Social Justice Usage
Source: What Is the CASEL Framework?. 2022. [online] casel.org. Available at: https://casel.org/fundamentals-of-sel/what-is-the-casel-framework/ [Accessed 9 September 2022].
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an integral part of education and human development. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.
SEL advances educational equity and excellence through authentic school-family-community partnerships to establish learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction, and ongoing evaluation. SEL can help address various forms of inequity and empower young people and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities.
New Discourses Commentary
Social-Emotional Learning (SEL; sometimes “Social and Emotional Learning”) is a program of instruction for non-academic educational “competencies” in the social and emotional spheres. In virtually all cases, SEL is billed as a means of educating “the whole child” rather than just his academic parts. The leading organization for SEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines five areas of social and emotional competencies to be taught through SEL in addition to and within traditional academic achievement education programming. These areas are sometimes called the “CASEL 5” and are comprised of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Social-Emotional Learning therefore exists to identify and teach particular skills within these five domains as “an integral part of education and human development.”
In fact, CASEL literally begins its definition of SEL as being “an integral part of education and human development,” which under any standards in the known universe is at least a bit presumptuous. This is especially interesting as a claim since Social-Emotional Learning didn’t formally exist before 1994 and didn’t exist in its current form (Transformative SEL) until around 2017–2019. One might assume that all education prior to the last 28 (or three to five) years was therefore missing an integral part of what constitutes education, but this misunderstands the Theoretical underpinnings of SEL. Social-Emotional Learning practitioners insist that social and emotional learning has always been an integral part of education and was therefore always occurring, just not necessarily consciously or in an organized, purposed fashion.
This brazen claim on the part of CASEL is therefore reminiscent of the Freirean distortion that all education is inherently a political education, so consciously Marxist political education isn’t just acceptable but uniquely necessary and good, given all the rest reproduce the alleged underlying oppressive conditions of society. (Transformative) SEL is, in the Theory underlying its installation and practice, expert educators finally getting this crucial component of education right after literally centuries of not realizing that it’s always at the center of education no matter what, just in jumbled, disorganized, and poorly aimed and focused ways. Of course, this hints to us that Social-Emotional Learning might actually be a form of Marxist programming posing as education, which, in fact, it is.
In a nutshell—though, as we’ll see, it’s impossible to put SEL in a single nutshell—Social-Emotional Learning is a set of psychological and social work–based interventions (predominantly on children) posing as values education. These psychological and social interventions can be implemented in a wide variety of ways, but under current CASEL guidance, they are to be “systemic.” This means that SEL principles and intentions are to be woven into all aspects of school and even home and community life (under the WSCC, “whole school, whole community, whole child,” model). That weaving-in would include into all academic curricula, using SEL as a lens on the material, clubs, sports, interactions between teachers and students, and beyond within the school environment and, ideally, anything connected to it, at least under “systemic SEL” guidelines.
Importantly, then, SEL is composed of psychological and social work–based interventions on children performed by teachers and other non-professionals (in psychology and social work) in uncontrolled, non-therapeutic spaces in order to teach them “right” and “wrong” answers to socially and emotionally relevant circumstances. Some, such as your humble encyclopedist, have suggested that the intentional implementation of Social-Emotional Learning in schools should be a felony and involve the relevant administrators going to prison. Some states in the United States, such as North Carolina, seemed to preemptively anticipate this potential issue with the implementation of SEL and proactively granted immunity to teachers and school faculty administering SEL against charges of practicing psychology on children without a license.
With regard to further misfeasance in the implementation (and funding) of SEL in schools, Social-Emotional Learning is often sold as a potential remedy for “at-risk” children on the reasonable presumption that where their psychological, home, and family life are failing them in terms of capacity for educational attainment, the school can step in to bridge the gap. Because SEL as an interventionist program seems to make some sense (see below on “individual/targeted” interventions utilizing “personal responsibility” SEL models), government funding is often available in various ways for programs targeting “at-risk” kids. Thus, the formal policy-level definition of “at-risk” becomes highly relevant. In many states and districts, what is usually not clearly communicated is that “at-risk” has been carefully redefined as being “at risk of graduating without being competent in the various SEL competencies,” which applies to every child in every school district without a fully implemented and perfectly successful SEL program. Notably, these decisions follow large allocations of government moneys for “at-risk” kids in education that increased tremendously as a result of COVID-19 relief funding from the U.S. federal government.
The difficulty with putting SEL in a nutshell is that there are many very different products passing under that name. Broadly, they can be arranged in a three-by-three grid of possibilities, depending on the scope of implementation, on the one hand, and the specific type of SEL being implemented, on the other. The three scopes of implementation could be considered “individual/targeted,” “curricular,” and “systemic.” The three types of implementation are generally recognized as being based in “personal responsibility,” “(civic) participatory,” and “transformative” models. Importantly, these are not all the same. In fact, there is virtually no overlap between the “personal responsibility” model and the “transformative” model, and “individual/targeted” implementation is nothing at all like “systemic” implementation. Nevertheless, not only is the term “SEL” applied to all of these possible products, the (cherry picked) data supporting the more modest forms of SEL implementation tend to be used to justify the wholesale implementation of transformative SEL in a systemic way. This is very dishonest and merits discerning scrutiny. Before proceeding, let us summarize these modes and models of implementation.
The three scopes of implementation are fairly easy to understand. In “individual/targeted” interventions, children or classrooms with specific challenges or issues in their social and emotional lives, particularly when those impede or limit learning, are separated from the other students and intervened on in targeted ways, often by trained psychological or social-work professionals. In those settings, they are taught to manage their social and emotional circumstances through one or more of the programmatic approaches to SEL. “Curricular” SEL would make space for social and emotional content as a matter of curriculum, like health or nutrition class. “Systemic” SEL is more complicated and, in fact, devious.
Systemic SEL treats social and emotional learning as something that is always present and relevant to learning and thus treats it as a purposeful educational lens to be woven into all aspects of school life, curriculum, and beyond. Mathematics class, for instance, would be taught with SEL in mind, using mathematics problems, say, to introduce “social awareness” issues like race and racism, or by creating conditions to intervene socially and emotionally when students get frustrated or upset because of the difficulty of the lesson. In some sense, academic and extracurricular education and involvement becomes a medium to constantly teach and reinforce SEL priorities and groom SEL competencies into students.
Turning from the scopes to the modes of implementation, SEL based in personal responsibility seeks to intervene with students and teach them that challenges they have in their social and emotional lives by teaching them skills for taking personal responsibility as an individual for their emotions and social circumstances, whether directly related to their academic circumstances, affecting those, or unrelated to them. While this leaves open a question of whether or not it is the school’s job to be teaching these skills—or, in what contexts and by what methods to do so—this is an approach that has some degree of evidence supporting it, especially when implemented in one-on-one or small-group settings in targeted ways.
SEL based in (civic) participation tends to include public or community service as a component, thought programs such as “project-based learning,” or explicitly seeks to use Social-Emotional Learning agendas to shape students’ understanding of themselves as citizens. While this latter program could be done from an American (or other national) civics perspective, it could also be done through “inclusive citizenship,” “global citizenship,” or, in Comprehensive Sexuality Education, “sexual citizenship” models that contain specific activist perspectives and, in some cases, the deliberate raising of critical consciousness—that is, a neo-Marxist “critical” perspective.
Transformative SEL is wholly (neo)-Marxist. Its primary agenda is, in fact, to use the five competency areas to raise and foster a critical consciousness through social and emotional education. This fact is unsurprising to all who understand that “transformative” is a term employed by all of the Dialectical Left, most notably including Marxists, to describe their goal of making the world and man into something suitable for Communism. Transformative SEL “social awareness” lessons are unabashedly rooted in neo-Marxist social Theories like Critical Race Theory, Gender Theory, Queer Theory, Postcolonial Theory, Fat Studies, and Disability Studies, and “Trans SEL” in that regard is a vehicle and coordinating hub for programming (literally, as in thought reform or brainwashing) into the perspectives of these Critical Theories. The goal of Transformative SEL is to program children to see their world through the lenses provided by those Critical Theories and train them to be “change agents” (that is, activists) on their behalf. Systemic Transformative SEL, which is what CASEL currently promotes, is designed to rearrange the entire school-related life of every child so that it reinforces this programming in a fully immersive way.
There are so many varieties of Social-Emotional Learning in part because it grew up in various contexts, though not always by this specific name, since 1968. The person credited with creating the first SEL program was a Yale psychologist and civil rights activist by the name of James Comer. In 1968, Comer wanted to explore why mostly black inner-city schools in Hartford, Connecticut, were failing so severely and introduced the idea of “whole child” teaching to intervene not just in the educational circumstances of the children in these challenged schools but also to account for the tumultuous and emotionally charged environment the students found themselves in, between the difficulties of the civil rights movement, the background of the ugly fall of institutional racism in the United States, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the broken homes and neighborhoods many of these kids came from in Hartford. Within five years, he managed a veritable Stand and Deliver story with the two high schools in his experiment and had a very high percentage of the graduating class of 1973 going off to college or into solid jobs.
In the years following 1973, various models following from Comer’s original were attempted with varying degrees of success. In fact, success of “whole child” education programs was extremely contextual and depended upon the unique circumstances of the schools and the skills and enthusiasm of the teachers and students in a profound way. Some interventions of this sort succeeded, and others did not. Reasons for success and failure proved complex and difficult to tease out or correct, especially at scale.
In the early 1990s, the decidedly new-age spiritualist organization called the Fetzer Institute took an interest in a sprituality-driven “whole child” approach to education, and in 1994 within the Fetzer Institute, Social-Emotional Learning was formally born. Within a year, in collaboration with the effective mother of SEL, Linda Darling-Hammond, CASEL was born out of the Fetzer Institute beginnings and began to experiment with infusing (Critical) education theory (that is, critical pedagogy) into whole-child education. The psychological-interventionist and surveying aspects of SEL were greatly enhanced during this time by the so-called “godfather of SEL,” psychology professor Maruice J. Elias, at Rutgers Universiy.
CASEL would not get significant traction in education until many years later, notably following a famous meta-analysis of SEL outcomes data in 2011 and then, largely through the work of Darling-Hammond, in 2015 with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama. ESSA mandates at least one domain of non-academic competency reporting from every school receiving federal education money. Thanks to Darling-Hammond’s approach, SEL was already primed to be enacted through heavy surveying of students for precisely this kind of data and was nearly universally implemented on some level through the American education system. CASEL has been the overwhelming leader in SEL programming, lobbying, and implementation ever since. Of note, at that time, Transformative SEL—CASEL’s main programming push today—did not yet exist, though Darling-Hammond was already taking her programs in that direction, based on her relationship to and reliance upon the work of the Brazilian Marxist “educator” Paulo Freire, who Marxified education, whom she references in her foreword to the 2015 Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning: Research and Practice.
In practice, then, Social-Emotional Learning involves large-scale, frequent surveying of the students about social and emotional issues related to the five areas of competencies. These surveys are supposed to provide a feedback loop, based loosely on the Freirean dialogical model of education, whereby facilitators can learn what social and emotional lessons are most needed and appropriate, and by whom, in any given classroom. These surveys, however, especially when conducted digitally, amount to large-scale data harvesting of children in schools. These data are not merely used for SEL programming choices, concerning as that would be on its own; they are also provided (or sold) to other entities for purposes including economic forecasting (thus, potentially marketing) and the building of systems of social control, at least according to a 2019 academic paper by Ben Williamson in the Journal of Education Policy titled “Psychodata” detailing the underlying purposes of SEL in practice.
While this purpose of SEL data gathering and utilization might be shocking to many parents when they discover why their children’s schools are relentlessly surveying them, including about deeply personal topics like sex, sexuality, puberty, relationships, mental health, and suicide, and also with the capacity to build detailed personality and learning inventories of their children (useful to “nudge” units in corporate marketing departments and high-tech governance), it is in line with the rampant cheerleading support for SEL offered by agenda-driven international NGOs like the World Economic Forum. The World Economic Forum has been enthusiastically supporting and encouraging greater implementation of SEL and SEL-equipped “ed tech” since at least 2015, when it published its first major white paper on the future of education.
The WEF elaborated considerably on this vision for the future of education in SEL in 2016, advocating openly for the increased implementation of wearable (tracking) tech, virtual reality, affective computing, and AI machine learning to better understand learners and to implement SEL into their lives. Williamson names the WEF as one of the chief organizations in the world interested in harvesting and harnessing this SEL-generated “psychodata” in order to devise what he terms a global “psychocracy,” governance by (algorithm-mediated) psychological manipulation. (Others named include UNESCO, OECD, the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Templeton Foundation.) For their part, the WEF indicates that SEL teaches the kinds of “emotional intelligence” and “soft skills” that will be needed for the jobs of the future (that they just happen to be trying to orchestrate based upon their own agenda and all the data they’re stealing from our children—adding color to why students would be “at risk” of graduating ill-prepared for the new economic order being built around their psychodata). One such purpose of this data gathering is to define Pre-K to career pathways that match and place people with their future careers based on their elaborate SEL profiles. One might suspect this will limit indivudual freedom when put into practice.
Presently, Social-Emotional Learning is the hottest trend in education, and it is being implemented virtually universally in North American schools and beyond. CASEL, matching suggestions also made by the WEF, is currently promoting a program of SEL “Communities of Practice” that will implement SEL systemically not just into the school but into the entire life and learning environment of every child, including through inducing and encouraging compliance of parents to utilize SEL in the home (the WEF actually recommends this begin before birth in their 2016 white paper through the implementation of SEL-trained prenatal care and training). These communities, true to Comer’s original vision, are designed to educate the “whole child” in fully immersive SEL environments. Tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars in education money—public and private—are being spent on SEL and its implementation per year currently in countries like the United States.
One would be forgiven for recalling with respect to Social-Emotional Learning that the most influential Critical Marxist of the 1960s and 1970s, Herbert Marcuse, wrote in his famous Essay on Liberation in 1969 that the only way to get to a liberated (Marxist Socialist) society would be to introject new values, new rationality, and a new sensibility into people so as to create a “biological foundation for socialism” at the level of their “vital needs.” One would likewise be forgiven for recognizing that SEL is perfectly designed to do exactly that by intervening routinely on the social and emotional lives of students in personally invasive ways as a means of teaching them “right” and “wrong” perspectives on social and emotional circumstances, such as developing “competencies” like resilience within the heading of self-management, which might in Transformative SEL amount to not exhibiting “White Fragility” during racial social-awareness lessons. One would be similarly forgiven for also recalling that Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum indicated in his 2022 book The Great Narrative for a Better Future that one reason his ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) standards for a “sustainable and inclusive future” would be adopted universally by corporations is that, should the public-private partnership compelling them from the top down not be sufficiently persuasive, the “younger generations” would be radicalized (through education, like the SEL he promotes otherwise) to demand this world and to refuse to live in a world that isn’t ESG compliant.
Though this concludes the New Discourses summary of the topic of SEL for this encyclopedia, descriptions of the five competency areas in the CASEL 5 from an influential 2019 education academic paper by Robert Jagers, et al., are offered in full as an appendix. We trust the Marxist slant of these descriptions will be sufficiently self-evident not to require elaboration. These descriptions are fully indicative of what the CASEL 5 competency areas are used to teach.
The CASEL 5 SEL competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making represent large categories or conceptual buckets for organizing a range of intra- and interpersonal knowledge, skills, and abilities (Weissberg et al., 2015). We view these competencies as interrelated, synergistic, and integral to the growth and development of justice-oriented global citizens. Next we provide revisions to current definitions of each competency domain through an equity lens, building on what we have referred to elsewhere as “equity elaborations” (Jagers et al., 2018).
- Competence in the self-awareness domain involves understanding one’s emotions, personal and social identities, goals, and values. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations, having positive mind-sets, and possessing a well-grounded sense of self-efficacy and optimism. High levels of self-awareness require the ability to recognize one’s own biases; to understand the links between one’s personal and collective history and identities; and to recognize how thoughts, feelings, and actions are interconnected in and across diverse contexts.
- Competence in the self-management domain requires skills and attitudes that facilitate the ability to regulate emotions and behaviors. This includes the ability to delay gratification, manage stress, and control impulses through problem-focused coping. It also implies appropriate expressiveness, perseverance, and being agentic in addressing personal and group-level challenges to achieve self- and collectively defined goals and objectives.
- Competence in the social awareness domain involves having the critical historical grounding to take the perspective of those with the same and different backgrounds and cultures and to appropriately empathize and feel compassion. It also involves understanding social norms for constructive behavior in diverse interpersonal and institutional settings and recognizing family, school, and community resources and supports for personal and collective well-being.
- Competence in the relationship skills domain includes the interpersonal sensibilities and facility needed to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships and to effectively navigate settings with differing social and cultural norms and demands. It involves communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting selfishness and inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, seeking help and offering leadership when it is needed, and working collaboratively whenever possible.
- Competence in the responsible decision making domain requires the cultivation of knowledge, skills, and attitudes to make caring, constructive choices about personal and group behavior in social interactions within and across diverse institutional settings. It requires the ability to critically examine ethical standards, safety concerns, and behavioral norms for risky behavior; to make realistic evaluations of benefits and consequences of various interpersonal and institutional relationships and actions; and to always make primary collective health and well-being.
Revision date: 9/9/22