Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Saturday, July 21, 2012

We Need To Add Social And Emotional Learning To The Curriculum

In an education system that only privileges high test scores and "academic achievement", there were no warning signs that James Holmes needed some kind of help.

Until his test scores went down, of course.

Here is how the Washington Post describes his academic track record:

Before he allegedly walked into the Batman movie early Friday in Aurora, Colo., dressed head to foot in black body armor and carrying a handgun, a shotgun and an assault rifle, James Holmes was a graduate student in neuroscience — a PhD candidate who sat in classes with titles such as “Biological Basis of Psychiatric and Neurological Disorders.”

He was known as a very quiet young man, introverted but pleasant. Holmes, 24, had shown scholarly promise in the recent past. He’d earned a merit scholarship out of high school in a sunny San Diego suburb. He had graduated from college with honors. From there, he’d gone to graduate school at the University of Colorado at Denver.

And then something changed. By this spring, Holmes had begun to struggle with poor test scores. He eventually decided to quit school.

The next step, the alleged descent into horrific violence, remains mysterious.


Holmes went to Westview High School in the upscale San Diego neighborhood of Torrey Highlands, where his parents, Robert and Arlene Holmes, moved in 2005. Westview classmate Breanna Hath, who now works as a nurse, said she remembers Holmes as extremely quiet and “really sweet, shy. He didn’t have any creepy vibe about him at all.”

Hath said Holmes lacked self-confidence.

“There were no real girls he was involved with. . . . It seemed he was really into a video game group that hung out together.”

Another classmate, John Kabaci, said, “There was nothing negative or weird about him — he just stuck to himself.”

The theme was repeated by Darryl Guiang, another high school classmate: “He seemed like a really shy kid.”

Holmes earned his undergraduate degree in neuroscience at the University of California at Riverside, graduating with honors in 2010. “He had the capability to do anything he wanted academically,” Timothy White, chancellor of UC-Riverside, said at a news conference Friday.

Holmes appears to have never had a scrape with the law, other than a speeding ticket last year. UC-Riverside said he never got into trouble as an undergraduate.

The photograph of Holmes released by the graduate program in Colorado shows a clean-shaven, boyish young man with a cheerful expression on his face.

A spokeswoman for the San Diego Police Department handed out a statement on behalf of the Holmes family and asked the media to respect its privacy, along with that of neighbors.

“The Holmes family is very upset about all of this. It is a tragic event, and it has taken everyone by surprise,” the police spokeswoman said, adding that the family is “fully cooperating” with investigators. “As you can see from their statement, their hearts go out to the friends and family of those that were involved.”

Holmes kept a low profile while living in an apartment building near the medical campus. Neighbors said they didn’t know him.

On the dating site Adult Friend Finder, a post bore a photo of a man with dyed orange hair who appears to be Holmes. The FBI was investigating Friday night but had not confirmed its authenticity. In the post, the man, “classicjimbo,” describes himself as “looking for a fling or casual sex gal. Am a nice guy. Well, as nice enough of a guy who does these sort of shenanigans.” In another part of the page, he asks: “Will you visit me in prison?”

A neuroscience faculty member at the University of Colorado at Denver, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of privacy concerns, described Holmes as “very quiet, strangely quiet in class” and said he seemed “socially off.” Although Holmes got weak scores on the comprehensive exams last semester, the educator said, the school’s staff wasn’t going to toss him out. Instead, they planned to give him remedial instruction and perhaps put him on academic probation.

You never ever hear the USDOE or education reformers talk about social and emotional learning as an important component of K-12 education.

Oh, sure, they'll talk some about bullying and the importance of preventive education around that, but even then, they mostly use that as an excuse to blame teachers for not catching the bullying when it is happening in schools.

But the USDOE and the education reform movement are much too obsessed with testing and test scores to care much about helping students with social and emotional learning.

Here is how Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is defined:

"a process for learning life skills, including how to deal with oneself, others and relationships, and work in an effective manner. In dealing with oneself, SEL helps in recognizing our emotions and learning how to manage those feelings. In dealing with others, SEL helps with developing sympathy and empathy for others, and maintaining positive relationships. SEL also focuses on dealing with a variety of situations in a constructive and ethical manner."

Boy, it sure sounds like that is something that not only James Holmes could have used, but also something everybody in our society could use, from the oligarchs on top like Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg who run roughshod over everybody else because they think they're more important than the rest of humanity to the rest of us in the 99% who are left to fight it out in our competitive, free market-based society that privileges only the survival of the fittest.

I took a week of professional development that focused on Social and Emotional Learning earlier this summer, and I must tell you that I am more than ever convinced that this is the way forward not only for the education system but for the culture as well.

Let's face it, scientific advances and innovations come pretty easy to our society.

Learning how to identify personal feelings and work through them in a safe, constructive manner does not.

Given how much we have poisoned the earth and the atmosphere with our scientific advances and innovations, maybe it is time to move away from a societal emphasis on wealth and material accumulation as a sign of success and more to spiritual, emotional and personal development as a sign of evolution.

In education that means getting away from emphasizing testing and test scores.

Now I know that Bloomberg, Gates, Obama, Bush, Duncan, Spellings, Rhee, Klein, Murdoch, Tisch, King, et al. are not going to allow that in the current environment.

Indeed, we are heading toward all-year testing on the state and local level as the new evaluation systems come on line in New York State.

But make no mistake, continuing to emphasize only "academic learning" in the education system will lead us down the road to many more problems - from the kinds of things happening on Wall Street and in business culture to this horror that happened in Aurora early Friday morning.

We need to educate to the whole person - mind, heart, spirit - not just to the mind.

Because James Holmes was doing fine on his test scores throughout most of his academic life, no one ever said "Hey, he looks like he is having trouble relating to others. And he looks like he is hurting over this. Let's see if we can help him to heal this."

I understand that's hard work to do. It requires education officials and teachers willing to heal their own emotional and psychic pains in order to help heal those of their students.

But I believe that is the kind of education that will make the world a better place.

Clearly what we are doing now isn't working.

Just look from Wall Street to the City of London to Aurora to see the evidence of that.


  1. In Finland, social and emotional learning are the curriculum until children begin serious academic study at age 7. They learned this in part from our child development scholars. We do not implement the results of our own studies.

    As far as someone like Holmes, I don't know if that could be prevented, but access to mental health care is obviously a human right.

    Also, there have been thousands and thousands of studies about the negative effect of violent media, but no one pays any attention to them.

  2. The one fact that I have also noticed in the school system in California - everybody is always being rewarded. Children are not taught to cope with adversities. They are coddled too much.
    Elementary school children, starting in kindergarten get awards for "whatever" the teacher can think of, so everybody gets an award throughout the year. "Best in creative answers", "Best in being sympathetic to classmates????."
    Sports - no difference. Kids get 15" tall trophies - individually - for participation.
    By the time they grow up, children expect to be awarded for just showing up and not performing to standards. They do not know how to cope when they fail in the real world. They withdraw and start to think the whole world is against them.

    Yes, we definitely need to teach our children to toughen up and learn to compete in a constructive way. EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE should be as important as IQ

  3. Also James was such a loner that when he had depressions or diffilculties, he had no friends to buffer the pain. He had to be "his own everything" Oftentimes a loners perception is distorted from being alone all the time. You can tell he tried to do everything right from being on soccer team to volunteering as camp counselor......but at some point he gave up, and became disillusioned with the way his life was going, that then gave way to bitterness, and inner pain, and he then probably began to lose himself or fantasize in somebody not real like the Joker(because real life was not working), he become so absorbed in the Jokers reality, and it turned into his own reality. When you are an extreme loner, you are lonely, and you have fill that void in your life with something. He was already somewhat detached from people, he probably became even more reclusive and more detached........allowing him to shoot people. You cannot be in touch with feelings and normal emotions and shoot people dead, and watch them bleed. You have to be detached and in your own world.

    If someone could have just told him......keep going James, keep getting up in the morning, keep trying, keep trying to get a better job.

    You wont always be 24 and struggling, you wont always have a menial job(McDonalds) take some classes with your extra money, develop yourself socially, you wont always be alone, you are a nice guy, you can get married one day, etc, etc. etc.....apparently he had no one close enough to reassure him, that this painful period would pass, and one day he could look back and chuckle.

  4. interpersonal as well as psychological understanding would be the program till youngsters start significant educational examine at several. They will realized this kind of partly from my youngster improvement students. We don't apply the outcome in our very own scientific studies.In terms of somebody just like Holmes, I'm not sure in the event it might be averted, however usage of psychological healthcare is actually an individual correct.

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