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What's the Value of Social-Emotional Learning in Wisconsin Schools?

These days, school is more than just a place of learning.

The classroom has become a “home away from home” for some students, especially those whose lives involve big challenges. And increasingly, school is the place kids seek help with their social-emotional needs.

What are the best ways to do that? How should schools strike a balance between social-emotional and academic learning? And what are educators in the Milwaukee area already doing on this front?

That’s the question in front of a panel, assembling Wednesday at Marquette Law School.

The conference will feature Chester Finn, a long-time, well-known education activist – who is also a distinguished senior fellow and president emeritus at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C.

Finn says he sees the concept of social-emotional learning as just another thing on the long list of responsibilities we've given modern schools. 

"My modest beef with an over-emphasis on social-emotional learning is, we're already not doing a very good job with the three R's -- reading, writing, and arithmetic," he says. "Every time we give [schools] another mandate, we erase time for things schools are uniquely qualified for, which is teaching kids long division and the causes of the Civil War."

Finn says plenty of organizations already exist in society that work on social-emotional learning, directly or indirectly -- including "Sunday school," Little League, and the Girl and Boy Scouts -- making them better suited to teach those concepts.