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Should a Catholic School be Teaching SEL?
Does the New Testament discuss children determining their sexual identity?
I’ll skip naming names here, to protect the innocent (if there are any).
Let’s say that a Left-Leaning national organization, approaches a K-12 Catholic School, and gives them a very polished sales pitch about how they can help this school institute a program for each grade level on Social Emotional Learning (SEL).
What is SEL? On the surface, the stated objectives of SEL are genuinely admirable. (These are: Decision-Making, Self-Awareness, Self-Control, Social-Awareness, and Relationship-Building.) Two key questions are: a) What set of moral values are used to teach these objectives? and b) Are there additional unstated objectives being incorporated into this non-threatening package?
For more details regarding “a,” in the example cited in the first paragraph we have a secular organization trying to instill Atheistic values into our children. We could call this ASEL to distinguish it from a Christian SEL program (CSEL). [For this commentary, when we say “SEL” we will be referring to the ASEL version, as that is what is primarily being promoted.]
The short answer to “b” is an emphatic Yes. ASEL has been described as a delivery vehicle for Progressive ideology — e.g., DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), CRT (Critical Race Theory), and Woke. Are teaching these consistent with the objectives of a Catholic School? I’ll discuss this a bit more below.
The ASEL sales pitch includes such assertions as: a) SEL is a hot commodity, as they have signed up many schools already, b) SEL is consistent with the school’s values, c) SEL can be introduced without taking up more class time, by simply having it replace some already scheduled religion time, d) there will be no “consequential” cost for this new SEL classroom material (e.g., see here for sample annual cost), e) etc.
Are any of those claims true and/or make sense? IMO the answer for each is: a) This is more proof that Critical Thinking is at dangerously low levels. FYI, if your friends all jumped off a bridge, would you too? b) This is totally false. c) It makes no sense to reduce religion education time in a Catholic school. It makes even less sense to substitute secular ideology for religion time! d) The actual cost is not so much in dollars, but in what is being put into the heads of innocent children.
So if your Catholic K-12 School says that they are considering adding ASEL to the curriculum (or if they have already quietly done it), politely ask questions like these:
1 - Exactly what specific additional religious values will the new ASEL material be adding that are not part of the existing religious curriculum?
2 - Does the school advocate less emphasis on academic accomplishment and more on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)?
3 - Will the ASEL program involve any discussions of sex with our children (e.g., regarding sexual identity)?
4 - Why would a Catholic School replace teaching the New Testament, etc. with material concocted to promote a secular non-Christian religion?
5 - Why would a Catholic School allow a secular company to have access to some very personal information about students in the school’s care?
ASEL is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A sample endorsement of SEL is: “In a world where emotional intelligence is critical for lifelong happiness, successful careers, and healthier relationships, SEL gives students a framework for developing these skills.”
But WAIT! Isn’t that the main reason that parents are paying a premium to send their children to a Catholic School? That School’s publicized position should be: “In a world where critical thinking and strong religious values are essential for lifelong happiness, successful careers, and healthier relationships, this school gives students a solid Judeo-Christian framework for developing these skills.”
A more honest assessment of some SEL goals is found in this study, which says that the field of SEL aims to prepare students for not only engaged but also critical citizenship (i.e., collectivism, productive interactionism). In layman’s terms, it means that SEL is designed to inspire children to be social revolutionaries. Is that a goal of Catholic education?
Another key (and subtle) point is that ASEL emphasizes the necessity of compromise (e.g., see here). Many people would say: “What’s the matter with that?” The problem is that this is about advocating the moral position of Relativism. Essentially that means that there is no such thing as Truth, as everyone has their own truth.
Is Relativism consistent with the teachings of Jesus? Absolutely not!
Making it even more clear to the Faithful, Pope Benedict wrote a scathing rebuke of Relativism. Why would a Catholic school now adopt a secular religion’s view contrary to the teaching of Jesus, and brush away the recent warnings of the Pope?
As stated above, a way to look at ASEL is that it is a delivery vehicle for Progressive ideology — e.g., DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), CRT (Critical Race Theory), and Woke. These comprise some of the main elements of the Progressive’s “Bible.” The question is: are these ideologies what is in the New Testament? NO!
Let’s take one simple example: the dispute between Equity (equal outcomes) and Equality (equal opportunities). The New Testament promotes giving the word of God to everyone (equal opportunity: equality). It also makes clear that (based on our choices) we will get drastically different outcomes (heaven vs. hell: not equity).
In other words, Jesus Christ promotes Equality, not Equity — which is the exact opposite of what is in the Progressive “Bible.” Think about it: if Progressives agreed with the New Testament, there would be no need for their “Bible.” The fact is that they are in radical opposition to many parts of the New Testament. Why would any Catholic school allow any of this to be taught to children in their care?
One Catholic school tried to justify their use of ASEL by saying “We don’t use everything they are sending us, we pick and choose.” Oh my! Who does this choosing and on what basis? And why does it make any sense to intersperse the teachings of Jesus Christ with “selected” atheistic material???
Further, the number one objective of K-12 education (Catholic and otherwise) should be to produce graduates who have the ability and interest in doing Critical Thinking. Since a major SEL objective is better “decision making” it is obvious that Critical Thinking would be a necessary ingredient. However, on the website of Second Step (a major SEL promoter) there is nothing about Critical Thinking! This is a strong indication that what they are marketing is not what this is really about.
Also, one of the primary goals of SEL is to groom children to be global citizens who go along with the consensus and whatever is currently politically correct. This is the exact opposite of teaching Critical Thinking! Why would a Catholic school — or any school — allow that type of thinking to infect their students?
Catholics believe that they are engaged in a cataclysmic war between Good and Evil. These opposing forces are led by Jesus Christ and the Devil. We can visualize Jesus, but Satan is another matter: a fire-breathing demon with a pitchfork, etc? In actuality, the Devil knows no one would embrace such a threatening character, so he shows up as a curriculum improvement, saying: Let me have access to the souls of your children. It will only be two hours a week, and they will be happier and less anxious. Trust me!
There is no bigger victory that Satan can have, than a Catholic School voluntarily turning over access to the souls of children in their care, by agreeing to reduce time spent on Jesus and substituting material from a secular, atheistic organization.
My substack commentaries are about Critical Thinking, and the only way that parents, teachers, administrators, and clergy of a Catholic School would allow such a travesty to happen, would be due to a profound deficiency in Critical Thinking by all parties involved.
The New Testament insightfully says: Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God…
This article says it well: Catholic Schools: The Original Home of SEL. Catholic schools do not need SEL from a secular organization, as the New Testament, etc. already explains the Social and Emotional material that needs to be taught.
Note 1 — Who am I to critique Catholic education? First, I’m a product of Catholic education: I had Sisters of St Joseph in grammar school, Xavarian Brothers in high school, and Jesuits in college (Boston College). They were excellent! Second, I’ve been on Catholic School Boards for over ten years — even though we had no children in the schools. Third, I’ve extensively studied K-12 education and what needs to be done (e.g., see my Education Report). Fourth, I’m a member of Mensa. Fifth, I’m a Critical Thinker.
Note 2 — A lot of what’s here also applies to public schools, charter schools, religious schools of other denominations, and home schools. I will shortly do another post on Should Public Schools be Teaching SEL? Stay tuned…
Note 3 — To clarify exactly the relationship between your school and any secular SEL organization, get a copy of the Contract that your school has agreed to.
Note 4 — If you’d like to do additional research on SEL, here are some good materials: Report: Social Emotional Learning — K–12 Education as New Age Nanny State… Article: The Trouble with Social Emotional Learning… Article: The Latest Big Education Fad, Social-Emotional Learning, Is As Bad As It Sounds… Short video: Social Emotional Learning explained w James Lindsay… Longer Video: Social Emotional Learning | James Lindsay (Here he explains the connection of Communism with SEL.)… Testimony about SEL to a state legislature.
Note 5 — A Tennessee chapter of Moms for Liberty has a fabulous SEL Resource page, with multiple videos, reports, quizzes, etc. (Make sure to scroll through the whole page.)
Note 6 — Although Dr. Karen Effram (MD from Johns Hopkins) died in 2020, she was a tireless advocate for children and a national expert on SEL. She authored some fifty (50) articles on various concerning aspects of SEL. Peruse them here.
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