Plea for SEL

I submitted the following to Williams College’s committee on strategic planning.

In my entire academic career (including the 4 years at Williams), I was never explicitly taught social and emotional skills. Even when I was assigned to team projects, I received no substantial guidance on how to navigate the social complexities of team work. As a result, I emerged into the real world knowing how to think, but not knowing much about how to make friends, build community, resolve conflicts, or contribute skillfully in the challenging group settings found in most workplaces.

What good is it to know advanced math and science if I can’t build the relationships and coalitions necessary for anything to come of it?

In the tradition of lifelong learning, I’ve spent much of my 12 years since graduation trying to learn these skills on my own. I’ve been very grateful to authors such as Marshall Rosenberg and Peter Block, who have taught me far more about communication and community than I ever learned in school.

So my hope for Williams’ future is simply that social and emotional skills (SEL) become a more central part of the curriculum. Just as graduates are expected to be proficient in writing and quantitative skills, don’t they also need to be proficient in relationships and team dynamics?

It strikes me that such a goal is intimately related to the quest to foster inclusion and diversity. How can we expect students to engage with difference skillfully if we haven’t taught them those skills? In my experience, SEL is at least as difficult as any other academic subject.

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