In addition to cultural differences, SEL programs and the educators who use them need to take into account the society in which students live and the impact this has on students’ likelihood of using SEL skills. It also pays to question a university’s purpose and methods for teaching these skills.
One of the great misfortunes of our world is that issues of racism, prejudice, power, and privilege still exist and are quite rampant, as situations such as the U.S. primaries and the refugee crisis in Europe glaringly reveal.
Multiple studies show that continued exposure to racism can have a profoundly negative physical and psychological impact on people, including heart disease, difficulty sleeping, shame, guilt, hopelessness, acting-out behavior, self-blame, and various other symptoms.
SEL CAN HELP BUT ONLY IF EDUCATORS APPROACH STUDENTS WITH RESPECT AND SELF-AWARENESS.
Racism involves imposing control over someone less powerful, often by communicating to the victim that he or she is unworthy, lazy, or deserving of harsh treatment. Consider that every day many of our youth (and adults) face a world that tells them, “You are not worthy and valuable,” which, according to Dr. Kenneth Hardy, expert in working with traumatized and oppressed populations, “makes it hard for youth to know who they really are and easy to believe they are what others say.” In turn, this internalized messaging, he writes, “impairs the ability to advocate for oneself.”
This is where SEL can make a profound difference because it has the potential to create a safe classroom environment in which students and educators can have open, honest, and validating conversations about the reality of what students face every day. It also can provide students with emotional tools to counter negative messages and stand up against racism in their communities.
“When SEL is taught in context,” says Mary Hurley, “it highlights the strengths and challenges that an individual or community are bringing to the table.”
Instead of ignoring or trying to fix the student’s dilemma, the teacher turned it back over to the students asking them what they thought. According to Mary, some agreed with him and others told him that he needed to be able to walk away and calm down.
“It surfaced the tension, it didn’t resolve it,” she explains. “I was thrilled that the students felt comfortable enough to say what they did, which demonstrates that context really matters.”