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“Social and Emotional” Stories for Children

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In an editorial posted on August 16[1], Shriver and Weissberg weighed in on what they perceive as lacking in the “No Child Left Behind” program. They believe that academic concerns are only half of the educational equation; “social and emotional learning” also needs to be addressed. But, what exactly is meant by this phrase, and why is it necessary?

Social and emotional learning is the process through which children learn to recognize and manage emotions. It allows them to understand and interact with others, to make good decisions and to behave ethically and responsibly. The best social and emotional learning programs engage not only children, but also their teachers, administrators and parents in providing children with the information and skills that help them make ethical and sensible decisions – to avoid bullying, for instance, or to resist pressures to engage in destructive or risky behavior, such as substance abuse. When they are well designed and executed, such programs have consistently achieved these goals, turning out students who are good citizens committed to serving their communities and cooperating with others.[2]

This sounds great, but it begs the questions: Who has decided that bullying is bad, or substance abuse is to be avoided? Why does serving your community and cooperating with others make you a “good citizen?” It seems like Shriver and Weissberg are advocating that moral absolutes be taught to our students in the government-owned public school system, but this can’t be right because government and religion are to be forever separated—it says so in the Constitution…somewhere. If Christianity must be excluded from public classroom learning because of some contrived interpretation of the First Amendment, then any sort of pseudo-Christianity should be barred as well. They conclude their article by saying:

"What we now understand about the role of social and emotional learning in academic learning should lead us to dramatic action, but it builds on common wisdom. Good teachers know that they can’t sacrifice one part of a child for another. Now they have the figures to prove it. The time has come for policy makers to help restore balance to our nation’s classrooms and, in so doing, to help American children achieve their fullest potential."[3]

Rather than admitting that driving religion out of the classroom has had the opposite intended effect, they now appeal to “common wisdom,” or what Dr. Bahnsen referred to as “borrowed capital.”[4] Their desire to have an atheistic environment where children can be exposed to all viewpoints—not just one narrow-minded, dogmatic, old-fashioned way of thinking—has not been able to account for moral absolutes. If one way of thinking is just as valid as another, then one way of acting out that thought should be just as valid as another. Joan Collins is witnessing the effects of such a system in her own country, where church attendance has been steadily decreasing for years.[5]

It is becoming rather vogue to refer to what the 10 Commandments teach as “common wisdom,” but make the mistake of pointing out that such “common wisdom” resembles a religious dogma and you will be quickly shouted down. Shriver and Weissberg are doing their best to get religion back in the schools—not that it ever left, Humanism remained behind while Christianity was shown the door—but the religion that they are bringing is founded on nothing besides wishful thinking. They want children to become “good citizens” but cannot give a reason why they should be other than “common wisdom.” That’s just not good enough, and the kids they are trying to pass this off on will realize that sooner or later.

In an interview with Skeptic magazine, [atheist Richard] Dawkins was asked if his view of the world was not similar to that of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: namely, life is but “A tale told by an idiot, filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing.”“Yes,” Dawkins replied, “at a sort of cosmic level, it is. But what I want to guard against is people therefore getting nihilistic in their personal lives. I don’t see any reason for that at all. You can have a very happy and fulfilled personal life even if you think that the universe at large is a tale told by an idiot.”His words attempt to remove the sting his philosophy imparts. Yet, if I am but a poor player fretting my hour upon the stage of a tale told by an idiot, what is a “fulfilling” personal life? There is no room in the naturalist’s philosophy for intrinsic dignity, human worth, or human rights. There is no room for moral accountability, right or wrong, good or evil. There is no room for the layers of my love for my husband, the cry of my heart for justice, or the recognition on my conscience that I am often missing the mark. There is no room for my surprise at time’s passing or my longing for something beyond what I am capable of fully reaching in this moment. This is not the story I know.

In the words of G.K. Chesterton, “I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.”[6]

If we are not teaching our children about the story-teller, then we are just telling them stories.

Endnotes:

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/16/opinion/16shriver.html
[2]http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/16/opinion/16shriver.html
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/16/opinion/16shriver.html
[4] Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 1996), 52. “Because the unbeliever cannot rid himself of a knowledge of God, because he continues to use the ‘borrowed capital’ of theistic truths, he is enabled to come to a limited understanding of the truth about the world and himself—despite, not because of, his attempted autonomy.”
[5] Noelle Knox, “Religion takes a back seat in Western Europe,” USA Today (August 11, 2005), 1A.
[6] http://www.rzim.org/publications/jttran.php?seqid=104

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