Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Benefits of Investing in Developing Emotional Intelligence

Many educators and policymakers may scoff at the thought of making room for something as “unnecessary” as emotions in the school curriculum, because it’s jam-packed as it is with standard testing and efforts to prepare for said exams. But contradictory to popular belief, our emotions aren’t irrelevant at all. In fact, emotions are the tendons that attach the facts we learn in class to our brains. Emotions govern our ability to think and learn. Emotions operate the very thought process that students use to analyze the information they’re receiving from their teachers. Emotions can also inhibit the same material from properly digesting. Our minds are driven by emotions. Emotions couldn’t be more relevant, and yet we pay no mind to them.
I think we should.
Not only should emotional intelligence be implemented into public education, I believe it should be mandated as well. The way things stand, students are taught to keep emotions to themselves, to handle feelings on their own time and not to trouble anybody with them. Emotions are to be dealt with privately. This is the implication (however unintentional) simply because we’ve been excluding the study of emotions from our schools. Are they not worthy things to learn? Are we supposed to understand them on our own? I know I don't. Was I the only one who didn’t get an owner’s manual for my own mind?
Of course not.
The trouble is that making sense of our emotions doesn’t come as naturally to us as you might think. Just look at you. You’re probably a total mess emotionally, and if not, you’re one of the lucky few. Most of us need guidance just to operate our minds without disturbing our emotions. Plus, most known effective methods of taking the reins of our emotions are entirely counter-intuitive, and often times the opposite of what we’re naturally inclined to do. We seem to have a nasty habit of aggravating our emotions rather than relieving them, which is why more and more students are cracking under the strain of the emotions they’re expected (and try desperately) to suppress. Suicide rates rise as ADHD and depression and a score of other mental maladies sweep across another sorry generation.
Rather than pump this bunch with Ritalin, perhaps instead of treating them, we ought to teach them how to deal.
For one thing, students may not even realize they’re wrestling the same emotions all their peers are also facing, and, despite appearances, we’re not alone! And if we just had one class dedicated to developing our emotions, we would finally be able to acknowledge that we’re, all of us, affected. Currently, the only resource students have to get emotional support (at school) is their appointed counselor. But seeking out a counselor comes with a stigma, singling the student out as “someone who needs help,” something he or she may be reluctant to admit or even realize. However, mandating a class to teach emotions and requiring that every student take it would indeed remove the stigma. This way, students would be open to receive the mental help they need without having to seek it out themselves.
And we all need it. Don’t act like you’re immune to your emotions. They are universal to us all, and that’s the beauty of it, really. Just imagine the camaraderie and trust that we could build if students tackled their emotions as a class instead of individually. They’d learn so many interpersonal skills that are currently woefully absent from the worldrespect, compassion, understanding, empathy, acceptance, and mindfulness of everyone’s emotions, not just our own. And most importantly, implementing such a class would also redefine emotions as something we are free and open to express, and encouraged and accepted to discuss, not something to be ashamed of or suppress.
The most striking fact about this is the proven effectiveness of tuning in with our emotions and its impact on students’ academic performance. A study led by Geoff Cohen (Department of Psychology, University of Colorado) and several associates revealed some astonishing results. Four hundred seventh graders from a socioeconomically diverse school were selected and split into two groups. Both were given similar writing assignments at the beginning of the school year. Half the students were instructed to write a brief essay about a personal value they hold dearly, why it's important to them and how they express it. The other half, as a control group, were instructed to write about a personal value they themselves do NOT possess and write instead about why it might be meaningful to someone else. As it turns out, the students who were asked to write about their own values “narrowed the achievement gap between black and white students by 40 percent, and the effects lasted through the eighth grade (two years)” (Winch 211).
Now think about it. That was one single assignment, which may have taken half an hour to complete but made a lasting difference in participants’ performance across all disciplines. Developing emotional intelligence is the most cost efficient way of raising educational standards and test scores nationwide. The study I discussed specifically empowered those affected by negative stereotypes, however, exercising our emotions is generally beneficial to us all, considering they’re something everybody has in common. Just think of the depression and aggression and distress that we could save ourselves if we learned to embrace and manage our emotions. What a better education that would be. It would instill the qualities the world so desperately needs to cultivate. Students are the future, and there’s plenty of stress ahead of them, so they had better be equipped to handle it.
Fortunately, this reform is already in the works, as an increasing number of private and experimental schools are shifting their focus from strictly academia to “Social and Emotional Learning” programs (SEL). This is not enough however, for the schools who most desperately need to implement emotional intelligence don't have the resources to do so. Social and Emotional learning will have the most tremendous impact on underprivileged students attending underprivileged schools. These public schools are penalized financially because their students statistically score lowest on standard tests, and thus the schools must then cut down on necessary resources students depend on to reach their optimal performance and intellectual potential. They are reduced to outdated textbooks and badly paid professors, and an educational environment that deprives them of the opportunities that other students see in higher-scoring public schools and wealthy private institutions. This reinforces the growing achievement gap between minorities and privileged students and perpetuates the growing socioeconomic divide, which is reaching breaking point. These students see no future other than what they’re born into: gangs and drugs, ghettos and slums, prostitutes and hustlers. They don’t aspire to be CEOs or presidents of companiesthese jobs are too far out of reach. No, they aspire to be pimps and gang-bangers and drug lordspositions of attainable “success.” These are the students who most desperately need to see the light at the end of their educational tunnel, and the only way to show them is through self-affirmation, and shifting the focus from strictly academia to include social and emotional intelligence as well. Likewise, these are the students who will be impacted and benefit the most from implementing SEL. This is why Emotional Intelligence must be implemented and mandated into standard education nationwide, in every public school, especially the underprivileged ones. It will be the most cost-effective avenue of actually increasing quality of education and test scores across the nation.


Winch, Guy, Ph.D. Emotional First Aid. New York: Hudson Street Press, 2013. Print.

G.L. Cohen, J. Garcia, V. Purdie-Vaughns, N. Apfel, and P. Brustoski, “Recursive processes in self-affirmation: Intervening to close the minority achievement gap.” Science 324 (2009): 400-403

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