Thursday, October 7, 2021

 On SEL and CRT in Holliston Schools

At its September 27 meeting, the Holliston Select Board voted to exclude from the Town Warrant a citizen's petition article aimed at prohibiting the teaching of "Critical Race Theory" (CRT) in Holliston schools. Ultimately, Town Counsel advised that the petition was likely illegal and unenforceable, as Town Meeting has no authority over curriculum decisions. Here, we explain the back story to this petition and why, in the end, it became a non-issue.

Our national politics and life in general are fraught with controversy, division and misinformation, seemingly more than ever before. Holliston is no different. National issues become local issues and both sides of any argument want to defend their opinions, whether fact-based or not.

The most visual and heated discussion of late on Holliston social media focuses on Critical Race Theory (CRT) and whether it will or should be taught in Holliston schools. If you’re not on any Holliston social media sites, and/or you don’t have school-age kids, you may not even be aware of the controversy. With this article, we hope to enlighten readers with the facts.

First, what is particularly frustrating about this “argument” is that it is based on deliberate misrepresentation of the facts in an attempt to sow discord and further murky political ends. The term “Critical Race Theory” is used to incite others despite the fact that no one is proposing teaching CRT in Holliston schools. In fact, CRT is a is a theory (not a curriculum) taught to law school students studying race and the law. It is not appropriate for nor accessible to elementary and secondary school students.

What is actually being proposed and implemented is Social Emotional Learning (SEL). SEL is a series of research-based, research-validated practices addressing issues of mental health, diversity, inclusion, and identity that challenge today’s youth. SEL is being used in Holliston and most other Massachusetts school districts to help create and sustain safe and supportive schools (a term used by the Mass. Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education) that support all students in:

  • Feeling safe and well physically, socially, emotionally, behaviorally and academically.
  • Working to build community connectedness and positive relationships with adults, families/guardians, and peers of similar and different cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds.
  • Collaboratively developing emotional intelligence skills such as developing healthy identities, managing emotions, achieving personal and collective goals, feeling and showing empathy for others, establishing and maintaining supportive relationships, and making responsible and caring decisions.
  • Experiencing a sense of agency and learning to self-advocate in appropriate ways, engaging effectively and productively with learning experiences.
  • Developing a sense of competence and academic success with multiple opportunities to learn and practice newly developing skills as part of a productive community.

A safe and supportive school has social emotional learning as a key component promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion strategies that help all students to feel seen, heard, and valued. The work is about a whole school community that includes students, staff, and families all feeling that they belong and are welcomed.

There will always be disagreements about what and how schools should teach students. After all, our children are our most cherished resource. However, when these disagreements become crusades laced with falsehood and insinuation, it’s incumbent on all of us to take notice. We need to educate ourselves and our peers about the true nature of Social Emotional Learning and the positive ways it can impact all of our children and prepare them to lead us into the future.

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