Sociocultural criticality in SEL

Just launched a new podcast! Listen to this article by clicking play. Or read the article below.

The beautiful thing about being a teacher, as I have mentioned before, is that I am always learning. I need to also add that I am always unlearning.

Picture of Yoda and his famous quote, "You must unlearn what you have learned."

I am taking a 8 month professional development class about humanizing education. It covers a lot of different topics: valuing cultural funds of knowledge in black and brown students, community and family engagement, addressing and analyzing systems of oppression with students in a critical way (sociocultural criticality), and most importantly how to put these theories into practice in the classroom. For the class, I just finished reading this incredibly eloquent, precise, and well-researched article, Social and emotional learning is hegemonic miseducation: students deserve humanization instead by Patrick Camangian & Stephanie Cariaga (2021). It does a stunning job in breaking down the current practice of social emotional learning (SEL) and how to change it to undermine the system of oppression that perpetuate trauma. I highly recommend you read it, especially if you work with children:

A meme that includes a picture of Will Ferrell in the movie Anchorman. He is in a glass phone booth with the caption that reads, "I am in a glass cage of social and emotional learning."
What SEL without humanization feels like

It’s interesting because when I was in my post-bachelor program at Towson learning to become a teacher, I researched and wrote a paper on SEL, thinking I was discovering the cutting edge of research-based mindfulness and metacognitive self-awareness skills in education. I was so excited to find these core competencies laid out (CASEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making) as essential components of education that were being ignored and not directly taught in school. As a meditation teacher and practitioner, I was so excited that I did not stop to really analyze and critique what I was learning through a sociocultural critical lens.

The article I linked above really opened my eyes to the fact that any system of social and/or emotional learning MUST address the colonial systems of oppression that perpetuates maladaptive sense of self in students of color. Racism and oppression have to be acknowledge and unlearned so that students and teachers (of all colors and backgrounds) can center themselves in positive self-image and learn in a supportive environment.

A slide from a presentation with two ends of a spectrum of educational practices. One end includes colonizing practices (self-hate, divide/conquer, and sub-oppression) and the other end being life-affirming practices (self-knowledge, solidarity, and self-determination).
These competencies – self-knowledge and self-love; solidarity; and self-determination, are missing from the CASEL framework. They are on the other end of hegemonic practices that are often implicitly taught in schools. Image credit: Dr. Keisha Allen of UMBC

I feel very fortunate to work at ConneXions, because it is a charter school that was founded and created with the mission of developing artistic excellence, cultural identity, and community awareness in ALL students. This gives me a lot of support from administration when I want to engage in art problems that involve difficult conversations around race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability. Being an art teacher gives me more freedom and flexibility to be able to explore these very challenging realities through creating beautiful and meaningful artwork. This course has been so valuable in challenging me and I’m grateful for the opportunity to create more humanizing social and emotional learning spaces for my students! Thanks for reading and unlearning with me ❤

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