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The Problem With Socio-Emotional Learning (SEL)

Tips & Advice
January 31, 2021

We need to talk about socio-emotional learning (SEL).

SEL is supposed to be about teaching students how to manage their emotions, persevere, and how to have healthy emotional lives. Sounds pretty harmless, right?

But here’s the problem.

Popular and common approaches to SEL are flawed. In fact, the research shows that SEL is biased against Black students. 

Knowingly employing an evaluation method that is vulnerable to bias, one that privileges particular groups over others, and one that has the potential to shape future opportunities and pathways for students, echoes racist and eugenic ideologies. 

There have been many studies that demonstrate teachers assign negative behaviour traits to Black students even where no misbehaviour exists.

When SEL is included as a formal part of assessment and evaluation, a teacher’s subjective  interpretation of  a student’s emotional skills can impact their grades.

Teachers already have too much discretion in assigning grades to students. We see the result of this in academic outcomes for Black and Indigenous students.

Until Black and Indigenous families can be assured that anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism are being meaningfully addressed in schools, with full accountability and capacity to address systemic barriers, SEL should not be a formal part of any school curriculum.

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