A new bill sponsored by Connecticut representatives from the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate aims to provide teachers with the tools and training to support students’ social and emotional learning.
The bill arrives a month after the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission recommended that social-emotional training — which addresses how children learn to recognize and manage emotions, demonstrate care and concern for others and handle interpersonal situations effectively — form an integral part of the curriculum from preschool through high school. Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 introduced the Jesse Lewis Empowering Educators Act two weeks ago. Co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Murphy and Rep. Elizabeth Esty LAW ’85, the bill is named in honor of Jesse Lewis, a six-year-old who died in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Specifically, the bill would amend the No Child Left Behind Act, so that “professional development funding could be used to train teachers in concepts related to social and emotional learning.” The bill has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
In an academic study published in 2007, Joseph Durlak and Roger Weissberg, professors of psychology at Loyola University Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago, respectively, found that schools with quality SEL training scored an average of 11 percentage points higher than those who did not receive SEL training. Students at these schools also had reduced rates of student depression, anxiety, stress and social withdrawal.
According to Bonnie Brown, a senior consultant at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, social-emotional training would allow teachers and administrators to predict which students may be prone to violent or destructive behavior.
“[Currently,] we focus on putting out the fires as they occur: how to stop bullying, how to decrease teacher burnout, how to help students deal with test anxiety,” she said. “In this manner, we are always putting our energies into interventions after the problem has occurred, instead of prevention and developing the skills necessary to avert the problem.”
Brown also said educators have a responsibility to harness the emotional energy of their students and help them to understand and better regulate that energy so they can lead healthy and productive lives.
But, some researchers have called for a more balanced view of social and emotional learning.
David Caruso, a research affiliate at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, was quoted in a 2013 New York Times article that examined the debate around emotional intelligence.
“There are people who want to write this into the Common Core right now, but before we institutionalize this, we’d better be sure that it makes a difference in the long run,” Caruso said.
Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, said he supports the bill, but added that the question of whether Adam Lanza would have committed the crimes at Sandy Hook if he had social-emotional training “is not one that can be answered by research or the implementation of an SEL program.”
Elizabeth Benton, Blumenthal’s communications director, said the bill was not introduced as a direct response to recommendations proposed by the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission. Chris Harris, Murphy’s communications director, said that, to his knowledge, the bill has not faced substantial opposition in the Senate or the House.
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat, sponsored a similar bill in 2013 called the Academic, Social and Emotional Learning Act. However, the bill did not pass.