Is SEL Important?

Is SEL Important?


My response to:

Embedding Social Emotional Learning Across the Curriculum

Published on April 8, 2017

Tom Vander Ark

Director of Getting Smart


He has a BS in Materials Science and an MBA (Energy Finance). I wonder why school reformers rarely have a degree in education. SEL stands for Social and Emotional Learning.

Director Tom Vander Ark submitted, “The ability to manage time and attention, to direct learning, to read social situations and to work productively with others–these are the types of character strengths that will most determine success in school, life and work.”

School is NOT meant to teach SEL directly. One will learn this on one’s own. One will grow up while going to school but not because of going to school. I take exception to so-called teaching things that happen naturally and call it education. School, especially K-12, should concentrate on the 3Rs and very little else—impart knowledge and not practice mind control.

Director Tom Vander Ark wrote, “These traits and dispositions are developed in many ways–beginning at home and continued through positive youth development experiences, faith congregations, community connections (scouts, youth sports, fine arts), school experiences and more.”

I agree so why do you focus so much attention on it at school?

Director Tom Vander Ark put forth, “Character is caught as well as taught–too often, we’ve relied on the former. The teaching of social-emotional skills must be explicit. Kids should be meta about character strengths–when they recognize strengths in themselves and others, they can change a culture. While sometimes these skills can be taught in isolated incidents, it is most effective when integrated into school culture, curriculum and guidance services.”

Obviously I think that teaching SEL should not take place at all. Why do you worry about the kids getting know one another? Getting to know their strengths and therefore their weaknesses? I did not go to school to learn about my classmates. I went there to attain knowledge. Why do they need to change a culture?

Director Tom Vander Ark declared, “The Aspen Institute recently launched the National Commission of Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. Kudos to Aspen for the nomenclature and resulting acronym (SEAD), underscoring that social emotional learning and academic development are inextricably linked.”

Bull dung! Where do you people come up with this mess? SEL is not important!!!!! So Aspen invented another meaningless acronym. F-A-B!

Director Tom Vander Ark posited, “The goal is to build consensus around a lexicon, metrics and strategies that more fully embrace the integration of academic goals and SEL. We believe that one of the most effective strategies for marrying SEL and core subjects is to embed SEL into the formal curricula. Outlined below are numerous examples.”



  1. Director Tom Vander Ark wrote, “Summit Public Schools. The innovative Summit network supports student outcomes in four quadrants: content, knowledge, cognitive skills, habits of success and real-life experiences (listen to a podcast discussion). All are mapped to integrated learning experiences. CAO Adam Carter describes the importance of habits of success as the thread that ties all content together:

Habits of Success are really important. As educators, parents and community members, we know that they are the invisible thread that ties together the fabric of relationships and organizations. They are bound intimately with motivation and achievement. They count, but we don’t yet count them. We should.”

Again, none of these are needed. I usually delete this pictures but I decided to keep this one. It is theirs and not mine. Also, the 10 goals are also theirs and Director Tom Vander Ark put here. I did add my own comments to each.


The Four Elements (Quadrants)

Quadrant I: Director Tom Vander Ark wrote, “Content knowledge. Engaging in learning that is personalized for each student, filling teaching gaps and moving students towards competency in all subject areas.”

I just love the buzz words of the progressives. Engaging is not needed. True scholars and most young kids want to learn just to gain knowledge—to know stuff. The act of learning is engaging for them. Define competency! Are we talking about average stuff here of a ‘C’ student? Most will handle K-12 on the average level no matter what you. They always have. This kind of education may raise the lowest quartile but hurts the upper quartile and bores most students.

You do not need to treat them as if they are Pavlov’s dog. You do not need to reward them just for participating. You don’t need to entertain them.

Filling what teaching gaps? The teacher should be king or queen of their domain. It is their class to teach and to grade. The teacher and a textbook should suffice.

Quadrant II: Director Tom Vander Ark wrote, “Expeditions. Immersion into real world experiences to discover and explore passions and careers applying learning in authentic ways.”

Yes, progressives have a hatred of history and knowledge in general. Meaning they want to fill the day with teaching things that one learns on one’s own over time and they want to call that teaching/education!

They also think that schooling needs to have utility. It must have some direct bearing on one’s own life, hence no history. Even though history is a story of what got us to the point we are. It has direct impact on our lives today. Without history there are no trends or patterns in behavior and it is more likely to repeat itself. The ability to recognize patterns is the definition of intelligence. So, one might say that progressives disregard intelligence and true learning. They mistakenly believe that everyone can learn and learn everything. They just ignore over 111 years of IQ data, to the detriment of us all. Progressives have been trying to change things since just before then (before 1905).

Thing is kids will like courses and dislike others. They are exploring their competencies and preferences themselves. If one could take a test –the Myers-Briggs personality test that would be helpful. One does not have to integrate real world experiences into classes. They will get a sense of themselves over time.

Quadrant III: Director Tom Vander Ark wrote, “Habits of success. Empowering student to self-direct their learning and develop the habits that are invaluable for college and life success.”

Another catch word and a catch phrase, those being empowering and self-direct. Empowerment gives the kids a false sense of power and arrogance.  The teacher no longer teaches but facilitates. This may be fine for graduates students but not for children. What might just work for adults usually will not work for children.

Again, college will not allow learning at one’s own pace and to learn what one wants. There are some required courses and one must take them in order to graduate. Why would say that you want to make college ready but run K-12 totally different from college? It should not be exactly the same but it should not be totally different either. There is nothing one can learn to make one successful in life. Hard work alone does NOT generate success. I am not so sure that it ever did, but it surely does not apply now.

Quadrant IV: Director Tom Vander Ark wrote, “Cognitive skills. Developing the deeper learning, critical thinking, communication and problem solving skills, needed to succeed in today’s and tomorrow’s workforce.

Developing deeper learning K-12 is NOT NECSSARY. I have a phrase that I think applies here, ‘age appropriate (education level appropriate) learning’, is what should be happening.

As I have said before the Bloom’s taxonomy pyramid falls over if the lower levels are not developed first. If one neglects the foundation the whole thing topples over or becomes useless.

You say prepare for the workplace of today. But the workplace of today and for the next 5 years at least, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected these needs for various educational levels. 27% of all jobs will require less than a high school diploma, 39% will require a high school diploma, 27% will require a college degree (Associate’s degree 4%, Bachelor’s 18%, Master’s degree 2%, and a PhD 3%), and about 7% will require some certificate or some college but no degree. Based on this we have too many in every level except high school dropouts. It is ironic that the same percentage of high school dropouts and college degreed people is the same at 27% each.

Let me say that most of the jobs that say they require a high school diploma really do not. These jobs were being done, manually, by people with a third grade education or less, 100 years ago. Computers just make it easier to do so less education is needed but not more. The US military is one of the biggest employers of high school graduates and the diploma is truly not needed. Regardless, the jobs that require a high school diploma or less (66% or right at 2/3 of all jobs) will not require the higher order thinking skills: problem solving, critical thinking, and communications, etc. They will be told what to do and how and when to do it.

The higher order thinking skills will be required particularly levels 3 and 4, in college graduates (some college but no degree 7%, Associate’s degree 4% and bachelor’s degree 18%). This adds up to 29% or less than 1/3). The Master’s degree 2% and PhD 3% or 5% total) will use the upper two or levels 5 and 6. So the higher order thinking skills will be used by 34% and they will be developed in college and by those who are high IQd, so, only 5% will need the upper two levels. This means they already have it in them and just need a little practice to develop it more thoroughly.

What is the rush????

So, if we use age/educational level appropriate education then these things do not need to be taught at all, particularly K-12.  It will be wasted on 2/3 of the kids anyway, if they ever do really gain these skills at all.

So much for the present situation; meanwhile, in the more distant future, if innovators/AI truly does take off then there will be even fewer and fewer jobs for more and more people. These skills will be needed by fewer and fewer people even if more and more of the new jobs will require them, as there will be fewer jobs overall.  But even these jobs that do require these skills will be diminishing. Again, only about 5% will require them in the near term.

So, near term and long term both, it is not necessary to try to force kids to learn higher order thinking skills.

I would want knowledgeable citizenry more so than higher order thinking skilled citizenry without the knowledge base to work on.

  1. Director Tom Vander Ark suggested, “Evanston/Skokie School District. Superintendent Paul Goren has long placed an emphasis on SEL. Teachers in his district combine explicit SEL instruction with an embedded curricular approach where teachers take what they are teaching and incorporate social and emotional skills and competencies within them.

For example, The Diary of Anne Frank is taught not only from a language arts or historical point of view, it can also be taught with an eye on SEL. Teachers illustrate to students how Anne dealt with conflict in her life and encourage kids to reflect upon their own ways of dealing with conflict or crisis.”

Christ, how many conflicts or crises could an adolescent have to deal with? Anne Frank was an extreme example of some kid in crisis. That is the main thing to take away from her story—diary. They are there to learn and should not have conflicts.


  1. Director Tom Vander Ark declared, “Thrive Public Schools. This San Diego-based school emphasizes personalized, project-based and social emotional learning. Principal Nicole Assisi reflects, “Interwoven in all we do at Thrive is an emphasis on students’ self-advocacy and self‐” Thrive values Social Emotional Learning, has a rubric to measure SEL progress, and created the short video below about their approach. “We emphasize self‐regulation and good decision-making in the pursuit of ambitious goals, helping students understand that some of the greatest learning can come from reflection on ‘failures’,” adds Assisi.”


I have been critical of project-based learning. Again, humans are good about adaptation and using knowledge as a tool. This ‘skill’ does not need to be taught directly.


  1. Director Tom Vander Ark posited,”Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design. DSIS leverages each student’s Personalized Learning Plan (PLP) as a way for advisors, teachers and students to connect SEL and core content through questions such as:
  • What class are you feeling the most success in? What are some things that you are doing to make things go well?
  • Do you have any concerns? What data in your PLP supports this concern? What resources and personal assets do you have available to you to help address this concern?”

The first question is silly. Feeling success? Success is measured by grades. The better the grade the more successful they are in that class.

The second question is about concerns. The class that they are struggling with is of concern but then again this is to be expected. Why must the kid psycho-analyze him or herself?

Education is not that difficult.

  1. Director Tom Vander Ark posited, “Grandview School District. Grandview is 1 of 40 schools in Washington State involved in a College Spark Washington foundation-supported initiative. SEL is embedded in a variety of ways: all schools have advisory, all students create a plan and share academic progress and exemplar work through regularly student-led conferences. Numerous aspects of the initiative are integrated with core subjects (e.g. in Language Arts, students work on a personal statement for college essay; in Social Studies, students conduct a civic volunteer project that connects to their interests). They’ve seen the number of students with college ready transcripts increase from 21.1% in 2011 to 72% in 2016.”

Whatever happened to World History, American History, and Civics? Reformers really do not like history. Please call it English. What personal statement for college? What for? This presupposes that they are going to college, when most should not go at all.

  1. Director Tom Vander Ark posited, “Deer Park School District. Deer Park’s innovative and blended approach to improving school culture through focusing on strengths was featured in a recent EdWeek article. Thanks to a partnership between Mayerson Academy, VIA Institute on Character and Happify (an online gaming platform that supports social-emotional learning concepts), students are identifying and developing character strengths and recognizing strengths in all class periods.”


A school featured in EdWeek is not that impressive. A school featured in EdWeek is not that impressive. You are really into entertaining the kids. Again, college will not be like this.

  1. Director Tom Vander Ark wrote, “New Tech Network. The NTN student outcomes rubric includes not only academic skills but also agency and collaboration. Agency means that students take ownership of their own learning. There is really nothing more “embedded” than that. In addition, students learn to be productive members of diverse teams with a commitment to shared success (#Embedded). Learn more about NTN in this feature and podcast.”


Embedded? Nothing needs to be embedded except knowledge.

  1. Director Tom Vander Ark postulated, “Design39. Part of the Poway Unified School District, Design39 leverages collaboration to change the way “we do school.” By addressing core academics through a collaborative community model, SEL is naturally embedded–emphasizing creative confidence, design thinking, inquiry, global connections, courage and a growth mindset.”

All of these fancy terms that are not needed. Collaboration, creative confidence (or arrogance), design thinking, inquiry, global connections, courage and a growth mindset are not needed.


  1. Director Tom Vander Ark posited, “Beacon Network Schools. These two Denver middle schools, Grant Beacon and Kepner Beacon, stress character and provide qualitative and quantitative feedback every day in every class.”

Feedback is just another mind control technique that should be shunned. They will not get this once they leave school. They will think that immediate gratification is normal, which it is not.


  1. Director Tom Vander Ark posited, “Rogers High School. When students see their principal care about their social-emotional health, they take notice. It’s not unusual for Washington State Principal of the Year Lori Wyborney to meet 1:1 with a dozen students. She says, “Students need to build relationships with adults. They need a lot of support. It takes all of us working with all our kids. We need social workers that can help families navigate the system. We can talk all day about all the statistics that come to the building and we could let every one of those be a barrier. We are not the NFL. We do not get to pick our team. We have to do whatever it takes to make students win.”

Students do not need to build relationships with adults. I never met any of my principals and I am just fine. Most do not need any support. It does not take a village. Why do you need social workers to help families navigate the system? If you do it is because you’ve artificially made things so hard or complex.


Director Tom Vander Ark wrote, “The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) also recently published key insights from the Collaborating Districts Initiative which offers numerous additional examples.

Is it truly the reality is that students and adults too need to draw from their social-emotional capacity across all settings. Whether you are in the classroom or the boardroom, being aware of your own feelings as well as those of others near you, knowing how to make good choices when it comes to the many decisions we make every day, and the ability to manage stress levels and persevere toward a goal are all imperative skills to successfully navigating day-to-day life.”

They give 6 different areas or goal categories for Theory of Action for District-wide SEL.

Number one: Vision & Long- term plan; Stakeholder Communications; Aligned Resources; Central Office Expertise. Basically, this is top-down system design or without upper management’s support SEL falls apart.

This is true of most all systems.

Number two: Cultivate Commitment & Organizational Support of SEL.  Yes it must be used throughout the process.

Number three: Assess SEL resources and needs. This one is related to number four: Establish Systems for Continuous Improvement.

One would need to access needs if one is to have continuous improvement. Continuous improvement was tried the 1980s by big business. It was copied off of Japan. Both economies suffered in the 1990s. So I see this as a failure in business. Why would you want it in education? Education is NOT a business.

Numbers five and six are related as well. Number five is: Support, Classroom, School-wide, & Community SEL Programming, or as I like to say brainwashing instead of programing. While number six is: Professional Learning (brainwashing of the teachers); SEL Integration (they want to make it hidden); SEL Standards & Assessments (can’t have proof of continuous improvement without it); Evidence-Based Programs (supposedly programs that have been proven to work though assessments).

These two are all about proof to give SEL a leg to stand on, to justify the program’s existence. But as with any sociological research the so-called proof (research) is inherently flawed and nowhere near scientific. They rely on surveys and comparison of two groups of kids. In the former the flaw is the questions asked, and possible answers given and event he order in which they are asked can influence the outcomes. A lot of it is someone’s personal opinion which is very subjective which is not scientific.

In the latter, the comparison of two groups of kids: the test subjects and the control group. The test subjects are the ones that the change is made and the control group the change is not made. Then they conclude that the differences in outcomes are solely due to the change they made. The problem is the groups of kids are not equal to begin with no matter how hard they try. Also, the kids are not in vacuums, that is, things outside of the control of the researchers happen to influence results. There are just too many factors to consider and it is too hard to assessing weights to these various factors. In other words, was this factor 50% or only 0.005% responsible for the differences? Of course there are many more than just factor to consider.

These two facts make so-called evidence-based proof impossible.

A noted 20th Century philosopher called Mortimer Adler, said the sociologists’ have flawed research methods. I do not know what his reasons are but I have given you mine. It was in Diane Ravitch’s 2001 book, Left Back: A Century of Battles over School Reform.

Beyond the above — I do not want the school districts raising our kids for us. Just impart knowledge.

You are basically adding stress to the kids. You are going to worry them into an early grave.

Most adults will not need to know these things. As adults one gets up and goes to work and does the job and then comes home. It is not difficult.




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