Emotional Intelligence

I am writing this from the Fall Forum of the Coalition for Essential Schools. I just attended a workshop by Kathleen Cushman on “Learning by Heart: The Power of Social Emotional Learning.”

She stated in one of the bullet points of her slides of how building social emotional learning supports academic learning. I think there are very few people who would disagree with this, though it is true that many teachers feel unequipped for, resentful toward, or object to being expected to deal with this aspect of teaching. However, what I notice here, is that often as educators we feel the need to defend anything we do in schools not as valuable for itself, but for how it will help raise test scores, or at least help academically. I have seen this in defense of the arts, in defense of physical education, in defense of good nutrition, etc.

dumb question

As the author of Emotional Intelligence demonstrated fairly convincingly, to get ahead in most occupations takes emotional intelligence at least as much as it took academic smarts (according to the web site EQ accounts for 58% of your job performance, though I have no idea how one would quantify that). I would argue that this is at least as true in civic life. Political and social change happens when people work together for such change. Not to mention the importance of getting along with our neighbors, our families, etc.

Now, since my assumption is that the purpose of public schools is to serve the larger public—that is not just to help the individual become smarter and more marketable, but to be the place where society educates the next generation into the knowledge and values that are required to sustain and maintain itself. In the case of our country, I see that as helping create a democratic citizenry of a pluralistic society.

This leads me to challenge what we just take for granted—what is the purpose of schools. Most of use rarely think deeply about this question, and assume it is self evident—and that it is primarily “academic.”

But how about this thought experiment; What if we turned this on its head? What if we thought the primary responsibility of schools was to get a citizenry that has a strong social/emotional education? That our schools’ responsibility was to have graduates that had a strong sense of self-knowledge, that are good at managing their own emotions? Graduates that know how to be empathetic, that know how to effectively work with others, and be sensitive to others. Academics, P.E., the Arts, Nutrition, etc., might be seen as instrumental to living an emotionally and socially satisfying life and to contributing to the social and emotional health of the larger society. Just a thought.

4 thoughts on “Emotional Intelligence

  1. There is no scientific evidence that Emotional Intelligence even exists, and no evidence that the tests administered even measure what they claim to measure. We can safely put EQ into the same basket(case) as Myers-Briggs …. Remember when every teacher had to stand in a corner with other teachers who fell into the same M-B quadrant? What did we learn? Not much.

    On the other hand, we can teach students to behave more respectfully, more responsibly, more safely, and in a more community-minded manner …. And we do, and we do it without paying sham ‘EQ consultants’ outrageous fees for EI ‘workshops’
    Cheers @brendano

    • There is no scientific evidence for any “intelligence.” They are all constructs. However, we do know emotions are controlled in certain areas of the brain and that we can learn to manage them. I just happen to find that the term emotional intelligecne to be a handy one to describe that “skill” “ability” or whatever you want to call it. I do not think anything I wrote implied a use of EQ consultants or tests of EQ, If I did, that is not what I meant.

  2. As an teacher and administrator of middle schoolers, I saw firsthand the amazing results of tending to students’ social and emotional needs to develop their skills/nderstanding of these critical parts of themselves. They tended to be more respectful, taking responsibility, understanding their impact on others, and making positive contributions within the school. For my book research, I’ve read the research of neuroscientists, Drs. Immordino-Yang and Damasio about the critical role that emotions play in learning. Negative emotions can impede the capacity to learn. Other emotions help engage students in what they are learning when there is a personal connection or meaning present. And emotions are a critical part of decision-making. I heard at the 2014 Learning and the Brain Conference that neuroscience is concluding that the social emotional learning such as self-awareness, self-regulation, and resiliency are more important than IQ in determining academic achievement and lifelong success. So, having social emotional learning be just as important as academic learning is not just a nice add-on, but a necessity.

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