I’m Back — and Thinking About SEL and Race

I’ve taken a 5 1/2 month break from writing for this blog, primarily to focus on a monster project for the Illinois Writing Project that we called Write Across Chicago. For the month of October, over 50 small writing groups across the city met in libraries, school classrooms, business offices, and other locations to write and share their writing. It took much of the prior six months to get it all up and running. You can see what it was about at https://www.writeacrosschicago.org/ .

Meanwhile, of course, the country has gone through so much turmoil — mass shootings, racial animus, environmental destruction, mid-term elections filled with tension and ugliness. Clearly, the need to help young people develop as caring, open-minded, and active citizens is more important than ever, to undo some of this damage. So I had to get back into the conversation.

Combing through old emails — which I do occasionally to weed out the ones I don’t need to save — I was reminded of the many articles I’d been seeing on social-emotional learning and racial equity in education. Both of these concerns have been on educators’ minds lately, and they both play a crucial part in civic engagement and action. The Collaborative for Academic, Social,
and Emotional Learning (CASEL) lists “social awareness” as one of its five core competencies. And its “Responsible Decision-Making” competency is not just about behaving in class, but includes problem-solving and ethical responsibility. Meanwhile, without essential attention to the underlying need for racial equity (that has shown itself more achingly needed than ever in our society), social-emotional learning ends up ignoring the larger context that exerts so much influence on it.

A typical document that aims to bring these two educational efforts together is the Aspen Institute’s framing document, Pursuing Social and Emotional Development Through a Racial Equity Lens: A Call to Action. Like others I’ve read, it outlines important values and efforts that schools need to take — such as building on students’ strengthens rather than taking a deficit approach, attending to root causes rather than just students’ surface behaviors, and eliminating steriotype threat. But what I haven’t seen so far is concrete strategies and examples of schools and teachers acting on these principles. Or efforts to support students’ own efforts to address these needs.

So here’s a call to readers of this blog: Please refer me to books or articles addressing concrete efforts on social-emotional learning and equity. Or write a guest blog-post on your own efforts in this vein, so we can continue this conversation! (You’re welcome to email me directly at stv.zemelman@comcast.net.)

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