OP-ED | Politics and the Corruption of Language: Defining ‘Social-Emotional Learning’


Vintage typewriter with text "words have power"
Credit: Norasyiqin Tajuddin / Shutterstock

[The English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts … if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language

Barth Keck

Orwell’s renowned essay is included in the curriculum of my “Advanced Placement: Language and Composition” class mostly for its timeless message: Language, while often misused, is also employed skillfully by those promoting a targeted narrative.

Such is the case now with “social-emotional learning” (SEL). The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

Sounds like an earnest, positive initiative – because it is. But that doesn’t stop political operatives from labeling SEL as the latest public-school program to “indoctrinate kids” with “progressive ideology,” especially as it pertains to sexual identity.

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