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Reclaim Social-Emotional Learning:
Centering Organizing Praxis for Holistically Safe Schools
Cover Design for CJSF by Naima Whitted.j

Artist: Naima Whitted - 9th Grade

On October 23, 2020, the Communities for Just Schools Fund (CJSF) will release our latest radical report ("radport"), "Reclaim Social-Emotional Learning: Organizing Praxis for Holistically Safe Schools." 


In a moment when there is a national spotlight on what safe and supportive schools look and feel like, Communities for Just Schools Fund (CJSF) convened our national network of partners (youth, parent, and teacher-led organizing groups) to press back on harmful narratives about safety -- and to instead place conversations about safety into the more holistic, appropriate container of culturally-affirming social-emotional learning (SEL). Through the year-long Community of Practice, we collected survey data from our partners about their work related to safety and SEL; conducted site visits to places like Long Beach, California, and Juneau, Alaska; hosted in-person and virtual learning exchanges, facilitated a Twitter chat, and held an #SELWebinarSeries. These gatherings centered the critical perspectives of organizers and gleaned important insights about what truly makes schools safe and ensures students feel a sense of belonging. The findings from this year-long exploration of culturally-affirming SEL are detailed in this radport.   

Across the country, school districts, researchers, and policymakers are adopting social-emotional learning as a framework to define and measure the set of skills students need to be successful in school and life. However, these SEL conversations, practices, and curricula are too often based on white, heteropatriarchal, and ableist norms and values, which further enacts emotional and psychological violence onto Black, Brown,  and LGBTQ+ youth of color, in particular. The current narrative around SEL is that young people must manage themselves and their emotions, conform and constrict their identities, and not express their fullest, most authentic selves. 

Culturally-affirming SEL asks critical questions of all of us: How do people relate to themselves? How do people relate to land? How do people relate to the community? Culturally-affirming SEL is about reclaiming -- reclaiming our relationships with ourselves and our emotions, our ancestors, our spirituality, our creativity, our land, and our relationships with others. It’s about resisting colonialism and capitalism by knowing ourselves and honoring the unique cultures, languages, and legacies that we come from, so that we can celebrate the humanity in others to fight for a world rooted in equity and justice, together. What does it mean to radically reimagine what schooling can be? It means following the organizers who have been fighting for policies and practices to make this a reality for decades. 


This radport highlights examples of SEL from organizing praxis, problematizes current SEL frameworks (especially when SEL is used as another form of policing), and illuminates the connections between holistic safety and SEL.

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