03 SES 13 A, Constructing Purposes and Legitimizing Social and Emotional Learning in Youth Education. Part 1
In the past decade we have noticed an increased interest in therapy, psychology and behavioral management within the educational field in Western countries. This is manifested in therapeutic activities and exercises, often organized in programs for social and emotional learning. While some researchers interpret this phenomenon as part of a general “therapeutic turn” in education others have focused on the dialogical and democratic aims of the programs and activities used within the area of social and emotional learning.
In Sweden, the term Livskunskap (Life Competence Education) has been used as an umbrella term for the activities organized by various socio-emotional programs. The non-mandatory topic or activity of Livskunskap has become a feature in many Swedish pre-schools and state schools. In an attempt to map this field we have tried to look for underpinning motives and rationales. In the Swedish context, but also in comparison with other countries, we seem to find at least four crucial lines of thought: (1) the ethical, democratic value foundation formulated in the Swedish curriculum, (2) the school’s task to work with preventive health education, (3) the wish to improve social relations between students, and (4) the aim to empower young people by helping them find a balance between their emotional and social selves and thus be successful learners.
While the advocates of social and emotional programs often refer to the notion of a dangerous or “toxic” childhood, critics refer to this idea as a contemporary discourse which motivates disciplinary normalization through the management of emotions. Another critical view is that the ethical and collective aspects of the school’s task of nurturing young people are overshadowed by a focus on one-sided individualistic emotions.
The programs – like the motives for using them -– have forerunners and counterparts in various international contexts. In this symposium, the perspectives from three different countries (Sweden, England, USA) are represented, although we take the Swedish educational context as our main frame of reference.
It is the overall aim of this symposium to highlight how the purposes of social and emotional elements in youth education are constructed by both its advocates and its critics and thereby to show how the phenomenon of social and emotional learning programs is legitimized. Taking our point of departure from both the advocating and the critical perspectives allows us to discuss an interesting and important tension within the realm of education. In addition to this overall discourse-analytical interest, we shall also present an in-depth empirical analysis of some programs, working methods and ways of organizing this field of education.
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