Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is when students learn how to manage their emotions,to make good decisions and to work with themselves and others more efficiently. In the U.S., all 50 states have some kind of SEL curriculum in preschool, and over half implemented it in grades K-12.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a legal framework where the concept of racism is systemic, that our laws, policies and institutions are rooted with racism. In states across the country, communities have been fighting against the teaching of SEL, but it seems to stem from the misunderstanding many have about SEL and its alleged connection to CRT. SEL has become linked with CRT, with some calling it a Trojan horse for critical race theory.
Social-Emotional Learning isn’t something that should be used as a political pawn, especially since there’s been an erratic reaction to the alleged teaching of CRT in schools. There is a major misconception about what CRT actually frames.
CRT isn’t used to make white children feel bad about their skin color, or instill any guilt in them when teaching the full scope of our nation’s founding. It’s an understanding that racism is deeper than just people being racist, and that institutions have been developed in cultures that nurtured racism. Frankly, teaching CRT doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Racism has been present in this country’s history since its founding. Teaching, probably at a high school level, about the concepts developed through racism is going to help in the fight against it. Educational systems across the country can offer Critical Race Theory curriculums or as a piece of their curriculum to help start an open conversation about it and crack open respectful and healthy communication among students.
Since SEL has been implemented, there has always been an identity portion of it that allows educators to help students understand that everyone is different and comes from different backgrounds. People linking this learning to Critical Race Theory miss the key aspect in its purpose; it’s supposed to help nurture a generation of emotionally intelligent human beings.
Using CRT to diminish social emotional learning is removing the significance of both concepts and using them against each other to prevent any societal progression away from racist tendencies.
Not to mention that Critical Race Theory and Social- Emotional Learning, outside of the arguments being made regarding them, have no direct correlation. CRT isn’t taught as a main aspect of curriculum in K-12 schools, and, frankly, shouldn’t be a part of any narrative regarding SEL.
In general, the average person, including myself, would think Social-Emotional Learning is a great program that sets these kids up for a successful, emotionally-mature adult life. They can learn tools to help them be well-rounded human beings. When it comes to Critical Race Theory, I think if it was offered at the high school level as an elective, the students can be the ones to choose if that is a topic they want to study.
Overall, the two studies should be entirely separate so they can be effective in their teachings and benefiting students and communities across the country.
Abby Provencal can be contacted at