'Social and emotional learning' initiatives get $87 MILLION in new congressional spending bill

SEL takes mental health practices and brings them into the classroom, turning teachers and lessons into therapy tools.

Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY
Funding for social and emotional learning is part of the new $1.2 trillion spending package from Congress. In addition to many earmarks that seem to be of little priority to the American people, such as $30 million so the Department of Homeland Security can buy new electric vehicles, is an $87 million grant for social and emotional learning. The earmark falls under the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies.

As part of Education Innovation and Research, $87 million will be provided for social and emotional learning. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona took office with a plan to increase "access to social, emotional, and mental health supports for all students." He's been praised by social and emotional learning groups for his efforts.

It reads: "Within the total for EIR, the agreement includes $87,000,000 to provide grants for social and emotional learning and $87,000,000 for Science, Technology, Education, and Math and computer science education activities. No later than 30 days after enactment of this Act, the Department is directed to have an initial consultation briefing with the Committees on the fiscal year 2024 competitions for EIR. Not less than two weeks before the publication of a notice of proposed priorities or a notice inviting applications, the Department is directed to brief the Committees on plans for carrying out an EIR competition. In addition, the Department shall provide a briefing and notice of grant awards to the Committees at least seven days before grantees are announced."

Specifics of the funding are not mentioned, however, but social and emotional learning is a course of education that focuses not on skills or competency, but on dealing with negative feelings each student may have. It takes mental health practices and brings them into the classroom, turning teachers and lessons into therapy tools.

As Max Eden noted with the American Enterprise Institute, SEL, as it's commonly known, is not an evidence-based program. It is also very biased toward leftist views like inclusion, gender ideology, and critical race theory. In debunking the program, Eden writes "First, claims that SEL is 'evidence-based' have been vastly oversold. Second, SEL has become an ideologically charged enterprise. Third, the data collection involved in SEL implementation poses major risks to the privacy of students and families. And fourth, even without the ideological turn and data privacy concerns, SEL implementation tends to resemble the practice of unlicensed therapy."

The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal also offers concerns about SEL, saying that the concept is "a dangerous fad." Daniel Buck writes that when SEL programs are implemented, other programs tend to fall off the curriculum.

"At its worst," Buck writes, "SEL is a means to slip progressive politics into the classroom. Social and emotional learning is difficult to define but euphonious. Who would oppose teaching children basic emotional skills? As such, it acts as something of a rubber stamp, justifying whatever dream-list progressive educators want. Everything from eliminating math and traditional grading to providing lessons on gender identity and privilege comes under the banner of SEL."

One of the major players in the SEL space is Casel, which states that "Federal policy in the United States plays a key role in creating conditions that support statewide and implementation of SEL so all students can benefit. It provides an important opportunity to elevate SEL as a state priority. CASEL recommends that states leverage federal policies and funding, like the American Rescue Plan, to invest in and sustain SEL." The group advocates for funding for SEL at all levels of government.

The group outlines their theories of SEL and defines it as "an integral part of education and human development." They say that "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," Casel continues, "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."
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