Is SEL Working?

Despite SEL’s growing ubiquity, rates of suicidality and hospital admission for mental health remain on the rise.

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) entered public school classrooms decades ago as a means to help “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.” So despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on this initiative, are our students truly benefiting from it?

Despite SEL’s growing ubiquity, rates of suicidality and hospital admission for mental health remain on the rise. Parents and educators should be concerned over this massive investment with little to no evidence of its success. 

It has done very little to improve its own stated goals of helping students to “manage emotions” or “make responsible decisions.” The adoption of SEL has not abated any increase in violent incidents. “During the 2017–18 school year, 80 percent of public schools recorded that one or more incidents of violence, theft, or other crimes had taken place, amounting to 1.4 million incidents.”  With new behavior policies, it is difficult to accurately track those incidents after schools adopted “restorative practices,” a non-punitive approach to discipline, since part of that initiative involves less reporting

On top of the data, there are also first-hand accounts involving real teachers and students who have recounted the ineffectiveness of SEL and its claim to help children “manage emotions” or “feel and show empathy for others.” In Kentucky this fall, a middle school student was jumped while walking down the hall and was hit over the head dozens of times, resulting in a concussion and a trip to the hospital. In Florida, five middle school students were charged with assault for attacking four other students, apparently seeking “revenge” for their ancestors.  A special education teacher in Montana was caught off-guard when a “high school student, taller and stronger than her, who was “working through lots of significant behaviors, just hit her in the nose.” 

Children this young do not interact with their peers in this way unless they are taught to do so. Most are naturally drawn to befriend other children and accept them regardless of immutable characteristics. It almost seems as though SEL is taking the natural tendencies of children and manipulating them to adhere to an agenda. It is time that schools reconsider utilizing these programs and get back to equipping our children with the academic skills they will need to lead purposeful lives.  

Beanie Geoghegan
Beanie Geoghegan is the Chapter Lead for No Left Turn in Education KY. She is a former teacher and reading interventionist and is the mother of four grown readers, writers, and independent thinkers.