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Somewhat Odd NY Times Column On Social Emotional Learning

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Should Schools Teach Personality? is a column in today’s New York Times which uses as its hook a recent study that I posted about in Study: Conscientiousness + Curiosity = Academic Success.

Though I really do like the potions of the column in the second half that provide very concise summaries of some critiques of Social Emotional Learning, I think the author spends the first part inventing a controversy where there isn’t one. She seems to think that the new study suggests that instead of teaching about grit and self-control, hallmarks of SEL, we should teach “conscientiousness” and curiosity. I really don’t see any difference between conscientiousness and grit/self-control, and I think it’s great that curiosity is being found to be a new addition to SEL, so I don’t understand about why it’s such a big deal. It sort of seems to me like a bunch of academics arguing about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

But, as I said, the second half that reviews SEL critiques is very good.

You might also be interested in a couple of other columns I’ve written about this topic:

Why schools should not grade character traits appeared in The Washington Post.

VERY Interesting Info On The Results Of KIPP’s “Character Education” Program

The manipulation of Social Emotional Learning also appeared in The Washington Post.

I’ll be adding this post to The Best Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Resources.

EXTRA! SEL Conference

And, speaking of SEL, Mai Xi Lee, our district’s director of SEL (read her recent commentary in Education Week Teacher), is helping to put on a SEL conference here in Sacramento. The Power of Relationships at Sacramento State University on February 13th. You can download a flyer here.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. Hi Larry:

    Thanks for offering your reflections on the NY Times piece, the subject of which I’m writing a book on for publication by Routledge later this year (or early next).

    I have to say I don’t see what you see in the piece. I disagree that the author (A. North) is stating there is a controversy between the teaching of grit/self-control and conscientiousness and curiosity; nor is she arguing the latter should replace the former.

    She begins by saying self-control, grit, and curiosity are beginning to be more frequently taught (sentence 1); she then says that researchers are finding these types of things even more important than intelligence to success in school (sentence 2) ; then says there are critics to this general approach (sentence 3); and then in the second paragraph says that Poropat has established with strong evidence that this broad approach (self-control, conscientiousness, etc) are highly correlated, and hence she is offering powerful evidence rebutting the critics identified in the third sentence, but not challenging the teaching identified in the first sentence. To my eyes she isn’t finding any significant divide between those arguing for SEL education and those researching personality.

    You also say you don’t know why this is worth investigating. Here’s my view as to its importance. Grit and curiosity can sound to some ears like fads, like fun or light-hearted ideas that journalists (Paul Tough) have recently written about and so they’ve become trendy. But the Five Factor Model (the Big Five) has been researched and authoritatively established by psychology scholars for decades, in scores if not hundreds of peer-reviewed journal articles, as being well-document personality attributes, relatively easy to assess, and correlated with important outcomes. So by tying grit/self-control to Conscientiousness, and curiosity to Open-ness, we are much more solidly establishing the research-based foundations for those qualities. They go from being a fad to being a fact.

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