Hi. I'm your child's teacher. You know, the one your kid loves and talks to you about every day? The one you actually requested the principal assign your child? Yes, hello! We met at conferences, and I had your older son three years ago. Can we talk for a moment?
I saw your post about this awful new SEL that schools are "forcing down your child's throat!" and "using to indoctrinate innocent students!" I read the memes that your group shared that are frightening everyone around you into thinking that I'm trying to convert your child into something dreadful. I thought, maybe, we could chat about that. SEL is being made out to be one of those scary, deep state acronyms, but really it just stands for "Social-Emotional Learning."
The most important thing I want to share with you is that SEL isn't new like they're saying. It's been around since we both were in school*, only then we just called it the "School Principles" (because they were very punny that way) or the "Highland Cares" curriculum and we made posters and signs about Kindness, Respect, Determination, Fairness and Caring. Our teachers read us books about Ramona and Beezus and we talked about how Ramona faced consequences for her decisions, and didn't we have to do that, too? Later on we had debates about the Effects of Pollution versus Meeting the Needs of the Human Population, and about whether it was fair for King George to impose taxes unilaterally. We cried at our desks when our boyfriends broke up with us, and we knew which teacher to go to when we really, really just needed to talk. Ninety percent of middle school was learning how to navigate the social structures and get a grip on my emotions. Thank God for the teachers who understood how hard that was, and helped me through it because Lord knows that they weren't trained for it. Social Emotional learning was the bedrock of our education, even though they didn't call it that.
So why do we call it that now? Probably because of this guy named Maslow, who came up with a list of Needs, in order, that people have to have in order to survive**. At the bottom are Physical Needs like food, clothing and shelter, which is why schools have free breakfasts and lunches now, and why the secretaries have a stash of extra clothes for kids. Because the child who is hungry or filthy isn't going to be learning anything today. Next is the Need for Safety and Security, so teachers are trained now on how to help kids feel safe as possible in an uncertain world. Some children come to us from seriously unsafe places, and there are days it's all hands on deck trying to help those kids know that here, in this classroom they are safe.
You'd think, that if we have those basics down, we'd be all set to learn, right? Maslow says no, we're not. Next is the Need to feel Loved and like we Belong. Love and acceptance. Those are powerful ideas, and this is where SEL truly lives. That survey we give about the "values we're indoctrinating" into your child? That is us trying our hardest to see how well we are doing right here at this level. Want to know what those values are? Here you go:
Sense of Belonging
That's it. That's what we're trying to help your children attain. Hope for their future. Determination to overcome challenges. The ability to feel their big emotions and cope with them every day. The feeling they are loved, valued, and respected and above all that they belong to a caring community.
Why do this thing that you say "doesn't belong in schools" and "only belongs in the home?" We do this vital, important work because without it we can never get kids to that next level of actually being able to successfully learn. Just as a hungry child can't learn, neither can a child who is convinced the world hates him and feels he has nothing of value to contribute. We cannot teach a child who is balled up in a corner, head and knees drawn into her shirt. And we have these children in our classrooms every single day.
This is what SEL is. And that is why we embrace it. We are social beings, and learning how to manage our emotions is a huge part of being human. We do not just teach math, or science, or reading. We teach CHILDREN.
If you're still worried, come talk to me. I'll make the time. If we sit down and talk to one another, we might both come away with a better understanding. If there's still something wrong, I want to help fix it.
Just like I would with your child.
Your child's teacher
*approximately 100 years ago in "the 1900s" as my students call it.
**If you'd like to learn more about Maslow and his ideas, and why so many people think he was correct, this site is pretty decent, but there are roughly 10 million others, too.