Today’s schoolchildren confront not only the inherent difficulty of growing up, but also an increasingly fraught testing environment, a lower tolerance for physical acting out and the pervasive threat of violence. (President Obama last year characterized school shootings as “becoming the norm.”) Poverty and income inequality, too, create onerous emotional conditions for many children.
“The neural pathways in the brain that deal with stress are the same ones that are used for learning,” said Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, a research and teaching center. “Schools are realizing that they have to help kids understand their feelings and manage them effectively.” He added, “We, as a country, want our kids to achieve more academically, but we can’t do this if our kids aren’t emotionally healthy.”
S.E.L., sometimes called character education, embraces not just the golden rule but the idea that everyone experiences a range of positive and negative feelings. It also gives children tools to slow down and think when facing conflicts, and teaches them to foster empathy and show kindness, introducing the concept of shared responsibility for a group’s well-being.
Studies have found that promoting emotional and social skills correlates with improved outcomes in students’ lives. A 2011 analysis of 213 S.E.L. programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students published in the journal Child Development found that the participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes and behavior compared with a control group, as well as an 11-point gain in academic achievement percentiles.