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Emotional Intelligence Matters

In the erroneous belief that only measurable outcomes justify the time, effort and money, emotional intelligence has largely been overlooked. That does a disservice to students because emotional skills have been found to be crucial to academic performance.

I was reminded of this by tens of thousands of emotional-literacy programs in cities across the country ("Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?" The New York Times Magazine, Sept. 15). The programs have been approved by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, a Chicago-based non-profit. They are generally referred to as social-emotional learning programs or S.E.L. I think they owe much to the work of Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence (Bantam Books, 1995).

Goleman believes that emotional intelligence can matter more than academic intelligence in success, both in school and beyond. Teachers have long known that the emotions of students have the potential to enhance or hinder their performance. The problem is that the accountability movement has no provision for measuring emotional outcomes. As a result, they are given short shrift.

When I was teaching, the Los Angeles Unified School District in the early 1970s urged high schools to develop new ways of reaching students. The result was the creation at my high school of the Innovative Program School, which was designed to help students get more in touch with themselves. Influential parents in the community were enthusiastic about the potential. Despite its initial success in achieving its objectives, IPS slowly strayed from its original mission and was eventually disbanded. Given today's obsession with testing, it would be impossible to institute anything similar.

Critics maintain that such programs have no business being in public schools because they rely too often on strategies from conventional therapy. They believe that only licensed psychologists should be engaging in such practices. I wouldn't feel comfortable being a part of social-emotional learning programs. But I know teachers who find their greatest satisfaction there. It's a matter of finding the right teachers. More important, it's a question of recognizing that standard academic measures are not the only way of evaluating schools.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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