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A New Model of Schooling: Creating Knowledgeable, Responsible, Nonviolent, Drug-Free, Caring Kids

Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (
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Around the world, people want to improve education. Some want to strengthen basic academic skills; others want to focus on critical thinking. Some want to promote citizenship or character; others want to admonish against the dangers of drugs, violence, and alcohol. Some demand more from parents; others accent the role of community. Some emphasize core values; others the need to respect diversity. Through all the positions lies a consistent concern: Schools must become better at producing knowledgeable, responsible, nonviolent, drug-free, and caring adults.

Knowledgeable, responsible, nonviolent, drug free, and caring -- behind each word lies an educational challenge:

  • For children to become knowledgeable, they must be motivated to learn and capable of integrating new information into their lives.
  • For children to become responsible, they must be capable of understanding risks and opportunities, and they must be motivated to choose actions and behaviors that will be in their own best interests and in the interests of others.
  • For children to be drug free, they need to be engaged in their schools and communities. They must have an incentive to be alert, focused, and available.
  • For children to be nonviolent, they must not live in settings that model violence and must not look to violence as the best way to solve problems, and they need empathy and skills for everyday problem solving and decision making.
  • For children to become caring, they must experience being cared about and cared for, of being part of a community that is welcoming, nurturing, and open to them and that gives them a valued and respected role and place in that community.

The challenge of raising knowledgeable, responsible, nonviolent, drug-free, and caring children is familiar to parents, policy makers, administrators, and teachers. But what may be less familiar and less well understood is the insight that each element of this challenge can be enhanced by thoughtful, sustained, and systematic attention to the social and emotional life of children. Indeed, experience and research are showing that promoting the social, emotional, and character development (SECD) of children is the hidden key to improving all of these outcomes, including the application of basic academic skills.

In every society, children will inherit social roles now occupied by adults. For that reason, and supported by brain research, learning can be defined as knowledge that is put into practice for the well-being of self and others. Our schools must give children intellectual and practical tools they can bring to their classrooms, families, communities, and workplaces.

A delegation from Singapore's Ministry of Education has just completed a visit to schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania that have been leaders in promoting students' SECD. Why did these good people, whose schools are often held up as paragons of academic accomplishment, come to see these schools? The answer is simple: Their business leaders said that the products of their education had intellectual smarts but not sufficient workplace smarts. In a country like Singapore, where social capital is the most abundant and valuable resource, this is a cataclysmic recognition.

The world is waking up to the need to educate the whole child. For some reason, the United States seems to be in the deepest sleep, but it's showing signs of stirring. Let's keep the rousing going and get our schools up and in the forefront of whole-child education and a better balance of academics and SECD.

A new generation of SECD approaches is available to provide what schools need. When schools implement SECD effectively, the academic achievement of children increases, the incidence of problem behaviors decreases, the quality of the relationships that surrounds each child is enhanced, and schools become more inviting and dynamic places to be, true centers for learning. SECD has been called "the missing piece," the part of the school's mission that is close to the hearts and minds of educators but always just out of grasp. Now, the elusive is within reach, and it's time to grab SECD and use it to shape a new model of schooling.

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Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (

Comments (16) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Renee's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Often times what I see is missing in troubled students is the understanding of self worth. When we get down to it, either in the classroom or in the workplace, how we feel about ourselves impacts the way we live, learn, and treat others. Those students who come from loving and involved families do better in school. They hear over and over again the importance they have in the lives of those that love them. They see through the actions of loved ones how they are treated and in turn show empathy to others in the same way. We have to learn to embrace the humaness in our children. Building up self esteem in our children is the first place to start in making a positive difference in our schools.

Jody's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I especially agree with the last few paragraphs focusing on how schools do not always educate the whole child. I feel strongly that many schools simply teach content with a lack of making a student well-rounded, or to show the real world significance of what is taught in schools.

Christina Port Arthur, TX's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I know we as teachers walk into a classroom and expect our students to have self-discipline and self-control, respect for adults and each other, and the desire to learn. However, we all know that those are our desires. We must look at the classroom from the learner's point of view to ensure that what we expect is also what they expect. For instance, if we anticipate on teaching them about the use of quotation marks, we must make it useful and interesting to the learner and not just teach it because it's the next page in the grammar book. When we begin to look at teaching from the learner's point of view and ask how is this going to be useful info. for the low ses kid or the student whose father is in jail and mother is dead, then and only then can learning truly begin. We must meet the students where they are, get to know them, take time to care about who they are and where they come from and then we can know what information is relevant, useful, and of interest to them.

Natalie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with many of the challenges that involve children's needs in this blog. It was very surprising to know of a program that was develop to help students that need caring and support from others to help them develop a positive self-esteem. But even though it's a good program many of the issues that involve children with behavior problems is their home environment, where many parents are not taking their time talking to their kids about positive outlooks of going to school and they are not involved in their kids life. Then there is the fact that without the motivation from parents it makes difficult for teachers to help children. But over all the entire article was very interesting to know that there are programs that support children and are willing to show them that there is a person that wants them to succeed in life.

Erin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


While I agree that children should have better role models in their lives, too often those negative role models live right within the home. I am tired of seeing a student who has no self confidence because he has been torn down by his parent, and then I have to work twice as hard to reverse the effects of the parent's influence and show that student the his worth.

Maurice J. Elias's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Kids today are coming into schools with a higher degree of emotional burden and distraction than has been the case for most prior generations. And I think the same is true for parents with regard to parenting. Whether this should be the case and why it should be the case is open to debate. But the reality is that kids some into schools needing skills for success in school and life that they used to have a better chance of getting from their families, communities, and social institutions. The only way schools can effectively convey these skills- and the necessary values that accompany them-- is to create a safe, healthy, supportive, caring, and challenging community in the school, where all students feel themselves to be valued, contributors, and sources of school pride. This is not easy, but it's possible and we see more and more schools adopting this SECD way of doing things every day. Now, we have to build this orientation into the way we prepare teachers, administrators, and student support personnel for their future careers. Once we do this, we will find that many fewer students will be at risk because they will feel authentically included in the school and the school will become a valued part of their identity that they will be a bit more reluctant to jeopardize than it usually the case now.

Amy Gerity's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that it takes a strong person to choose the teaching profession. As teachers, we have a major impact on the lives of the students we teach. We have such an awesome responsibility to teach not only our content, but more importantly, lessons about life. We have to teach our students how to get along with others, how to tolerate those people they do not care for, how to be responsible, how to be respectful, how to work hard, how to deal with hardship, etc. Sometimes we are all they have and we are the only person who shows them that they are cared for. I can't think of another profession that has such an impact.

Maurice J. Elias's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Erin and Annette, I believe there are role models all around children and parents need to understand that they are in competition for their children's minds and hearts. Their status as parents gives them opportunities but ultimately they will have to earn their status as respected role model. Meanwhile, a great deal can happen in school to influence children in positive ways if the adults get together and organize schools as places that enhance social, emotional, character, and academic development. Perhaps as parents see their students being engaged, excited, and influenced by school in good ways, they will take the time to become more directly involved to the extent possible. But schools cannot and should not wait for parental involvement on the road to building students' essential life habits.

Ricardo E Castro's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Parents are in the obligation to prepare their children for the real world. School and community are imporant factors, but the focus of the education should be the parents responsibility. Parents need to keep the communication with their kids open. Living in today society, the hazards of drugs, bad influences or peer pressure are some of the issues that our kids must face. We as parents should be able with constant communication to prepare them to make decisions, hopefully, the right ones for them. The sense of responsibility and the fact that everything that we do or say has consequences should also be taught. Although not an easy task, the constant supervision and connection between school and family will create a strong bond that will allow our kids to become not the perfect or ideal citizen, but the responsible, sensitive and knowledgeable individual.

Tiffany Richards's picture

Many of my students come from low income families. I loved the part of the blog where you discuss in order for students to be caring they need to feel as if they are cared about. Modeling in a big part of teaching, if a teacher models a positive and caring attitude, then eventually the students will do the same. I also love the part discussing the world finally teaching the child as a whole. As teachers we need to make it our main goal to make the child fill successful. We need to focus teaching the whole child not just part. Great blog!

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