Should We Be Urging Social-Emotional Learning?

Taylor Johnson, Writer

Social-Emotional Learning has been a heated discussion among students at Governor Thomas Johnson High School over the past year. SEL provides mandatory lessons that aim to help students better understand who they are and understand those around them. National University claims that SEL is the solution for students to find ways to deal with their emotions in considerate and respectful ways. But the argument goes: Are bringing such personal and sensitive topics into the classroom appropriate, or even helpful? TJ students give their take on the controversial topic.

Surveys in SEL lessons have been said to be an invasion of the privacy of students and families at TJ High School. Questions regarding how students feel about their family life, their friends, and themselves are inquired. Students often feel pressured or are required to answer questions that they do not feel comfortable answering.

Sophomore Rebecca Ege says, “Whenever we have SEL lessons I feel very uncomfortable and unwilling to share in front of everyone…We should not have to talk about things and be forced in front of our entire Connect or third block class.”

Many students believe the program to be a waste of time and that SEL lessons are not accomplishing what they claim or need to.

Senior Aidan Wennersten states, “They [SEL lessons] haven’t impacted my mental health or those of my friends who suffer with theirs. SEL is a clear example of pandering by the school by regurgitating the same vague advice we hear everyday. While the message can be appreciated as a whole, individual outreach to students with free, school-provided therapeutic services would be a gesture of genuine good faith, and FCPS’s lack of that provision is a testament to the system’s failure to its students.”

Sophomore Alexis Henriquez adds, “SEL has not impacted me in any way. When SEL lessons happen, based on what I’ve seen, students don’t engage. Someone just talking in front of a class isn’t going to impact a group of high school students.”

Several students believe in the mission of SEL and that it is making a positive impact in the school community. However, some claim it to be done in an unproductive and inefficient way.

When asked if SEL has been helpful, junior Amandine Kasende responds, “Kind of yes, it helps me with my mental health and I appreciate bringing awareness to mental illness in schools.”

Sophomore Audrey Collis adds, “I found it nice when people were actually engaging in the conversations, but a lot of the social lessons were common sense and nobody was participating…It’s hard because a lot of classrooms just aren’t going to get a lot out of it with unwilling students. With more willing students though, more conversation would be nice.”

Max Eden, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute focusing on education reform, claims that the SEL program is the practice of unlicensed therapy. He says it pries into the private lives of students and shames them for not answering a certain way when responding to questions about their moods, beliefs, families, and sexualities. Eden adds that there has been no study that has shown SEL to positively impact students’ academics and that it is a “morality-free attempt at moral education.”

Eden’s claims support those from TJ students that SEL does more harm than good. There is a common desire for the program to be eliminated and replaced by school support groups and the offering of licensed therapists. These new methodologies would allow students to have freedom in how they can improve their own mental health in the way they see best fit. Ultimately, SEL needs to incorporate more engaging, helpful lessons into its program to increase the willingness of its students, or it needs to be replaced with a new approach to accomplish the same agenda.