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Emotional Intelligence – has education forgotten about it again?

August 9, 2016

SEL, or Social Emotional Learning backs up over two decades of specific research and tries to implement organic, but pre-planned Emotional Intelligence training in schools. Such programs aim at improving the students’ Emotional Quota (EQ) rates, and at contributing to the development of better adults, whose personalities are nurtured since their school years in more than one direction. Focusing on academic achievements is a constant goal in learning, but life has a tendency to test the emotional levels and skills in people, without which the professional abilities may find themselves blocked or stranded.

Just consider that a leader or an employee working in an organization has many technical and creative qualities, yet he/she is unable to truly connect with its peers, cannot empathize and cannot adapt in real-time to working with other people – how would that affect the chances of his/hers qualities being put to a good use? Alternatively, imagine that adults cannot cope with more stressful times in their lives and let all the accumulated negative feeling dampen their lucrative skills.

In other words, Emotional Intelligence really possesses real business value, besides being crucial in ensuring a balanced society and a healthy base for the generations to come.

The issue would be that teaching EI in schools is often neglected, if not completely left out. Some see it as a natural, acceptable state of fact, claiming there is no need for artificial training when children learn their related skills from other sources that exceed the schools’ boundaries.

Others support the exact opposite: teaching the basics of EI during school years is a social action, ensuring a coordinated effort towards healthy emotions in today’s kids and tomorrow’s adults.

Emotional Intelligence and its outlets

As in all psychology fields, there is more than one way of measuring emotional intelligence. This source chose to go by the mixed model, coming from the psychologist Daniel Goleman. According to this model, emotional intelligence reflects in:

  • Self-awareness (objective assessment of the individual’s own feelings);
  • Self-management (the ability of controlling the emotions of oneself when necessary);
  • Motivation ( in its autonomous sense, more like self-motivation, one that derives from inner mechanisms);
  • Empathy (the capacity of detecting other people’s feelings and emotional states and of responding appropriately);
  • Social skills (combining motivation with empathy and other social skills in order to establish a socially efficient presence and in order to attain goals and position oneself in a social context).

Organically, a developing personality learns all these skills and the right way to employ them by mimicking the adults that serve as role models. While it is true that parents, siblings, relatives and friends are the primary figures that serve as role models, it is nonetheless true that during school years teachers also become sources of inspiration and generate patterns of behavior in their students.

Therefore, even without realizing it, teachers actually do pass on emotional intelligence models during their activity. Being aware of how they should manage their emotional role model status should in fact improve this learning process adjacent to academic learning. Ignoring the organic emotional intelligence passing on process that takes place is both counter-efficient and risky in this context. As our first source above mentioned in regard to SEL, “teachers, counselors, administrators, instructional assistants, custodians, and lunch ladies all learn SEL and use it in their interactions with students and with each other”.

Contestants and advocates of teaching SEL in schools

First, we should clarify that SEL is not necessarily the same as Emotional Intelligence Learning, nor does it exclusively ensure an improved rate of Emotional Quota. It nevertheless sums up quite a load of specialists’ work from the 1980s on and it represents a tuned up method of actually delivering emotional education in schools.

Those who counter the idea of SEL in schools use as an argument the fact that it is difficult to quantify results – how could teachers measure the children’s progress in learning to deal with and to balance their emotions? How are children to be graded?

The supporters of SEL advocate that regardless of the difficulty in measuring the progress, teaching children how to handle their emotions is crucial, because emotional awareness generates better, happier life styles and improved academic performance. These allegations are based on various survey results, as well as on the way pilot programs managed to affect the children involved in SEL.

The fact that now psychology accumulated a lot more materials on emotional intelligence itself is a good enough reason for a new kind of learning, one that would implement the most important research results into practical, efficient learning programs.

Other pro-SEL arguments count the fact that society nowadays is more fragmented that it used to be, and that many of its members are overwhelmed by isolation, stress and various personal crisis. Technology makes people drift apart even more; therefore children often risk mimicking unhelpful behaviors or not having to whom to request help, in a world of undecided, busy and unbalanced adults. It seems like the emotional intelligence researchers worked their way up to all the useful materials available nowadays for a reason, in times when people need to re-learn how to individually balance their own emotions.

Funding Emotional Intelligence Learning

There is another issue that blocks the massive adoption of Emotional Intelligence programs in schools – it is difficult to raise funds for an almost in-quantifiable activity, whose results are to show in the future.

Funding SEL and other similar projects could however take a precautionary approach. Estimating the risks of a segmented society and calculating the costs could serve as an argument for investing in prevention methods. Preventing emotional depletion in tomorrow’s adults surely is worth investing in – at least those who advocate SEL strongly support this precautionary equation.

The importance of each person’s Emotional Quota might seem trivial in a society where we still benefit from traditional interpersonal regulatory mechanisms that enable community support and people helping other people, but it is quite obvious there is a scarcity of emotional connectivity already present. Teaching Emotional Intelligence to our children in an organized way could in fact be essential for our future as a species. Or, for the more rational ones, EI is at least essential for establishing a well-balanced societal environment.