‘Social Emotional Learning’ Now a Vehicle for Critical Race Theory

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) – the program of in-school “psychological training” for children – has now become a major vehicle for Critical Race Theory, the movement that serves as a foundation of identity politics and promotes the analysis of many aspects of life through the prism of race.

Public schools have failed American students in the major academic areas of English, reading, and math, at the same time the U.S. Education Department has fostered Social-Emotional Learning.

In March 2019, the Boston-based Pioneer Institute published the study, “Social-Emotional Learning: K-12 Education as New-Age Nanny State,” asserting that SEL had become the latest panacea in a long line of progressive “education reforms” that have only served to distract from the fact that American public school children are failing academically.

At the same time the federal Department of Education bemoaned the failure of American students to succeed academically, it pushed schools to provide training in psychological, attitudinal, and behavioral standards that many parents said should be taught at home.

The Pioneer study’s authors, pediatrician Karen Effrem and attorney Jane Robbins, wrote:

As student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, or the “nation’s report card”) paint a gloomy picture of students’ accomplishments in reading and mathematics (especially since the implementation of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI)), education decision-makers look toward probing students’ psyches rather than instilling academic knowledge.

In February, Robbins wrote at the Federalist that SEL champions such as the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) are now “brazenly trumpeting an even more troubling aspect of SEL: the opportunity to turn impressionable students into leftist activists.”

She observed that CASEL CEO Karen Niemi announced in December her company “has revised its definition of and framework for ‘socio-emotional learning’ to highlight the value of SEL as a weapon for social justice.”

“Woke-speak pervades the new direction,” Robbins asserted. “In contrast to the previous fairly anodyne definition of SEL, the new one emphasizes student ‘identities’ and ‘marginalization,’ ‘equity,’  ‘just communities,’ and the ‘collective’ rather than the individual.”

In the video below from a June 2020 “conversation” about “Abolitionist Teaching and the future of Our Schools,” Yale activist teacher Dena Simmons, Ed.D., said SEL, on its own, is now nothing more than “white supremacy with a hug.”

“Our schools are steeped in white supremacy,” Simmons asserted. “I always tell people it doesn’t matter what your curriculum is, if you put it in a system without any lens that is abolitionist, that is anti-racist, it can we used as a weapon.”

The education activist said SEL and equity have become “conflated.”

“Students are talking about their feelings,” she acknowledged, but added she is only “a proponent of social emotional learning if it doesn’t create harm.”

“We can use anything in education to create harm,” Simmons said, noting the SEL language of expressing remorse for saying something perceived hurtful by another is “a great intention, but what you have done is dehumanize me.”

In other words, SEL training, in Simmons’ view, has only created more racism and white supremacy:

I think a lot of what we do regardless of SEL or mindfulness or any of these things, if the educator has not done the work, if the school is steeped in white supremacy, guess what that curriculum is? A white supremist curriculum.

If we don’t apply a racial equity lens, abolitionist lens, and others to racial justice as you name it, very easily SEL becomes white supremacy with a hug because what happens is SEL is being used as another way to distinguish Black and Brown children and everyone else.

Simmons asserted that SEL, which seeks to teach children appropriate behavior, especially when they are angry, has undermined black students because they are still, according to her, victims of white supremacy.

When black students become inappropriately angry and threatening, “it is like, you know, ‘Those students really don’t know how to control themselves,’” Simmons said, parroting school SEL teachers who say, “We should do the SEL program with them and maybe they will learn how to manage their behaviors and have that self-control, and stuff like that.”

For Simmons, black students are always victims of white supremacy:

You can’t talk about self and social awareness without talking about white supremacy, right. And when we talk about the narrative of social emotional learning and thinking about how to apply that in more privileged schools and white schools, what you get is, ‘Well, our students need this for college and career readiness.’

Simmons insisted SEL has now been used “to further disenfranchise the already disenfranchised.”

“So, again, anything that you do, without applying an abolitionist lens, an anti-racist lens, a racial justice lens, all that can be used as a weapon and it can be used as a weapon of white supremacy,” she said.

“Don’t come in with that Trojan horse, SEL, saying it is here for the kids, without doing that work,” she insisted:

You can’t be trauma-informed if you’re not talking about racism. A lot of us – like me – I walk in with my racial trauma, you know, folks who said something about the way I spoke, the way I pronounce things. But, then you want to give me a hug? You want to give me some trauma-informed instruction without addressing the trauma of racism, the trauma of white supremacy?

Robbins wrote, subsequently, the indoctrination into Critical Race Theory and anti-white racism has now become, “expressly, the goal of social-emotional learning.”

She observed that CASEL’s Niemi now asserts SEL “helps students ‘move from anger to agency and then to action,’ primarily in the cause of anti-racism.”

“All this will come from teaching children to ‘examine prejudices and biases . . . [and] evaluate social norms and systemic inequities . . .’” Robbins added.

“Forget teaching kids to play nice—today’s SEL intends to propel them into Antifa,” she warned.


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