out, first and second graders are still learning to read, yet this standard expects students to demonstrate the sophisticated psychological concept of “closure.”
One teacher explained that this standard corresponds to the SEL core competency of “Self-Awareness,” which requires students to “demonstrate awareness of their emotions,” “recognize and label emotions/feelings,” and “describe their emotions and feelings and the situations that cause them (triggers).”
A federal report found that SEL and the Core are closely and intentionally intertwined: “21st-century competencies (which encompass a range of noncognitive factors, including grit), and persistence is now part of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.”
The Common Core math anchor standard referenced in this quote required of K-12 students is part of Idaho's Math standards, which state 53 times, “Make sense of problems & persevere in solving them.”
This standard has been identified as a psychosocial skill for “Responsible Decision Making [that] includes problem identification and problem solving; evaluation and reflection; personal, social, and ethical responsibility.”
Core is rife with developmentally inappropriate standards for math that actually create emotional stress instead of improving the social-emotional health of children. For example, an Idaho math standard that applies to all grades requires students to “reason abstractly & quantitatively.” It’s referenced 52 times in Idaho Content Standards.
Psychologist Jean Piaget said the ability to reason abstractly does not develop in children until age 11 or 12. As many school psychologists have argued, Core standards that force children to do math they are not developmentally ready for could cause more stress-induced symptoms.
Some education researchers view the Core standards as “data tags” that help explain the collection of evaluation data on students mastery of SEL competencies in school and statewide databases. Forbes columnist and former teacher Peter Greene wrote:
“We've been saying that [Common Core State Standards] are limited because the standards were written around what can be tested. That's not exactly correct. The standards have been written around what can be tracked. The standards aren't just about defining what should be taught. They're about cataloging what students have done.”
Since Core and SEL are intricately intertwined, school districts in Idaho were led by default to adopt Core aligned curricula that would include SEL.
For example, Andrus and Pleasant View Elementary school in West Ada district has adopted the SEL curriculum ZONES of Regulation. The group Zones of Regulation (cited on Andrus and Pleasant View Elementary’s website) is “deeply committed to ... utilizing best practices around anti-racist and culturally competent teaching practices.” Students are taught about four Zones: Blue, Green, Yellow and Red. The “Righteous Red Zone” or Red zone “motivates people to stand together in protest, to march, to leave messages for lawmakers, to donate time and money, to have difficult and honest conversations.” The group provides the resource “Pursuing SEL through a Racial Equity Lens,” which argues for using SEL to address root causes of inequity like “white privilege.” This type of curriculum goes well beyond teaching students to be nice to their peers and instead uses SEL to train little community organizers.
Coeur d’Alene is in the process of implementing SEL curriculum in every public school throughout the district. Coeur d’Alene’s SEL Framework states, “The SEL Core Competencies will serve as foundational principles, much like standards to be integrated across the curriculum.” As explained in my previous installment, Coeur d’Alene’s framework is built on CASEL’s transformative SEL — a radical form of SEL “aimed at redistributing power to promote social justice.”
Boise School District has ingrained SEL into all first- and second-grade English Language Arts curriculum and has established a behavioral data collection system to track and enforce desired student behaviors in schools.
The Nampa School District implemented an SEL curriculum built on the standard CASEL framework and incorporates learning benchmarks into grade-level expectations. The district also collects data in a Schoolwide Information System as “a way of tracking minor and major behaviors” of students.
Over time the SEL nanny state initiative will be incorporated into every public school.
The Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Relief, which provides $122 billion dollars to states to support school reopening and operations, emphasizes using funds to meet students' social and emotional needs. This is likely why the State Department and Board of Education “disseminated resources to support the broader social and emotional needs of students returning to school, such as the CASEL SEL Roadmap for Re-Opening Schools.” This resource argues schools and educators should adopt “anti-racist practices,” focus classroom lessons on “social justice,” and conduct staff-wide “implicit bias” training.
Due to reliance on federal funding, state education agencies will continue pushing this government morality curriculum into schools by providing schools with resources on SEL’s connection to racial justice, “creating more equitable systems,” and designing teacher certification and content standards that emphasize SEL.
The education establishment thinks SEL will fix the problems of public education. But this fad isn’t just unavailing, it's pernicious. Parents should demand an end to this psychologically- and politically-manipulative agenda and a restoration of academic rigor and of their autonomy in raising their children.