SEL Coalition Formed To Fight Criticism Against The Controversial Teaching Method

At least 20 education groups banded together to form the Leading with SEL Coalition to inform Americans about the controversial teaching method.

By Kari Apted | Published

Teachers Adding Mental Health Check-In As Part Of Daily Schedules

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a top priority for some parents, educators, and students this year as students struggle to regain educational progress lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other things, SEL teaches kids how to cope with emotions, set goals, and feel empathy for one another. Because of the controversy surrounding the teaching method, 20 national education organizations formed the Leading with SEL Coalition to provide parents and educators with fact sheets and other resources explaining their work.

Over 25 years ago, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) introduced the concept of SEL. CASEL defined it as, “an integral part of education and human development…the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.” It isn’t a curriculum, but more of a mindset that creates habits to nurture emotional development.

The American School Counselor Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, and National PTA are just some of the 20 groups in the Leading with SEL Coalition. These and other prominent educator advocacy groups hope to unravel the benefits of SEL from the politicization caused by its lessons on racism, equity, and other controversial topics. According to CASEL’s press release, numerous studies indicate that SEL is effective at reducing problem behaviors at school and improving students’ mental health and relationships.

Justina Schlund, the senior director of content and field learning at CASEL, says that SEL misinformation abounds. “It’s no secret that over the past year we have seen multiple attempts to turn education [including] social and emotional learning into a political wedge issue for the upcoming election,” she said. “I think there is a lot of false characterization going on about social-emotional learning. And so, we’re working to clear some of that up.”

There are five core SEL competencies for educators to focus on: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Proponents of the teaching method say that because no one is born knowing how to get along with others or make sound decisions, SEL is equally as important as other subjects taught in school. They point out that many of the social and emotional lessons are infused in subtle ways, such as teaching sportsmanship during gym class.

SEL opponents disagree, stating that incorporating SEL principles steals instructional time away from more important core subjects, including reading and math. Critics say that SEL waters down history and social studies lessons by shifting the focus away from factual events and onto the social and emotional impact of what happened. Florida is one of the states most vocal against SEL, as demonstrated in April when education officials rejected 41% of the state’s math books for mixing SEL and critical race theory references in with adding and subtracting.  

Other opponents see SEL as a tool to indoctrinate children on controversial social topics including sexuality, gender identity, and race relations. Additional complaints about the method center around its subtle push to place the common good above individual success. This collective mindset is often associated with Marxist and Communist ideals.


The Biden Administration clearly supports teaching SEL in schools. President Biden recognized March 11, 2022, as International Social Emotional Learning Day, a designation established in 2019 by the Urban Assembly and SEL4US to promote the importance of social and emotional development. In an official letter, President Biden stated that SEL is more important than ever, as the pandemic heightened awareness of the need to develop social skills and take care of others.