Why we believe in social emotional learning

Ben Forman's remarks at the Social Emotional Learning Policy Forum

Below are excerpts from Ben Forman’s introductory remarks at the Social Emotional Learning Policy Forum. This welcome sets up the discussion to follow in the context of MassINC’s mission to help foster the growth and vitality of the Commonwealth’s middle class.

Our focus at MassINC is serving as a nonpartisan voice for state policies that support a growing middle class; about decade ago, we started to organize our work around the Gateway Cities. This was in B formanrecognition that the communities where low-income families are increasingly concentrated have an outsized role, as either launching pads up into the middle class or as pockets where persistent generational poverty have formed.

This is why we have a lot riding on social-emotional learning. If you’ve read Robert Putnam’s latest work, you can’t help but make the association between getting or not getting the enrichment experiences that are critical to social-emotional development depending on what side of the town boundary you live on—Lawrence or Andover, Dartmouth or New Bedford, Canton or Brockton, Springfield or Longmeadow.

In the latest issue of Commonwealth magazine, we actually quantify this divide, with figures that show Gateway City teens participate in high school sports at half the statewide rate. That’s almost identical to the difference between the college graduation rate for Gateway City students and the college graduation rate for Massachusetts students statewide, and the median income in our Gateway Cities and the median income statewide.  I would venture that the gap in sports participation didn’t exist a generation ago, when the median income for Gateway Cities was identical to the state.

Social-emotional learning is a great way to personalize education and address all of a student’s developmental assets, but from my perspective as an urban planner who’s most interested in communities, it’s social emotional learning’s potential to make us better citizens that interests me most. If you follow Robert Putnam’s other line of scholarship, which shows how much more difficult it is for citizens in diverse and changing communities to engage with one another and coalesce behind a shared vision, that I think is where the real promise of social emotional learning lies.

I know it’s not in our DNA as Americans to accentuate the importance of collective action, but there is just no way that we are going to confront the challenges of our time unless we are able to work together effectively in multicultural communities. This is the litmus test for our Gateway Cities and how good they get at social-emotional learning—not just in the schools but in the formative learning experiences that are offered across the entire community—will be a deciding factor.

CSPq9nlWoAANDiDWe’ve been talking about this for nearly four years with Gateway City leaders who recognize the imperative and frankly I’m disappointed by the slow pace of progress. Nobody has been calling for a moon shot on this issue even though we have the basic technology to do this in our grasp. In fact, Chris Gabrielli has been a big part in developing the technology through his work with the National Center for Time on Learning. If you haven’t read it yet, please take a look at the case study we put out last week looking at how he’s helped Lawrence provide students with expanded learning opportunities.

What gives me hope is that Chris is now fully engaged in this problem and working to develop assessments—the last piece of the technology that we’ll need—through Transforming Education.

Meet The Author

Ben Forman

Research Director, MassINC

Our sponsors