Missouri parents had better be aware – or be wary – of the state’s move to ramp up “social-emotional learning” (SEL) in its public schools.
That’s the message from Missouri U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, as well as a pair of Kansas parents who are warning their Show-Me State neighbors about the dangers of SEL indoctrination.
The Missouri State Board of Education is accepting public comments (here) until Sept. 15 on proposed Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) SEL “standards” to teach in the state’s public schools. The standards include innocuous-sounding instruction on how students should relate to “Me,” “We” (teamwork) and “Others.”
But as a concerned Kansas mother who asked to remain anonymous tells The Lion, the real question is how such behaviors will be taught, what the teaching will include, and what curriculum will be used.
“Well, my question is, from whose worldview are they setting this up?” she says.
SEL curricula in the Shawnee Mission School District in Kansas City had her daughter being pulled out of classes for social work sessions and being put-upon by peers for inadvertently not using preferred pronouns that changed from morning to afternoon. Meanwhile, white and Christian students are made to feel isolated and belittled for representing “multiple oppressor classes.”
“I didn’t realize they were driving her insane,” the mother says, sharing deeply troubling artwork with The Lion that her daughter produced during a period stretching from 4th to 7th grades.
The young girl felt pushed into declaring various forms of victimhood, spinning false narratives to do so, in order to achieve favored status and avoid being labeled “the worst thing” she could be: a “basic” white girl, a “normie” – a derogatory term for “someone seen to have conventional, mainstream tastes, interests, viewpoints, etc.”
“Kids pick up these messages,” the mother says. “You’re teaching them social dynamics. You’re giving some kids weapons and you’re putting other kids in a corner.”
Social workers ‘run amok’
As a district official touted the need for more social workers in the schools – noting some 54,000 hours spent with students during the past school year – the mother says another district employee told her confidentially that young, loosely supervised social workers were “pulling SEL lessons off the internet and doing role-playing exercises with the kids. There was a social worker giving 6th-grade kids exercises and going through role-playing sessions on consent for sex.”
“The social workers have run amok,” she says.
The mother says Missouri’s proposed SEL standards look strikingly similar to talking points used to justify SEL curricula in Kansas, such as that which ended up tormenting her daughter. And after also repeatedly being pulled out of class embarrassingly to see a social worker, another child the mother knows told her, “I’d rather die than talk to her again.”
“And they don’t have to tell parents. Parents have no idea this is happening,” she said.
Asked if the district had cause to believe her kids were in peril at home or being parented poorly, the mother can only point to the fact that the family is vocally Christian and opposed to the curriculum.
‘More divisiveness than diversity’
Former Shawnee Mission teacher and parent Josiah Enyart, who left the highly touted suburban district to start a school, in part because of such radical curricula, says he isn’t familiar with Missouri’s proposed standards. But he says SEL and DEI – highly controversial instructions in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – “kind of work hand in hand – at least they have in every place I’ve seen. Where there’s one, there’s the other.
“And they often are not without some sort of teamwork between them, because the DEI stuff really focuses on critical race theory and creating a separation – and more divisiveness than diversity between races – and kind of shutting down opinions and thoughts that are different than what’s in the program or what’s in that woke mentality.”
What’s more, he says, “SEL has been the other side of that team with the DEI programs that brings in the gender ideologies. …
“Everyone knows we go through emotional stuff. Everyone’s had different traumas. Everyone’s life has been hard in some way or another, some more than others. Fine. But to focus so much time on telling kids it’s OK to not be OK, and to get in touch with their feelings – and to do that instead of teaching them math and reading and how to work hard and character traits of successful people – you end up with weaker kids (rather) than stronger kids.
“That’s all I’ve seen those programs really do.”
A message to Missouri parents
Both Enyart and the mother caution Missouri parents to be exceedingly vigilant about the state’s move toward SEL instruction – which is essentially parenting kids in social and emotional matters.
“I would tell the parents to be as involved as possible and to not let any standard get passed without their approval,” Enyart says. “If it’s just standards they’re looking to change, I mean, what’s wrong with the old standards? What are they trying to change and why?
“So, I’d be asking lots of questions. I’d be involved in every meeting. And I’d make sure that your voice was heard, too. If you disapprove of something, let them know.
“And there’s power in numbers. It can’t just be one or two parents. It’s gonna have to be groups of parents who communicate together, who collaborate together and show up in large numbers to prove that it really does matter to the main populace.”
“I would ask the question, ‘From whose perspective will this be taught?’” says the mother. “Look at where a lot of this stuff is coming from. I don’t think the people of Missouri are interested. I really don’t. Whether it sounds lovely or not, make them define terms. Define ‘kind.’ What am I required to do … to be considered kind?”
She suggests looking into SEL-linked organizations such as CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning); UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization); and the Fetzer Institute, whose mission is “to help build the spiritual foundation for a loving world.”
The mother notes that’s the same mission as Christianity, but that Christian curriculum isn’t nearly as welcome in public schools.
“Critical social justice has become a religion for these people. And so, they proselytize and disciple as if it were their religion,” she says.
‘Don’t be intimidated’
Though not directly involved in the state’s standards, Sen. Hawley says he’s concerned by the potential for SEL to act as cover to introduce divisive and radical ideologies in the classroom.
“I certainly wouldn’t support anything that’s a back door for critical race theory, for teaching that America was founded in 1619 – or any of that disinformation of the 1619 project, any of that stuff,” Hawley told The Lion Thursday. “Listen, our kids ought to learn the facts about our country, the facts about our state, math, science reading.
“They ought to be taught, not indoctrinated, and parents ought to be in control.”
What should Missouri parents do, then?
“My message to Missouri parents is, don’t give up your rights,” Hawley says. “You have the right. You pay for these schools. It’s your tax dollars that are paying for these schools, and they’re your kids. Whatever Joe Biden says – you know, that all the kids all belong to all of us – no they don’t. Kids belong to their parents, and parents have the right to educate their kids and the responsibility to see that their kids are well-educated.
“Don’t be intimidated. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be cowed. And make sure that your kids are getting the education that you think that they should get. Go to those school board meetings. Ask to see your kids’ curriculum. Ask who’s teaching them in the classroom. That’s your right. It’s your money. It’s your kids.”
Hawley says this needs to be part of the necessary and welcome parents’ rights revolution that erupted after the COVID-19 lockdowns and the Department of Justice’s targeting of concerned parents as “domestic terrorists.”
And Hawley argues the parents’ rights revolution is bipartisan. “You’ve got a lot of Democrats and liberal parents who are like, ‘Whoa, whoa. I don’t like what’s going on in the classroom. I want my kids taught real skills, real facts.’
“I just say to parents, keep on keeping on. Parents ought to be the ones who are in control here.”
The mother says her daughter is much better after transferring to a Christian school, which “knows that no social worker is to be anywhere in the vicinity of her.”
The improvement was swift, she says. “Within two weeks, my husband said, ‘I think we’re getting our daughter back.’ …
“I just want parents to be aware. Know what’s going on in the classroom.”