What’s Up With Social Emotional Learning in Schools?

I’m not going to write a long post today, but I am going to link to a long article. I’m hoping you’ll click the link and spend some time with it. The article is posted on the Free Black Thought Substack which has links to many other articles by free black thinkers. 

This particular article discusses SEL, or Social Emotional Learning, something you’ll see on many school district web sites. If you doubt the need for some sort of social and emotional learning, I suggest you take in a YouTube video of “room clears,” the latest strategy for coping with seriously disruptive students. (Hint: the teacher escorts all of the kids who are behaving out of the classroom, leaving the disruptive student free to tear the room apart.)

In the article, “Social Emotional Learning: Empowerment or Ideology,” authors Jason Littlefield and Erec Smith offer a nuanced, thorough history of SEL and discuss a recent shift from “traditional” SEL to “transformative” SEL. The transformative model takes its cue from Critical Race Theory and shifts the goal from helping kids become resilient young people who can work for changes in society. In its place, schools focus attention on the flaws in society but lose the thread of creating resilient people who are able to effect change. The authors say it better, and discuss Empowered Humanity Theory and how it relates to SEL.

Teachers discuss “Room Clears”

Social Emotional Learning: Empowerment or Ideology

Yet More Woke! Should I Move On?

Recently, I tried to have a discussion about Woke. A mix-up on start time plus some Zoom glitches made hash of the meeting, but it was worth a try. I set up the meeting because I toss out comments that make obvious my disdain for Woke. In turn people ask me to define woke, which is hard to do in the middle of another conversation, hence the meeting.

I started by asking people if they recognized TWAW, which they did not, then proceeded to ask them to answer the question, “What is a woman?” If you have not been focused on Woke matters for the past couple of years, that seems like a waste of time. But I explained that our state, Washington state, is a very woke Self-ID state, which means that anyone can be a woman. No proof of anything is required. You can change the sex designated on your birth certificate by simply showing up at the birth certificate office and telling the clerk that you want to do so. 

Did even that news get people’s attention? I don’t know, but that is one element of Woke that disturbs me, and it disturbs me not because I care about adults who actually want to transition and present as women. It disturbs me because some men will abuse the ease of legal “transitioning,” neglect the medical aspects of transition, and show up where they don’t really belong. Women’s sports, women’s shelters, women’s side of the spa, and women’s prisons come to mind. Does TWAW (“Trans Women Are Women”, meaning they are the same as natal women in every way) really make sense? Why can’t people disagree openly with such an assertion without risking their livelihood?

Another aspect of Woke that concerns me, still related to transgender issues, is the capture of medical associations on the matter of teen health care. The “correct” point of view today is that any pre-teen or teen who claims to be trans, (and the number of such has seen a dramatic increase in recent years), must be “affirmed.” In practice this means no adult should do anything but agree with the claim. Puberty blockers as early as possible is the policy of the Biden administration. Except, oops: MDs are finally admitting that boys who skip puberty will never have orgasms regardless of their gender. Perhaps the US should pay attention to the shift in practice that’s happening in the UK and Europe, namely slow down and think this through.

ASD (autism spectrum disorder) is more common among among young transitioners. Trauma, including prior sexual assault, can be a factor. Therapists who advocate a “let’s talk about this” approach have learned that young people may view being trans as preferable to being gay, thus turning the clock back on gay acceptance. Social contagion and online influences need to be understood as well.

The group of trans activists who dominate the public conversation downplay the reality that some number of people, especially people who started transitioning as teens, later de-transition. After some amount of time on cross-sex hormones, and too often after surgeries, some people realize that gender transition simply didn’t solve anything for them. For sure, many trans individuals feel that transition was helpful. But journalists who write about de-transitioners are condemned and labeled TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) even though these journalists truly have no desire to mess with adults who make the decision to transition; they are simply doing their job of presenting the public with information about the lives of young people who were readily affirmed by clinicians, and often by parents who’d prefer to have a trans child than a gay child. 

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about woke dogma with regard to gender is that many men and women of my age have spent decades encouraging society to ease up on gender stereotypes. Let kids explore what interests them. Let them pursue activities that are atypical for their sex. Let women become astronauts and men become dancers; but if many of us follow more traditional routes to life satisfaction, that’s OK, too. So it’s just super frustrating to hear young people say that they need to transition in order to pursue some stereotype of the sex they are not. Seriously! Stereotypes are stultifying! Spread your wings, even without the hormones and surgeries.

So what about race? Am I as wound up about Woke dogma on race? Well, yes, I am. Fortunately, as with the trans issue, I’ve found some wonderful writers and speakers who are openly challenging the notion that we are a nation of colonizing white supremacist settlers who want nothing more than to keep all those people of other colors in their place, keeping the best of everything for ourselves. And many of these are people of other colors, often multi-hued themselves, who have recognized opportunities in our flawed society and made decent lives for themselves. No one claims that “The West” or the US has conquered racism, that there are not residual impacts of historical wrongs. Honestly, no one does that!

But these alternative voices are worried that we are fostering a sense of victimhood that will only keep people from taking advantage of opportunities that are, actually, available to them. They’re also worried that by blaming white supremacists for every ill, communities will not address cultural patterns that work to the disadvantage of their own people. I’ve been part of discussions where my speaking the words “cultural patterns” put me at odds with the group and confirmed to them that I’m steeped in racism. If a person of color mentions “cultural patterns,” as some do, they’re cast into the category of self-haters, or people who are “white adjacent” rather than as people who are seriously trying to look for opportunities to help pull people out of poverty, or keep young people from a life a crime, or enable kids to thinks it’s OK to do well in school. Don’t believe me? Look up “Free Black Thought” and read what free black people think. 

Equity is probably the Woke word that has the most potential to do harm to our society and to individuals. Equity sounds nice. But it doesn’t refer to equal opportunities for all. Equity is achieved when the numbers on any given metric are proportionate to a group’s size relative to the total population. Too many Asians in selective public high schools? Take away the tests that Asians study for and pass more often than other groups. Too many black kids being disciplined at school? Stop disciplining kids who simply express themselves in different ways. Too many people of color get caught for not paying their transit fare? Stop enforcing transit fares. Too many people of color caught shoplifting? Stop enforcing petty crime. My question is this: does it really make any sense to teach people that we don’t expect them to behave responsibly? We have special low-fare programs for people who can’t pay full fare. How about if we expect people to take advantage of these programs and pay their special low fare? How about if we expect kids to behave in ways that enable the other kids in a class to hear what others are saying? How about if we acknowledge that retail businesses must sell things, not give them away, in order to stay in business?

One last pet peeve: Land Acknowledgements. “Good” people now begin meetings with a statement about the indigenous people who lived here before us. These statements are called Land Acknowledgements. These may have started in Canada, but they crop up everywhere now. Again, this is paying lip service to our original sin of racism. These statements seem outright manipulative to me. They seem to be softening us up for the day when descendants of prior inhabitants ask for their land back. Nope. You’ve either got a treaty or you were just plain defeated. We’re here now. Get over it. And stop with the Land Acknowledgements already!

I see Woke everywhere and I don’t like it. It’s just not a way to run a city or a state or a country. I see Woke in every Black Lives Matter sign, in every policy that makes excuses for bad behavior, in every policy that minimizes legitimate concerns of women and girls. And I want it gone.

I assert that:
All Lives Matter
Women and Girls Matter
The rules of “White Supremacy Culture” are simply rules that work well for a complex society: Show up on time; Come prepared; Carry your share of the load; Respect your neighbors, your classmates, your colleagues.

Grrr. Well, there you have it. My rant for today. I am not alone in these beliefs. Here are some resources that I learn from:

Journal of Free Black Thought

Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism

Society for Evidence Based Gender Medicine 

History is Messy. Ukrainian History is Very Messy.

Do we have to have wars in order to learn history? The current war in Ukraine has occupied so much of my thinking since it began that I’m exhausted by it – and I’m not there, not fighting, not doing more than donating to some new charities. The only good thing about it is that I’m belatedly learning some important history of eastern Europe and the Caucasus region. 

The main thing I’ve learned is that history is messy, very messy. It’s also fascinating. I think I’d study history if I could do college all over again. Unlike North America, Ukraine has been the wild west for millennia (think Sythians (from Iran), Goths, Huns, Mongols, Tatars, Vikings, all players). When pressures or desires elsewhere led people to look for opportunities outside their own back yards, the “emptiness” of Ukraine often captured their imagination. It turns out that the Europeans who settled the east coast of North America were not the only people ever to describe a sparsely populated part of the world that was new to them as empty.

Vikings, yes Vikings, aka “Rus” actually pushed into Ukraine from the Baltic Sea following the Dnieper River, perhaps out of curiosity, but also eager to trade. One of them, named Halvdan, carved his name in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in the 9th Century. They brought the name Volodymyr, as in Zelensky, Putin, and Volodymyr the Great (who ushered in Christianity in 988) and were part of the creation of the Kievan Rus medieval state. 

Over time, the people of Ukraine coalesced and broke apart, were annexed and freed, created alliances and were subdued, yet rose again until they succeeded in creating a viable independent democratic nation when the Soviet Union fall apart. Ukraine has always been multi-ethnic due to the many people who have come to settle or passed through on trading routes. Their language is distinct from Russian, despite what Putin says, but  because of the dominance of Russian during Soviet rule and because of the presence of many ethnic Russians even today, Russian is still spoken as a first language by many. 

In the 1930s, Stalin starved millions in Ukraine and other parts of Russia in his efforts to collectivize agriculture, an event referred to as the Holodomor. Following the famine, he purged a large number of professionals and intellectuals in Ukraine. (Please do not take my word for any of this. Ukrainian history is far too complex for me to summarize.) World War II brought immense damage and death to Ukraine, and I imagine there are Ukrainians today who remember that carnage while they survey the damage from today’s war. I read recently that there is an effort today to remove any living Holocaust survivors from Ukraine to protect them. If there is any good news from today’s war, perhaps it is that these people are in danger today for being Ukrainian, not for being Jews, and yes, that is good news. 

After WW II, Ukraine amended its constitution such that it could participate as a founding member of the United Nations while still being part of the USSR. Thus a national identity was forming while it was developing institutions that it would need as a truly independent nation after 1991. Nothing about the creation of the USSR or its dissolution was easy. Ukraine’s status in both eras was contested from within and without. It’s recent history as a democracy is amazing in many ways. I want it to succeed as a modern, western-facing, secular, multiiethnic state. Perhaps it will serve as a model for the US.

Contemplating Spring

Camping in the Rain! Yes!

Over the years, we have backpacked, car-camped in vans, car-camped with tents – we have a lot of experience. But we met our match this week with a new tent that is designed to snuggle up to an SUV. A year ago, we had a small camper van that worked fine for me, but it just couldn’t handle the backroads that my husband loves to travel. He will follow a gravel road with huge potholes and muddy ruts to the end of the earth. Evan better if there is snow ahead. So we traded this year for a Subaru designed with him in mind. 

But it’s hard to carry much gear and still sleep in the car, so we bought this special tent that is supposed to fit around the rear end of an SUV. And maybe it would have, but we absolutely could not fit the center pole into its little pockets no matter what we tried. And without the center pole, the two sides of the tent would not stand up. So we never really got to the part about snugging it up around the rear of our vehicle. 

After about two hours of NOT YELLING! at each other, the smarter one of us said, calmly, “I’d like to toss this tent into the back of the car and go sleep in our own beds tonight.” “Brilliant,” said I, and home we went. We have another tent, a small two-person tent (having given away a perfectly good 4-person tent when we bought the van that we have now traded for the Subaru), so the next morning we headed out with the little tent. We set it up in a flash, then set off to visit friends for the afternoon. It rained while we were visiting, but when we got back to our tent, we did our nightly rituals and crawled in while the rain took a break.

We had purchased new sleeping mats with the SUV tent, and they were great. I kept my socks on, used a sleeping bag liner, and was warm and comfy. Unlike many nights camping out, I actually slept some – when I wasn’t listening to some serious rain hitting our rain fly. All seemed well, until we woke up in the morning and discovered that while the rain fly did its job, the sides and floor of our tent seemed to have no resistance at all to the rain. Mats wet. Sleeping bags wet. Ugh. Never mind. We smiled at each other and said, “I’m having fun!”  And we were. 

So now, if we can ever get the SUV tent back into the bag it came in, we will return it and think about our options. I actually found the receipt for it today! How often does that happen when a purchase doesn’t work out. Check back for camping updates later this spring.

Green!

One benefit of giving up on our tent and returning home is that we got to view spring unfolding twice along our drive. The shades of green as shrubs and trees work their springtime magic are glorious. Absolutely not monochromatic. I’m grateful that I can see colors. 

When we lived in Skagit County, my weekly travels along Highway 20 gave me the opportunity to see native plants come alive in their orderly sequence each year, Indian plum, red flowering current, red elderberry, salmonberry, dogwood. Many of them were visible on this trip to Island County, while the early greens of the emerging shrub and tree leaves provided the background. 

Our view from our apartment is of buildings, so a periodic drive through the countryside is essential for my mental health. I need to “touch grass” as the saying goes today. 

Let’s Not Assume Guilt by Association

Recently, an article crossed my path for a second time, and this time it caught my attention. It was basically a challenge to the self-ID phenomenon that has carried the day in gender fluid circles, but it didn’t stop with that. The author, Jonathan Kay, in his article “The Search to Explain our Anxiety and Depression: Will Long Covid Become the Next Gender Identity,” went on to cast aspersion on “contested illnesses.” It took me a while to figure out how he was linking gender self-ID and his collection of contested illnesses, but the link was his assumption that people could self identify into genders and also into illnesses.

To prove his case, he led readers to the website of an organization calling itself “Body Politic.Yes, clearly Body Politic is Woke, and yes, it has become a gathering place for people with Long Covid. But Kay, a journalist I respect, has fallen from his pedestal of Rational Critic of Woke on this occasion. I believe he has engaged in the logical error of assuming guilt by association, just one of many traps we can fall into when we are determined to expose wrongthink of one variety or another. 

I consider myself a skeptic of some of the contested illnesses Kay cites in his article. Yet I have seen one friend who claims EMS (electromagnetic sensitivity) come to a book club meeting and comment to the group that the EMF signals seemed weaker than usual, only to have the leader announce that Wi-Fi was out that night. On another night, she commented that signals seemed stronger than usual, only to learn that the store had bumped up the Wi-Fi signal recently. So now I believe that she really is sensitive to things that don’t affect me at all though I claim no expertise as to her illness.

Multiple Personality Disorder is another diagnosis that many challenge today. Yet another friend from years past had this diagnosis. I accepted this claim of hers with a giant dose of skepticism until I saw her switch during a discussion when I said something that triggered a reaction in her. Her voice changed; her demeanor changed; she attacked me in a way she had never done before. It was all very spooky, and had I not seen it, I would not have lightened my skepticism several notches; yet I claim no expertise as to her mental illness. 

Likewise, I have a friend with ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome). I moved into a condo next door to her one year, but found her reluctant to engage with me. After a couple of years, we were finally friends, close enough that she could disclose to me the physical limitations she lived with. This woman is a retired art teacher and librarian, a gifted artist, someone who enjoyed travel, loves to see art exhibits and go to movies. Yet she can do but a fraction of what she would love to do. Travel is out of the question. And even at home, she is limited to a few hours a day that she can enjoy any of her pleasures. Why would I doubt her? She clearly wants to do more.

My point with these stories is simply that I have been blessed to know, and count as friends, these individuals who are doubted by society. I do not claim to have any special knowledge about their conditions. I have learned from them that it is indeed a hardship to suffer in a way that you cannot disclose for fear of ridicule. It is a hardship to be doubted by medical professionals. And there is a deep need to find others with similar experiences. If you reach out online and a find a group who understand what you’re talking about, you will appreciate their acceptance even if they are Woke. You may find others who are not Woke. You will count your blessings that they are ready to include you without checking your Woke or anti-Woke credentials.

In the year since Kay’s article appeared in Quillette, we have accumulated many more cases and much more knowledge of Long Covid. Researchers  have yet to find agreement on which symptoms are most useful for diagnosis, much less find a cure. Yet doubting individuals who claim Long Covid just feels wrong because the harm of such doubt is serious; it only increases their challenges; in this case it detracted from the rest of the article which expressed concerns regarding more common campus identity issues.

I have no close friends who are trans, but friends of mine have children and grandchildren who are. I write about my concerns with gender identity, and some of what I say brings squinty eyes from these friends. Yes, I have concerns about gender-affirming care that includes hormones and surgery for kids and teens. I have serious doubts about moving men, who suddenly claim to be trans, from a mens’ prison to a women’s prison. (Do we need a trans prison? I don’t know.) I don’t want to harm trans individuals, but harm can come from more than one direction. Jumping on a bandwagon of support too soon (another way to short-circuit clear thinking) can be as harmful as shunning people for things we don’t yet understand.

Young people who are questioning their gender needn’t be turned aside. Engage with them. Sort out all the concerns they have. Good therapists who are concerned about the lack of research in this area have formed the Society for Evidence Based Gender Medicine, SEGM, to support each other as they develop positive alternatives to the gender affirming model of care. Acceptance and engagement is a viable approach that avoids the potential harms of uncritical affirmation or thoughtlessly rejecting a patient.

Because the war against Woke has been so intense, it’s been easy to fall into logical errors of one type or another while arguing against it. Kay went all-out for guilt by association. But confirmation bias plagues us all – all day every day, every one of us. It’s seriously unpleasant to read or watch things we don’t agree with. I try to read from a wide variety of sources, but I only read things that feel “honest” to me. Rants don’t merit my time. Still, I have to discipline myself to take in opinions that are seriously at odds with my current thinking. 

If avoiding logical pitfalls seems important to you, I suggest a visit to Logical Fallacies. This, and other such sites are helpful if you need a refresher course in the many ways our good intentions can pave the road to hell! Even those of us who don’t believe in hell will benefit from avoiding these pitfalls.