Home > Uncategorized > Should Schools Teach Social and Emotional Skills?

Should Schools Teach Social and Emotional Skills?

February 29, 2012

Throughout most of my career as an educator, I decried the number of tasks delegated to public schools. Legislatures mandated dental hygiene, animal husbandry, specific history units, and countless “safety” programs while adding tougher graduation requirements. I felt that schools should stick-to-the-knitting and be limited to preparing kids for college or preparing kids for work… period…. end of report. Sometime in the early 2000s, though, I had a change of heart on this whole issue. I felt that schools HAD to assume responsibility for assuring that students entering Kindergarten were ready to learn instead of complaining about that reality. I felt that schools needed to have a way to work with parents who were overwhelmed by the demands of their children or the demands they faced at home instead of complaining about “those parents”. I wrote an article for Education Week entitled “A Homeland Security Bill or Education” that addressed this topic (see Published Articles), suggesting that schools work in a more coordinated fashion with agencies serving children in the same way the various law-enforcement agencies were supposedly going to work collaboratively in Homeland Security.

The ASCD On-Line Jounrnal is linking to a series of articles on Social and Emotional Skills by Randy Tarin in Edutopia. Ms. Tarin is the founder of Project Happiness, “a non-profit that empowers youth to create greater happiness in their lives and in the world”. As a Buddhist practitioner I see several parallels between the skills needed to manage anger recommended by Ms. Tarin and those recommended by Thich Nhat Hahn, but I also see parallels between her teachings and those of theologians who focus on the teachings in the New Testament. I can imagine some politicians (Rick Santorum comes to mind) recommending that schools inculcate students with spiritual values while most advocate staying as far away as possible from teaching ANY values in schools. The conundrum for schools is this: it is impossible to give students social skills without imposing some kind of values. The values schools teach and embrace now are competition, consumerism, and compliance…. and increasingly competition is Darwinian, consumerism is welcomed (see earlier posts on “naming rights”), and compliance is imposed from all levels of government. These implicit values led to the economic and cultural divide, to the degradation of the environment, and the rabid dogmatism that pervades our political discourse today. Ultimately, a conversation about whether schools should take on social and emotional skills will force a conversation about the values we have in place now. I believe it is time to begin that dialogue soon.

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