The Social Emotional Learning Establishment Seeks Progressive Reordering of Society

by James C. Sherlock

Social emotional learning is based on a good idea. The underlying concept is to train adults (teachers and staff) in child psychology with a goal of shaping learning environments that optimize development of children to societal standards of behavior.

To teach them how to act.

The rub: who decides on the target societal standards of behavior?

Virginia’s vision for SEL is published as:

intended to center equity in this work, which is key to VDOE’s vision and mission.

The vision of social emotional learning in Virginia is to maximize the potential of all students and staff to become responsible, caring and reflective members of our diverse society by advancing equity, uplifting student voice, and infusing SEL into every part of the school experience.

You can figure out where the educational establishment is going with that. But if you cannot, they have told us in no uncertain terms.

They intend to integrate issues of race, class and culture into academic content with a primary goal of making social justice warriors out of America’s children; to bring down capitalism, individualism, and what they call neoliberal democracy.

To lead our children to help redistribute power in America.

Not my words, theirs.

The 2020 Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 753 (Del. Rasoul (D-Roanoke) directing the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to establish a uniform definition of SEL and to develop guidance standards. It was a partisan bill. Its only opposition was by majorities of Republicans in both houses.

Virginia Social Emotional Guidance Standards (VSEGS) was issued in 2021. The link to transformative SEL is contained on page one of the Preface:

SEL can also be leveraged for creating equitable learning environments and fostering healthy development for all children, adolescents, and adults.

We will see what VDOE meant by “equitable learning environments” and “healthy development” by following where the reference for that paragraph leads us.

Remember, this is not an accusation. I offer below a recitation of the transformative SEL that the Northam VDOE publicly embraced.

CASEL. For guidance on the road to social emotional learning, the Virginia Department of Education has from the beginning deferred to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

CASEL is the North Star for everything about SEL on the VDOE web page. Take a look. The Northam VDOE was captive to CASEL. I suspect CASEL still represents the views of key VDOE staffers.

Transformative SEL. CASEL starting at least by 2018 evolved SEL into “Transformative SEL” to unabashedly turn captive audiences of school children into social warriors. They did so well before the Virginia standards were published in 2021.

The authors of the article cited on page one of VSEGS are CASEL staffers. They

focus on issues of race/ethnicity as a first step toward addressing the broader range of extant inequities.

The article brings forward the argument:

that education (has been) aimed at promoting personally responsible citizenship and its attendant individualism, consumerism, and passivity accords with a dominant neoliberal democracy; this is the dominant model.

However, a critical democracy requires education to have collectivism, productive interactionism, and authentic engagement as its goals.

For a glossary of the terms in the last paragraph above, go here.

I’ll give you a head start.

Col·lec·tiv·ism [kəˈlektəˌvizəm] NOUN
the practice or principle of giving a group priority over each individual in it. synonyms: state ownership · socialism · radical socialism · Sovietism · Bolshevism · Marxism · neo-Marxism · Leninism · Marxism–Leninism · Trotskyism · Maoism.

Collectivism, any of several types of social organization in which the individual is seen as being subordinate to a social collectivity such as a state, a nation, a race, or a social class.

Take your pick.

We will go to CASEL for the formal definition of transformative SEL:

“Transformative SEL” is a process whereby young people and adults build strong, respectful, and lasting, relationships that facilitate co-learning to critically examine root causes of inequity, and to develop collaborative solutions that lead to personal, community, and societal well-being.

This form of SEL is aimed at redistributing power to more fully engage young people and adults in working toward just and equitable schools and communities. It emphasizes the development of identity, agency, belonging, curiosity, and collaborative problem-solving within the CASEL framework.

Core features of Transformative SEL include:

  • Authentic partnering among students and adults with a deep focus on sharing power and decision-making between young people, educators, families, and communities.
  • Academic content that integrates issues of race, class and culture.
  • Instruction that honors and makes connections to students’ lived experiences and identities, and scaffolds learning to build an understanding of others’ lived experiences.
  • Enhancing and foregrounding social and emotional competencies needed for civic engagement and social change, such as reflecting on personal and social identities, examining prejudices and biases, interrogating social norms, disrupting and resisting inequities, and co-constructing equitable and just solutions.
  • Prioritizing students’ individual and collective agency to take action for more just schools and communities.
  • Focus on creating belonging and engagement for all individuals.

All bold highlights inside quotes in this article are added.

Bottom line.

Transformative SEL was the original intent of Governor Northam’s VDOE. It is a primary reference in Virginia Social Emotional Guidance Standards.

Transformation of society was always where the education establishment’s embrace of SEL was headed.

A critical democracy requires education to have collectivism, productive interactionism, and authentic engagement as its goals.

You may think that progressives in Virginia will embrace transformative SEL. Denial is impeded by the openness of the written intent.

But progressives have repeatedly demonstrated that they simultaneously can deny something exists and attack people who don’t support it.

We will see that here.  We already are.

My subscription to Education Week, the weekly publication of record for the education establishment, informs me this month:

Supporters of social-emotional learning are going on the offensive in a bid to untangle the teaching of skills like empathy and resilience from the polarization surrounding lessons on racism, sexuality, and even American history.

So now they want to “untangle” public perception of what they have already done.  And proudly proclaim among themselves.  Count on the mainstream press to carry that water.

Many Virginia school divisions have yet to implement SEL. Those are the wise ones.

For Governor Youngkin, his Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Board of Education, school boards, and parents, SEL has been exposed for what it is and always was intended to be in terms we cannot mistake.

Over to you for action.

Updated Sept 23 at 14:05.