Should the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) focus on school culture and climate and social, emotional, and character development (SECD) as part of pursuing academic excellence for all students? If you think yes, then read on to see how you might express this to your legislators in the House and Senate, as well as members of education committees in Congress.
There is ample research and practice evidence, as well as logic, that academic success depends on the culture and climate of the school, and that students' success in school and life depends a great deal on their social, emotional, and character development.
This knowledge is not new. Theodore Roosevelt said, "To educate someone in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society," and Martin Luther King, Jr. did state, "Intelligence plus character -- that is the goal of true education."
The ESEA must include provisions that call for schools to systematically encourage students' SECD and create civil, caring, and respectful environments in which learning will flourish for even our most disadvantaged, left-behind youth, and to hold schools accountable for doing so.
Congressman Dale Kildee (D-MI) is sponsoring HR 4223, the Academic, Social and Emotional Learning Act and co-sponsors would help to insure its inclusion in the reauthorization of the ESEA, now under development in the Congress.
Current Programs to Build SECD are Fragmented
We need our legislators and educational policy makers to understand that the path to academic success travels through SECD. At this point in time, schools are using many different disconnected approaches to improve students' SECD and school climate and culture, not appreciating the need for coordinated, continuous, systematic, evidence-based approaches for ultimate success.
We need to be clear that all of these approaches are part of the SECD family and have more similarities than differences. Ultimately, we need to be able to integrate them into our schools coherently, to reduce barriers to student academic learning:
- Social-Emotional Learning. Programs that focus on helping students develop social skills and emotional literacy, manage their emotions, and make sound decisions.
- Character Education. Programs that focus on developing students' core virtues and values and their application to everyday life decisions.
- Service Learning. Instructional plans designed to connect service in the community with academic coursework and skill development in the classroom via reflection.
- Peer Mediation. Classroom and school programs that train students to guide fellow students in resolving conflicts peacefully.
- Bullying Prevention. Includes commercial and other programs (including cyber-bullying) that address matters relating to bullies, their victims, bystanders, ways to nurture students' social skills, develop conflict resolution skills, and foster respect and responsibility.
- Anger Management. Classroom and school-wide programs that help students examine the range of emotions that are part of one's character and behavior, and offer strategies that will help them understand and manage their anger.
- Drug/Alcohol Prevention. School-wide and classroom programs, such as DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance program) and Just Say No, designed to teach students the dangers of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use and abuse by enhancing their refusal skills, decision-making skills, and skills for critical analysis of media messages.
- Violence Prevention. Programs include specific courses on ways for students to avoid violence, develop skills for managing conflicts, learn positive social skills, and practice the importance of acceptance, respect, and empathy.
- Ethical-Decision Making. Helps students develop skills and habits of applying standards of behavior by asking questions about decisions that they or others make, are about to make, or have made. Such skills are embedded in classroom and sports programs in most schools.
- Harassment Prevention. Programs that protect students from harassment such as hazing, bullying, cyber-bullying, verbal abuse due to race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation; may include school-wide codes of conduct.
- Positive Behavior Supports. School-wide programs that identify a set of positive and prohibited behaviors and institute systematic procedures for monitoring and reinforcing/discouraging these behaviors.
The revising of ESEA needs to look toward the integration of these approaches in systematic and coordinated ways. New Jersey has done pioneering work showing how educators can be trained to work together to integrate their SECD efforts toward improving school culture and climate.
Our educational policymakers need to know that bringing SECD, or SEL into our schools for academic improvement is proven, practical, and possible.