Back in 2011, the US Chamber of Commerce released a report called The Case for Being Bold. This report famously laid out the need for not just increased investment in STEM education, but also the need for the business community to take a leadership role in the movement (as opposed to merely providing resources and support).
What happened next was a veritable decade-long explosion in STEM education:
- Corporations spent more than $1 billion dollars over the next decade funding STEM education and awareness.
- The business-led Change the Equation launched several campaigns to lead and amplify the effort to support STEM education.
- Change the Equation created the Vital Signs benchmark to track and evaluate students’ performance in STEM subjects.
- The STEM is Cool! campaign highlighted innovative and exciting work in STEM-related jobs
- Privately-owned, for-profit “STEM salons” popped up across the country, selling STEM-centric courses, after school programs and even birthday parties for K-12 students.
The business community’s dedicated campaign helped lead to a marked increase in awareness of STEM, the importance of STEM education and opportunities in related fields.
So this brings us to the next big opportunity in education: social-emotional learning and emotional intelligence.
Teaching Happiness: EQ and SEL
Emotional intelligence, or “EQ” for short, is defined as a person’s ability to be aware of, control and express their emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”.
Social-emotional learning, better known as “SEL”, is the process of learning the knowledge and skills that allow people to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, build supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.
Image courtesy of casel.org
SEL focuses on teaching five “key competencies” identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning:
- Self-awareness: Being able to recognize emotions and their impact on behavior
- Self-management: The ability to regulate thoughts, feelings and behaviors in different situations.
- Social awareness: Understanding social norms for behavior, the ability to empathize with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and recognition of where there are sources of support.
- Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy relationships with a diverse range of people. These skills also include the capability to not take others’ behavior personally as well as engage in “active listening”.
- Responsible decision-making: Being able to realistically evaluate the consequences of actions and make decisions based on social and ethical norms and the well-being of others and themselves.
SEL also helps kids learn how to analyze and solve problems, set goals and embrace challenges and setbacks as part of the growth process.
In other words, social-emotional learning equips kids with skills they can use to practice happiness throughout their lives.
The Need for Social-Emotional Learning
But why do we need to promote SEL and emotional intelligence?
The simple fact is that the overall mental health of Americans leaves a lot to be desired and kids today are exhibiting frighteningly high levels of negative behaviors.
The need for improved emotional intelligence is simply undeniable:
- Violence: In 2015, 22% of students reported bullying and 10 million children experienced domestic violence. The US suffers the highest rates of murder and violent assault among developed countries.
- Mental health: In 2015, an estimated 3 million adolescents experienced at least one major depressive episode. That represents 12.5% of kids aged 10 to 17 years old, and rates of reported depression and anxiety are increasing. And half of surveyed parents have described their kids as “over stressed” since the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
- Suicide: Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24 years old, and suicide rates have been increasing each year over the last decade. And the COVID-19 pandemic increased the rates of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts even higher.
- Academic performance: In 2013, 65% of all US fourth graders tested as “below proficient” in literacy, with 80% of low income students falling into that category. After years of intense focus on reading, those results remained largely flat as students suffer high rates of disengagement and lack motivation.
- Criminalized behavior: Though popular, “zero tolerance” rules have served mostly to fill a “school-to-prison” pipeline as schools suspend, expel or prosecute students for relatively minor offenses – 2 million students are incarcerated each year. Communities of color bear the brunt of these outcomes.
- Chronic stress: The chronic stress and trauma growing up in poverty or near-poverty takes a major toll on the academic climate and performance of more than 20 million kids each year.
The fact is, many kids today are unhappy. And these children carry this experience into adulthood.
Today’s adults report high levels of worker disengagement, on-the-job bullying and harassment, loneliness, domestic violence and lack of civic engagement.
Simply put, we are not teaching kids the skills vital to becoming happy, well-adjusted adults.
Practical benefits of social-emotional learning
Investing in SEL to boost emotional intelligence brings benefits that support society. That much is clear. This investment pays practical returns on investment to corporations and businesses:
- Improved leadership: Understanding what drives other’s behavior (a key component of emotional intelligence) is vital to effective business leadership. (SHRM)
- More effective teams: Psychological safety – the ability to express vulnerability and take risks in front of other team members – is the most important factor determining the effectiveness of a team.
- More successful employees: The most important thing for employee success isn’t pure IQ. In fact, a high emotional intelligence is the best predictor for a worker’s success.
- More valuable customers: Happy employees add more value to a business in the form of happier customers. In fact, boosting employee happiness by only a small amount can help increase overall market valuation up to nearly 20%.
It’s Time to Invest in SEL Like STEM
The need to boost investment in social-emotional learning is apparent and business leaders, much like they were with STEM education a decade ago, are in prime position to provide the necessary resources and support.
A broad ecosystem of SEL researchers, publishers, technology companies and service providers already exists. What they lack is a strong base of demand for their services.
Corporate demand and investment will drive schools to adopt comprehensive SEL programs, just as business demand and dollars drove them to adopt a comprehensive STEM curriculum.
And the best part is that we won’t need to wait 10 years to start seeing returns on this investment. High school students with just one year’s experiencing social-emotional learning will be better prepared to enter the labor force than workers without any SEL experience.
Just like with STEM education in 2011, the infrastructure for improving EQ through social-emotional learning is there. What’s needed now is the support from the business community that will lead schools to adopt SEL education at all levels.