Public school parents are often told to opt out of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) lessons if they don’t want their children to participate. But how do you opt out if SEL instruction, values, and materials are woven into every minute of the school day? The only way to truly provide a viable option is to allow families to opt out of that learning environment and choose one that focuses on academics rather than harmful psychological practices. 

Some parents and educators believe that equipping children with social and emotional regulation skills is an essential component of classroom instruction. They are entitled to their opinions, but so are the parents who feel that schools should focus on academic instruction and leave the pseudo-psychology out of the classroom. If you are under the impression that SEL is simply a 20-minute lesson meant to help students “manage their emotions,” you join a large population of parents and educators who bought into something that sounded benign in the beginning but has morphed into something much more nefarious and risky. These practices are meant to be delivered in clinical settings by mental health care professionals rather than educators in a classroom setting with two dozen students.

There is a false narrative that SEL is only taught during a designated period of the school day. The goal of SEL, directly from the CASEL website, is “to create an environment that infuses SEL into every part of students’ educational experience and promotes equitable outcomes for all.” This means that SEL is “infused” into math, science, literature, and social studies. How do parents opt their children out of those subjects? How do they know what that infusion entails and its impact on the academic experience of their children? The quick answer is that they don’t. 

Parents began raising the alarm with the onslaught of intrusive surveys their children were required to participate in as part of their schools’ SEL program. While some of the questions were harmless, parents took issue with the explicit questions being asked of younger students, the amount of data being collected, and the lack of transparency regarding who had access to the data. Other parents saw nothing wrong until they got a deeper look into the lessons their children were learning. There were social and political ideologies woven into the curriculum that were in opposition to the values and beliefs held by many. CASEL considers itself a “lever for equity and social justice.” If parents believe the goal of education is to train social justice warriors, this is fine. For those who believe that education is about forming knowledgeable, virtuous individuals capable of self-governance, there will be conflict.

Unfortunately, this is not the only program being adopted in schools nationwide that conflicts with the values and beliefs of many families. It is, however, an incredibly well-funded program that is taking up a greater portion of the school day as it is “infused” into every academic and non-academic area. The opt-out choice is no longer viable. The only feasible solution is to free families that desire a robust and authentic education for their children to choose learning environments that focus on academics and more closely align with their values. School choice would benefit those who desire SEL to be infused throughout their children’s education as well. They would be unencumbered by conflicting voices and opinions and free to allow their children to be “transformed” by this educational fad.