We appreciate Tony Monzo’s taking the time to reply to our op-ed. The content of his reply, though, is, if anything, more bewildering than his initial op-ed, which claimed, without the benefit of evidence, that local schools are sneaking critical race theory (CRT) into schools as a part of a Marxist/neo-Marxist plot to control the minds of the next generation.
The central tenant of CRT is that race has played a much more prominent part in shaping the American experience than is typically reflected in the school curriculum. Perhaps because he cannot find any real examples of that, he now shifts grounds to say that something he can find in schools is really CRT in disguise. The threat is now presented as Social Emotional Learning (SEL), which was not mentioned in the original op-ed.
Under a variety of labels - life skills, whole child education, character education - SEL has been around a long time. In his first published op-ed, Martin Luther King advocated for education with moral purpose. “Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education… The broad education will, therefore, transmit… the accumulated experience of social living.” (https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/purpose-education).
We encourage readers to look at the website of The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (https://casel.org/), presented by Monzo as devious leftists. See how “left” they look. Look at the people on their board. Pay particular attention to the hefty body of research they summarize, including one review of the research that examined over 200 studies involving more than 270,000 students concluding that:
Well-implemented SEL interventions increased students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points.
Students participating in SEL programs showed improved classroom behavior, an increased ability to manage stress and depression, and better attitudes about themselves, others, and school.
This increased academic performance is especially important to note since critics of SEL, Monzo among them, often see SEL as a turning away from academics. Quite the contrary, SEL can be crucial support for schools’ academic mission.
Monzo also sees SEL as undermining the roles of parents. Many others have suggested that the kinds of skills and dispositions SEL tries to develop are more properly developed in the home. In an ideal world, we would probably agree. In the world we live in, the prevalence of bullying, temptations to abuse substances, the negative impacts of social media, the less cohesive families, gender-based harassment in schools, and rising rates of youth suicide tell us that young people need supports from as many different sources as possible, including schools.
It is important to have more voices of educators in this debate. We asked Lynda Towns, an experienced school administrator and former principal who has had leadership roles in Lower, Upper, and Middle townships, to give us an update on the status of SEL in the county.
She thinks most, if not all, county districts have some form of SEL, especially in the primary grades, where the emphasis tends to be on respect, working with and listening to others.
In the middle grades, the focus is on building an inclusive school community, with emphasis on understanding others' views, conflict resolution, including others, and appreciating differences in others.
At the high school level, SEL is integrated into sports and extracurricular activities - all focused upon the same principles of working collaboratively, respect for others, recognizing viewpoints, and including all of the school community.
In her experience, these programs have increased attendance, brought more parents into the school, and given more children opportunities to excel beyond academics.
She has also seen teachers setting higher standards for themselves as they model the behaviors included in SEL programs. The programs have consistently led to a better school climate, resulting in academic improvement and more. It is not, she says, accidental that New Jersey is among the states with the greatest number of SEL programs and some of the nation’s highest academic rankings.
We want to take the strongest possible exception to one point Monzo made in the Sept. 22 issue. He takes our words out of context to suggest that we were accusing local educators of being either dupes or conspirators. To the contrary, we were saying that in order to believe Monzo’s conspiracy theories, one must think that teachers are being fooled or they are willingly cooperating.
Similarly, he now says, “I am not going to judge the motives of the teachers, the administrators, or the board”. Well, one can’t have it both ways. To say that educators are delivering a curriculum “to program our children into an ideology that strips them of their individuality and forces them to all think alike, and to act collectively in accordance with the program,” immediately raises doubts about their motives and competence. That language is inflammatory and accusatory.
The teachers we know have been people of integrity and intelligence who believe in what they were presenting to students. To accuse them of “indoctrinating” students, knowingly or unknowingly, is insulting and ill-informed.