Social-Emotional Learning

If You Think SEL Matters in Schools, Now's a Good Time for Us All to Get on the Same Page

We can’t have a serious conversation about educational equity without having a normed understanding of what social emotional learning should look and sound like in our schools. Furthermore, you cannot proclaim to be an advocate or proponent for social emotional learning if you engage in or support such actions as:

All of the above actions have adverse effects on the social-emotional wellness of our most marginalized students. Social emotional learning programs that fail to dismantle oppressive systems and practices that preserve white dominant culture within our schools are counterproductive and should be discontinued if already implemented. This is exactly why Dena Simmons coined the phrase, “white supremacy with a hug” to describe the whitewashing of social emotional learning practices in our schools. If we’re so hellbent on prioritizing white comfort when engaging in social emotional learning with our students, then we’re missing the mark as ABAR educators. 

Secretary Miguel Cardona’s recent interview on The Breakfast Club showcased a lot of these issues. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of the show but something told me to watch the replay of the 30 minute interview. As expected, Charlemagne tha God grilled the secretary with a series of questions ranging from student loan debt to critical race theory in schools. And unsurprisingly, Dr. Cardona dug into his politician playbook and danced around practically every question posed to him. Sadly, there really wasn’t much that I took away from the interview but I was particularly interested in a couple statements he made.

About four minutes into the interview, Dr. Cardona stated that one of the changes he would personally like to see in the new year is a restructuring of our schools to provide better social emotional support for our students. On the surface level, it sounds great, right?! Who wouldn’t want children to feel better about themselves socially and emotionally within their schools? Within this same interview, he also makes clear that, as the Secretary of Education, he doesn’t have the authority to oversee or mandate curriculum, yet he uses his position to push for equity in education. 

So riddle me this: How can he realistically push for equity in education, at the federal level, if the head official of our nation’s education system is limited in his ability to challenge problematic legislation that prohibits culturally relevant & ABAR teaching practices and pushes for curriculum that negatively impacts the social-emotional wellness of our BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students?

Also, we must take some time to unpack what Dr. Cardona said about the need for social emotional support for students. When he mentions the term social emotional support, I couldn’t help but wonder how he personally defines that term? What does that look and sound like for him? Does his definition of social emotional support include the need to address the recurrence of anti-Black racism, settler colonial actions, anti-AAPI hate, and cisheteronormative legislation in our schools?

Kwame Sarfo-Mensah
Kwame Sarfo-Mensah is the founder of Identity Talk Consulting, LLC., an independent educational consulting firm that provides professional development and consulting services globally to educators who desire to enhance their instructional practices and reach their utmost potential in the classroom. He is the author of two books, "Shaping the Teacher Identity: 8 Lessons That Will Help Define the ...

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