[This is from testimony given by Linda Harvey to the Ohio State Board of Education on February 15,2022]
I come before you today to address the issue of social emotional learning, and to ask you to reconsider the SEL framework adopted by this Board in 2019, focusing on what is called the “whole child.”
So I start by asking a very basic question and that is, under what right can any school or the ODE claim to be in charge of instruction of the “whole child”?
I would submit that a “whole child” objective is substantial overreach of the state agency’s role and a school’s role, and while there may be good intentions on the front end, the outcomes can be harmful and disruptive in a student’s life. There are premature, sometimes inaccurate labels placed on children, assessments which remain in databases, and the existence of data with mental health evaluations of children is problematic to begin with.
Intervention with individual students may sometimes be justified but counseling of whole classes? What responsibility does the school have for the reckless, amateur psychology this can easily enable?
Now granted, it doesn’t always, but we should err on the side of caution. It’s as if school districts have decided so many children need to be “fixed” from the ground up, that the school needs to step in for every student. Again, this is overreaction and overreach.
That is not the school’s purview. Schools need to focus on academics and until Ohio achieves proficiency in math and reading in the 90th percentile or so, these other goals are expensive, time-wasting and potentially harmful distractions.
Is SEL producing higher student academic achievement? Unfortunately, that does not seem to be happening. We are hearing from many parents around the state with concerns about SEL program content, including a multitude of progressive special interest concepts which in some instances are being conveyed to children as if they are set in stone, as if there is only one acceptable view. Children are manipulated into agreement as part of the “social awareness” competency or “relationship skills.” There are surveys asking students to declare their gender identity, and parents have been caught unaware by such intrusive, personal and inappropriate questions. Students are nudged into “action civics” with again, a substantial bias toward adopting progressive causes and issues about which they are given limited background information.
SEL applications can destabilize children, or mold them into uncritical “group thinkers.” Teachers with limited training can evaluate students and prescribe “interventions” that may remain in a student’s permanent data file.
Many of SEL’s classroom activities involve questionnaires where students log in using their student ID. Parent consent seems to be quite lackadaisical for these survey instruments. The SEL vendor Panorama, which has contracted with many Ohio schools, offers one mechanism for students to check-in each day, so that students can be identified if they need “help” that day academically, socially or emotionally.
And Panorama has a bank of questions schools can regularly ask students, like, “What emotion are you feeling the most today?” or “Would you like to talk privately with an adult from the school about how you’re feeling or something on your mind?”
Many of the surveys function like “push” polls, and serve to normalize attitudes and behaviors, form opinions, or encourage discontent that did not exist.
Then there is another huge elephant in the room regarding surveys. Minor children are not reliable survey respondents, especially boys. Anyone who banks on their survey responses is going down a very shaky road.
As an alternative, many if not all of the expressed goals of SEL would be achieved as a by-product of sustained, academic classroom instruction.
So my hope is that we can have a sincere and thorough re-consideration of SEL as the foundation of the Ohio Department of Education’s strategic plan.