Letter to the editor: Conservatives target social-emotional learning

"Every time a young girl visits my office, I invite her to sit in my chair," Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in 2019 in noting the occasion of International Women's Day. "It lets her know women can be or do anything they want in this world." Photo courtesy the office of the governor

To the editor:

Some of our Iowa Senators are gleeful over a bill “prohibiting the use of certain resources or materials related to social and emotional learning.” These lawmakers mistakenly believe “that social-emotional learning is a vessel for schools to inflict liberal values and beliefs on students.”

Experts in the field say that social and emotional learning curriculums help students build life skills, regulate behavior and learn how to solve problems. It involves understanding your own emotions and learning how to get along with others.

As stated on the website of the Iowa Department of Education, Iowa’s social-emotional learning plans are organized around the five core competencies:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills
  • Responsible decision-making

Examples cited include such horrifying images as kindergarteners waiting their turn, fourth graders demonstrating a positive attitude, eighth graders recognizing individual differences and demonstrating a respect for others’ beliefs, traditions, cultures and experiences and 12th graders demonstrating strategies to support students who are left out or bullied.

Visit the Iowa DOE website to see dozens of examples of behaviors that reflect, by grade level, competency in these areas.
Social-Emotional Learning | Iowa Department of Education (educateiowa.gov)
Iowa’s Social-Emotional Learning Competencies – Version 3 – Summer 2022 (educateiowa.gov)

Humans of Iowa. We live in a society. Unless you want to move into the wilderness and be completely off the grid and alone, cloistered from the rest of the world in your own personal cult with only the flora and fauna for friends, then you need social skills. Others around you need you to have social skills.

I’m a lifelong introvert who would rather interact with a book than humans, yet even I understand the value to me and others of trying to interact effectively with humans. It’s a bother.

However, it’s difficult for me to think of a life situation in which effective social-emotional skills are not to your advantage. Asking for a raise, managing a relationship disagreement, a school yard clash, siblings arguing, friends on the outs, wanting someone to change seats with you on a plane, mentoring someone, coaching a kid in any sport or skill, coaxing a toddler or teen to do anything, getting along with relatives, resolving a your-leaves-are-in-my-yard issue with a neighbor — the list is truly endless and is the story of our daily, ongoing interactions in the world.

What human interaction isn’t likely to go more smoothly or be more successful if the humans involved understand their own emotions and how to manage them along with what circumstances may lead to different emotions? De-escalation and understanding are our friends, not our enemies.

We aren’t the only beings in the world with the capacity for empathy. But we certainly seem to be the only ones willing to legislate an end to the use and expansion of such an effective tool. The party who pretends to wave a flag for liberty demands chastity belts on the minds of our kids—disabling them and our country for generations to come.

The problems of the world are large and complex. But if I had to name one thing that I thought would significantly move the needle in the world’s favor, it would be empathy, if from birth to death we worked on understanding ourselves and others. If we worked at putting ourselves into another’s situation and if it didn’t have to happen to us personally for us to believe it’s true—how beneficial would that be? Boundless.

If we feel so tread upon and threatened, how is it we can be so blind to how we ourselves are treading upon and threatening others? Seeing things from multiple perspectives is beneficial.

Do you truly, honestly think that you know best always? You’ve never asked your parents, never consulted with a religious figure, never listened to a boss or someone in political office, never consulted a book, taken a class, believed Oprah—never tried to advance or grow yourself in any way by seeking counsel from someone outside yourself?

No one besides you has ever taught your child something of value? You know best and must control every interaction your child has in the world? You would deprive them of interacting with any person or idea you deem harmful to them? You would stunt their critical thinking and ability to have productive discourse with others who don’t agree with them totally.

What, then, are your dreams for your kids? Successful career, wonderful spouse, perfect children, angelic grandchildren? But you’d like them to achieve this with no social-emotional skills? That is sort of like wishing for your kid to be a major athletic star but never teaching him or her the basic skills from a young age.

Did you miss all those old movies in which someone was raised in the wilderness, a basement, an island and never interacted with humans and then suddenly is plopped into NYC? Or (to age myself) the Beverly Hillbillies, anyone? It’s not a smooth, successful transition.

I understand you want your kids to value certain things, and so you raise them a certain way. But I’m completely baffled by wanting to keep them ignorant and not exposing them to anything outside what you believe.

Don’t you want more for your children? More success, more worldliness, more joy?
How does that happen if they are sheltered, wings clipped, minds kept closed, when exposure to any outside experience or thought is not tolerated, when factual world history is kept from them?

Do you think that the Cyclones or Hawkeyes go into a game having never researched or watched their opponent and thinking that the best way to win a game is to ignore all data and historical performance about them? To not understand how they play the game, how their coach thinks, the strategies and techniques they cling to?

Your chances of success are much higher to be in the dark about the ugliness of their stellar 3-point shooting or defensive strength? Why seek to understand such things?

Shelter from them. Ignore them. Pretend they don’t exist. That’s the pathway to success.
Don’t indoctrinate the team with uncomfortable facts, such as the opponent’s being ranked in the Top 10 when you’re unranked. How helpful is that? Those politically weaponized rankings. Liberal ideology.

Whether you agree or disagree with the hype around your opponent or the strategies of the opposing team’s coach—knowledge is power. How can you remotely function in the league without knowledge of others?

You wanted to leave work early for your kid’s 16th birthday party? A parent is struggling with health issues, and you need a few days off during a busy time at work? Your kid missed an assignment deadline because of a death in the family, and you need the grace of a teacher so your kid doesn’t compromise their GPA?

Too bad. Social-emotional skills are no longer valued, taught, facilitated or demonstrated in Iowa. No understanding or empathy here. That would be weaponizing politics.

Laura Stebbins


  1. Seems odd to me that the right wants to limit social-emotional learning, yet they complain about students’ behavior in public schools. You are kind in your LTE, and I always appreciate kindness. It seems, however, the far right thinks kids’ behavior improves via demand. FYI: It does not. Schools that accept everyone — that is, public schools — need tools to help children regulate their own behavior. SEL strategies are certainly part of that toolbox, not some crazy plot.

    • Nothing odd about it at all. Any social skills not authorized by the American Taliban/Christian Nationalists is Satanic by default. Any world view not shared by the same is Satanic by default. Any form of spirituality other than Calvinist/Evangelical is Satanic by default. Any science or history textbook that disputes the Bible is Satanic by default. They not only want to shield their kids from such things, but they also want to shield everyone else’s because they don’t want the other kids to fry in Hell like their parents. Tell it like it is because that’s exactly how it is. All theocracy is vile no matter what religion is in charge. Have no doubt. That’s what we’re up against. There’s no point mincing words about it. I love God, too, but some of His fan clubs have become a real pain lately.


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