Daniel Goleman: What we’re calling today social and emotional learning actually has many of its roots back in the ‘80s when kids were having lots of problems with things like drugs, unwanted teen pregnancies, drop outs, violence in schools and the federal government mandated programs to prevent these things. There was a war on bullying, there was a war on drugs, there was a war on violence in schools and about the time I as a science journalist at the New York Times was looking around at what I ended up calling emotional intelligence.
About that time a foundation, the WT Grant Foundation funded study of all of these programs because people realized some of these programs work and a lot of them don’t and they want to know what’s working and so they did an analysis of the different components and so on and they realized that the programs that worked all shared a common set of ingredients and what were they? They’re helping kids become more self aware, they’re helping them manage their distressing feelings, they’re helping them be more empathic, control impulse, make sound social decisions like how can I say no to drugs and keep my friends and that essences has been extracted from those programs and brought to the classroom as social emotional learning.
Today they’ve completed a mega study of more than 200 independent analyses that look at kids who have these programs and kids who don’t, comparable kids and they find that if kid’s get the training in social emotional learning that all pro social behaviors, things like attendance, behaving well in class, liking school. They all go up about nine or ten percentile points and the things that they’re trying to prevent, the drug use, the violence in schools, the bullying, all of that goes down by the same margin and the real kicker I think is that academic achievement goes up, it’s eleven percentile points and if you look at the difference between groups of kids who don’t do well and groups who do, the difference in their achievement is about the same range. I mean this pretty much closes the achievement gap and it works best for the kids who need it the most.
So today I think that the social emotional learning movement has the ammunition to go to the next level, really to take it scale, to make it available to every kid, everywhere in the country. I think to get this kind of education for every kid we have to first get over our fixation on academic achievement tests as the end all and be all of education. We have to remember we’re educating the whole child and if you talk to people in companies as I often do, you find that they don’t just want bright kids with technical skills, they want bright skills with technical skills who know how to get along, who can cooperate, who can be good team mate members, who could relate well to customers, who manage their emotions well, who stay motivated, who take initiative. Those are social emotional skills. So what makes kids prepared for the work place is yes it’s the academics but it’s this too and I think that we need get over the mindset that sees this as something extra or something unnecessary.
Neuroscience is now telling us that children’s brains are plastic that is they’re shaped by repeated experience and if you’re going to help a child be prepared for life you want to give that child the repeated experiences that are going to help his brain or her brain be able to manage their anger, to calm down when they’re upset, to tune into other people, to get along and the best way to shape the brain we’re finding is through social emotional learning because it targets the very circuitry that’s taking shape through childhood that’s going to be your foundation for life, for better or worse on how well you can do those things. So this is not touchy-feely, this is very hard science now.
I think everyone should care about this, not just people who are parents, it’s not just I want this for my kid, I want this for my community because I want to be safe walking down the streets. I want my friends and neighbors to be safe and one of the strongest affects of this is it heads off criminal careers, it helps kids who otherwise might go down the wrong alley be able to manage their impulse, manage their anger, tune in to other people and get along better and I think it just makes the world a better place for all of us.