According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social and emotional learning (SEL) is “the process through which all 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.” This alleged “process” can also “help to address various forms of inequity and empower young people to and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities.”  

Several words in CASEL’s definition of SEL should alarm those who are skeptical about the wisdom of allowing the public school system to establish itself as the primary actor in the social and emotional formation of our children. The development of “healthy identities” and “supportive relationships,” the co-creation of “thriving schools,” and the lionization of “just communities” are buzz words for leftist ideology.  

Of course, we all want health, support and justice for our children. But the majority of American parents define these goods differently than today’s SEL activists and educators do. 

For those endorsing and implementing SEL in schools, healthy identities involve obsession with race and gender; supportive relationships are ones in which feelings trump facts and the feelings of “the oppressed” trump those of “the oppressor;” and “just communities” are ones that sacrifice the real interests of victims to the perceived interests of victimizers. These ideas are based on ideologically biased definitions of health, support and justice that are endemic in today’s universities—which do ever less educating (especially of future K-12 educators) and ever more indoctrination in unpopular lies. 

Of course, I want my children to be confident in who they are; but like most American parents of all races, I believe that true confidence comes from an identity predicated on virtues and capabilities, not on immutable characteristics. Yes, I want my children to feel supported; but like most American parents, I believe that supportive relationships are those that inspire the growth of strengths, not the codification of and identification with weaknesses. Absolutely, I want my children to pursue and expect justice for themselves and others; but, like most American parents, I believe that there can be no justice without order.  

My understanding of true social and emotional learning reflects my values. I teach my values to my children at home. I also, like most families with the capacity to do so, send my children to a school that, more or less, reflects those values. This means opting out of public school in my deep blue zip code. I fear that it would also mean opting out of public school in many red zip codes today, as too many public schools in all zip codes are more reflective of teachers’ unions values than of parents’ values.   

The problem with SEL, beyond its total opposition to the true social and emotional wellness that we all want for our children, is its imposition upon children whose parents do not agree with its premises or aims. That these families are disproportionately minority and low-income—and therefore forced to rely on schools run by teachers’ unions led by people who have not only no interest in children learning math but also great interest in integrating the unpopular values of SEL into math class—is a national disgrace.  

It’s a disgrace that can only be ended by freeing those parents without means from the insult that the teachers unions are currently adding to injury: not only will we fail to teach your child anything about reading, but we will furthermore introduce, among the materials that we won’t teach them to read, ideas you do not agree with about why reading is for wealthy white people anyway.  

So long as teachers’ unions retain their stranglehold on the K-12 education system and the politicians that control it, this will never happen. So much for just communities.