Podcast Transcript: A Century of SEL (S1E2)

Updated: Feb 4, 2020

Mullen: Welcome to the EXPLORING THE CORE PODCAST, where we delve into the elements that make up our education system and learn more about how that system can improve for the benefit of all students in schools today.

I'm Greg Mullen, and in this episode... I talk about the history behind SEL and its importance in schools today.

I'll also be talking to Clark McKown out of Illinois, a leader in Social and Emotional Learning, about his thoughts on where things are, where we’re headed, and the challenges we face moving forward in the world of SEL assessments in schools.

Thank you for listening, I hope you enjoy the show.


Just what makes social-emotional learning so important in today’s schools - haven’t we always addressed the social and emotional development in students? It’s this kind of question I get from parents and educators more often than I’d like to admit, but the answer is buried in the historical development of cognitive and psychological theories in the last century.

Now people that know me personally - they know that I don’t typically revel in the history of dates and events - it’s hardly a hobby of mine; but I do feel it is critical that I briefly review the history behind this topic of social emotional learning in schools.

What I want to impress upon here, for you the listener, is the idea that social and emotional learning has had such a rapid development in the past century that generations have hardly been able to keep up with so many academic and societal revelations. What I want you to keep in mind as you listen to this episode, as we consider the impact of SEL today, is that communities are implementing the knowledge and theories available to them which may not always include the most recent developmental discoveries.

So let’s begin this historical briefing at the start of the 20th century - the nineteen-oughts.

During this time, the United States had only just been introduced to a number of big ideas - Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud helped lead the field of psychoanalysis, American John Dewey presented his philosophy of education, other schooling philosophies such as Montessori and Waldorf were also just getting started in Germany and Italy. So much change was happening at the time - I mean, the Civil War had ended just a generation prior, with segregation in U.S. schools upheld by a supreme court ruling in 1897. Oh! That was the year the whole Pavlov’s Dog concept of behavioral conditioning would be published for the very first time. Think about that! Not until the 1920s would psychology even begin to explore how humans biologically and psychologically learn in elementar