Groundbreaking Research on Self-Esteem
To promote the development of scenarios like this, Goleman founded the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) with philanthropist Eileen Rockefeller Growald in 1994. Hinsdale's Lions Quest is one of the growing number of CASEL-endorsed programs in schools from the United States to Singapore—and it seems they're working. An analysis of more than 200 SEL programs just being released demonstrates a big payoff in both personal conduct and academic success. "Every measure of positive behavior goes up—liking school, feeling someone in school cares about them," says Goleman. "And all antisocial behaviors go down—violence, substance abuse." The research indicates that an effective SEL program significantly improves test scores, grade point averages, and attendance, while greatly reducing misbehavior and suspension.
In 2004 Illinois became the first state to include social and emotional learning in the standards from preschool through high school. "Any parent who wants SEL can say it's in the policy," says Mary Utne O'Brien, vice president of strategic initiatives for CASEL, which is based at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This is a great opportunity, according to Linda Lantieri, a founding board member of CASEL. "We're talking about a whole new vision in which educating the heart is as important as educating the mind," she says. "We're really not teaching values, we're actually teaching skills, almost like tools in a toolbox."
Lantieri cofounded a program called Resolving Conflict Creatively that is now embedded in the curriculum of P.S. 24 in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sunset Park. It is 800 miles (light-years in some respects) away from Hinsdale, a dual-language facility flanked by auto body shops, where 90 percent of the students are from working-class Latino families, but there's an equal commitment to social and emotional learning. At a regular "lunch club," kids who have been targeted as troublemakers are taught how to be respectful, stop name-calling, and defuse tension. "This is a crowded place," says guidance counselor Gloria Jaramillo. "There are bumps by mistake, spills by mistake. If a child could not immediately assume there's a hostile intent behind the contact, it would eliminate three-quarters of the problems."
Another feature of the program is "peace corners," where the younger students can go to calm down, write out what they're feeling, or talk with a classmate who's been trained as a "peace helper." One day a peace helper named Maria resolved a flare-up that erupted when one girl took another's pocketbook, thinking it was hers. It turned out to be an honest mistake; they had the same purse, but by the time they realized that, tempers had escalated. Maria asked them to describe the problem, got each to paraphrase what the other said, and as they cooled down, the three came up with solutions.
If children clearly benefit from reframing self-esteem, the implications for adults are seismic—especially for anyone who grew up valiantly and futilely trying to inflate her sense of worth with airy affirmations ("Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better!") or wallpapering the mirror with Post-it notes reminding, "I am powerful," "I am beautiful," "I'm okay, you're okay"—only to find the words falling away like used-up stick-em.