Policy Issues / Woke and Weaponized

PRIMER: Social Emotional Learning – The Delivery Mechanism For Critical Race Theory

The country is awakening to the dangers of CRT and other woke ideologies, but reformers must recognize SEL’s role as their delivery mechanisms and dismantle it.

“Every child in America entering school at the age of five is insane because he comes to school with certain allegiances to the Founding Fathers, towards his parents, towards our elected officials, toward a belief in a supernatural being, and toward the sovereignty of this nation as a separate entity. It’s up to you, teachers, to make all these sick children well by creating the international child of the future.” 

– Professor Charles Pearce of the Department of Educational Psychiatry at Harvard, speaking in 1973 to 2,000 teachers attending the Child International Education Seminar in Denver, Colorado
(Excerpt from Cry Havoc, by Ralph de Toledano – 2006).


Parents have a lot to be anxious about when they send their children off for school. For roughly six hours a day, ten months out of the year, moms and dads cede control over the lessons their children are taught and the materials they see. Recent controversies over K-12 curricula have transformed parents’ uncertainties into concrete dangers. Obscene literature, Critical Race Theory (CRT), social justice and equity propaganda, and countless other manifestations of identity politics saturate our education system. Too many educators now seem intent on indoctrinating their pupils. 

These various phenomena are not coincidental. They have in common a shared delivery system for these concepts, a framework far less famous than CRT: Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Though not the only method of delivery for CRT, SEL remains the most prevalent.

SEL: The Tool Of Delivery For The Critical Pedagogy Behind Critical Race Theory

The risk in cleaning up our classrooms is that it can turn into a game of whack-a-mole. The Left can manage annual controversies over particular elements of its education agenda so long as each debate over one outrage crowds out attention to others. If parents want to stop the indoctrination, they must understand the underlying critical pedagogical framework that imports liberal priorities into the classroom. Critical Pedagogy is a left-wing theory of education that claims all education is political and that the central role of education is to inculcate and indoctrinate children into political ideology. Practitioners do not say it quite that bluntly, but critical pedagogy absolutely says that the role of the teacher is, and should be, to help children develop a particular left wing political understanding of the world. Developed by Paulo Freire in the 1980s, Critical pedagogy is also, by its own admission, rooted in neo-Marxism. Although progress in banning CRT continues to be made, and cultural Marxism more broadly understood is easily identifiable in the tenets of critical race theory, other forms of cultural Marxism not directly related to CRT will continue to advance, using SEL as a tool of delivery. 

Innocuous-sounding SEL programs are what have allowed a seemingly sudden appearance of CRT in K-12 education. In reality, CRT’s advancement was slow and methodical, occurring over a period of decades. Parents now have the tools to connect the dots and spread awareness about its existence. But the underlying pedagogical framework that spread CRT unbeknownst to parents for years has yet to receive the attention it deserves. 

Even if CRT is purged from the classrooms, that tool of delivery, SEL, would still be in place to indoctrinate students with other forms of radicalized propaganda that emanates from the underlying critical pedagogy framework, and each time a new public awareness campaign will be needed to educate enough people in order to effectively fight it, a process which can take time and resources to build towards. Focusing on the delivery system of SEL presents an opportunity to slow down and hamper the Left’s current critical pedagogical method of delivery. 

SEL’s pedagogical function also clarifies the terms of the CRT debate itself. The CRT controversy is often intentionally mischaracterized by those who insist that CRT is simply an advanced legal discipline, and not also a multi-year lesson plan for children. Schools are generally not teaching children what critical race theory is, but rather exposing children to the praxis (application of theory) of CRT with “culturally responsive” teaching, and psychologically manipulating those children to agree to the concepts and ideology advanced by CRT, through the SEL system. 

The Woke Implications of Social Emotional Learning “Competencies”

SEL uses a culturally responsive framework, coined by critical race theorist Gloria Ladson-Billings. Culturally responsive teaching requires “students to develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order” through focus on a variety of so-called “competencies” ready to be developed in children. However, this framework leads to their manipulation.

The five competencies framework of SEL has been pioneered by the Collaborative for Academic Social Emotional Learning (CASEL), one of the leading outfits promoting SEL. CASEL’s five competencies are: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills and social awareness. At first glance, the skills seem harmless or even desirable. If only.

There are many individual social emotional learning programs, such as Leader In Me and Second Step, which follow CASEL’s framework. SEL programs using CASEL’s framework and guidance are used in all 50 states. While self-awareness and self-managment are essential for children as they grow and mature, CASEL’S goal, as it defines these competencies, is to transform children’s perception of identity onto left-wing frameworks such as intersectionality, which focuses on discrimination and privilege. If we were to compare critical pedagogy with cooking, SEL is a way of arranging and presenting the prepared meal. This manipulation can be fostered through SEL lessons like “My Many Identities” from Welcoming Schools. A review of the materials makes it clear that the objectives of this lesson are:

  • To see how a person has multiple identities that make up who they are
  • To look at how different identities can shape the way a person experiences the world
  • To focus on how different identities can shape the way a person may be seen or treated by others

This lesson is only one example of the indoctrination methods SEL proponents use.  There are hundreds of SEL lessons and resources a school could choose from. This particular lesson or website might not be used, but if a school uses SEL materials approved by CASEL, there are similar lessons and resources in use. 

Once children understand what role their identities play in systemic injustice, SEL begins to shape children’s decision-making skills around their identities with a competency labeled “Responsible Decision-Making.” But this competency, as translated through the SEL framework, is not about personal character and judgment. It is fundamentally political, aimed at deconstructing the foundations of law and citizenship. The Indiana Department of Education created a “SEL Competencies PK-12 Lessons Toolkit” that includes the lesson “Rules, Rules, Rules.” The lesson engages students by asking, “What would it be like if there were no rules? How did society’s rules get created? Was it a fair process?” It instructs students to “develop rules/laws/policies for a new world.” This too is a function of Critical Pedagogy.

The competencies “Relationship Skills” and “Social Awareness” teach children to become social justice activists and develop their awareness into action for the cause. In Noblesville, Indiana, an eighth grade Language Arts class was required to read a document, “The Racial Power of White Elites,” that states, “All white people play a part in perpetuating systemic racism.”

SEL competency lessons are only a fraction of the whole indoctrination process. Since SEL promotes systemic change, children are influenced by radical dogma through the use of propaganda, role-playing and coercive persuasion. SEL permeates every aspect of the education system, from school literature focusing on identities and privilege, resources from radical organizations such as Learning for Justice from the Southern Poverty Law Center, after school clubs like Genders & Sexualities Alliances, and mental health services through trained school counselors from the American School Counseling Association.

Building Woke Social Credit Foundations in Kindergarten

One of the most alarming parts of SEL is its potential in establishing an American social credit system through data collection. 

Many school districts have implemented SEL with various grants such as the Lilly Endowment Comprehensive Counseling Initiative in Indiana which requires the collection of SEL-related data in exchange for funding. SEL programs and CASEL also highly encourage the use of assessments to measure and advance student progress.  When schools adopt a SEL program, most begin collecting massive amounts of mental health data on children through mental health surveys created and interpreted by third-party, for-profit firms such as Panorama Education

This data is interpreted through an “equity lens,” meaning the results are interpreted through the critical race theory viewpoint and usually indicate a need for a “fix” to some assumed systemic oppression within the school system. For example, if a school receives data from a survey showing thirty percent of the students do not feel like they belong at school, the school may respond by starting gender identity clubs. The data collected follows the children and can be displayed through dashboards to set goals for individual student improvement. Statewide longitudinal databases are used to track children and their mastery of the SEL competencies, which SEL proponents are beginning to call “Employability Skills”. The woke regime of federal, state, and local government bureaucrats contributes by using tax dollars to transform K-12 education into a system that will be used to measure employability through a woke lens. Corporate employers will eventually be the enforcers of this regime propaganda. 

Concluding Assessment

The country is awakening to the dangers of CRT and other woke ideologies, but reformers must recognize SEL’s role as their delivery mechanisms and dismantle it. Otherwise SEL will create a generation of adults who believe that America is “systemically inequitable.” If it escapes scrutiny, the present outrage over CRT will be outlasted by the foundation created critical pedagogy and by delivery mechanisms like SEL, and our country will continue to be torn apart by the needless and un-American divisions embedded in culture Marxism. By understanding how SEL functions, Americans will be better prepared to identify later attempts at rerouting the delivery of the critical pedagogy framework.