Woke in the WELS: Martin Luther College #3: Social Emotional Learning


The above excerpt came from Page 33 of Martin Luther College's InFocus magazine, Fall 2020 edition. You can find it online here - the same issue where we found Prof. Schwartz writing in support of BLM, White Privilege and Anti-Racism.

So what is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and why is it a problem?

Social-Emotional Learning is "composed of psychological and social work–based interventions on children performed by teachers and other non-professionals (in psychology and social work) in uncontrolled, non-therapeutic spaces in order to teach them “right” and “wrong” answers to socially and emotionally relevant circumstances." (James Lindsay, New Discourses) "the intentional implementation of Social-Emotional Learning in schools should be a felony and involve the relevant administrators going to prison. Some states in the United States, such as North Carolina, seemed to preemptively anticipate this potential issue with the implementation of SEL and proactively granted immunity to teachers and school faculty administering SEL against charges of practicing psychology on children without a license."

An example of SEL would be an educator co-opting an innocent math word problem to teach their values to children. Take a problem about a child traveling with their family to a theme park, so many miles and so many miles per hour, calculate the time to arrive at the theme park. Instead of teaching the simple division problem the teacher instead surveys the students: "Who has been to a theme park?" Depending on the group there may be answers that fall along racial or sexual lines. The teacher can then probe the 'fairness' of why Billy has been to a theme park but not Sally. The teacher can add in the environmental angle if whether it is fair that we drive long distances in cars to theme parts. Or the sexual angle of why Billy has a mom and dad and not two mothers or a single mom. The math problem it's important, it is pretext for inculcating certain values of a certain stripe in children. (pg 140 has exact quote)

A simple example, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. SEL relies on surveying children regularly and repeatedly, creating a record of the child as they 'progress' and using their current state to inform the feedback loop. Online education is then tailored algorithmically to push the children to the desired state. Progress isn't measured in reading-writing-arithmetic but rather in their social and emotional development that aligns with the biases of the curriculum.

Much of SEL is based on the work of Paulo Freire, who was a Marxist and liberation theologian much like Ibraim Kendi.

SEL seems to be well integrated at MLC. Kelli has a blog post reinforcing the importance of SEL in the classroom: Social-Emotional Learning in the Distance Learning Classroom | Issues in Lutheran Education. MLC offers courses for undergraduate and continuing education students, 
EDU9011 - Social-Emotional Learning for Student and School Success. A MS thesis entitled The Importance of Social and Emotional Learning in WELS ECMs was published in 2020 as well, recommending the broad implementation of SEL in early childhood ministries (day cares and preschools). A field project entitled Emtotional Regulation in Urban Poverty: A Guide for Teachers recommends "school wide SEL curriculum" (pg 28), cites CASEL several times, and recommends "teaching [SEL] skills preventatively" instead of at a crisis point. Another key quote appears on paged 46-47:

"The intervention components of reading storybooks with social-emotional content, targeted vocabulary instruction, dialogic reading, and applying social emotional concepts and skills results in change mechanisms. These change mechanisms are directly related to executive function: cognitive flexibility, inhibition, working memory, emotion control, monitoring, and language" 

Note how the goal is not to use reading storybooks to teach reading, but to inculcate among other things, values. This reads like Paulo Freire's description of "The Selection of Words from The Discovered Vocabulary." Freire is recounting how he applied his educational model (the basis for SEL) in teaching men from the slums how to read.

"From the discussions of the learners, the Generative Words written by a team of facilitators were resources, money, abundance, crude oil, stealing, pocket, begging, plenty, poverty, suffering, frustration, crying, hunger, crisis, dying, death. These words were later depicted in pictorial form showing the concrete realities and situations in the lives of the people. The pictorial display provoked an emotional state of pity and anger among the discussants, some of them could not talk, while most of them were moved to tears asking the question: Why! Why! Why! Why!"

The problem is more than academic: MLC has a near exclusive lock on instructing the teachers who will instruct children in our WELS ECMs, grade and high schools. (an argument for homeschooling your kids, even if you have a WELS school at your church) Students educated at MLC are sent out to schools across the country, bringing their education with them. In short order it becomes a synod-wide issue.

And it is, already. SEL has appeared in our WELS grade schools and high schools - but that's fodder for a future blog post.