Selling Social-Emotional Learning

Close Up of Money
Photo: Matthew Henry/Burst

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) has been called many things: a Trojan Horse, an evil monstrosity, a dumbing-down vehicle, even praxis for critical theory.  But has SEL ever been called a moneymaker? 

Education articles like this conveniently avoid any historical connection between the “multiple intelligences” theory popularized in 1983 and the “emotional intelligence” theory popularized more than a decade later.  Why not connect the two?  It’s not like there was a big sales agenda or anything.

“Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences,” written in 1983 by developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, is considered a seminal work in the field of education.  Nearly four decades later, Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences continues to inspire psychologists, educators, and curriculum writers. And notably also publishing giants (and also tarot card practitioners, but that’s another story).

Gardner’s theory proposes that there are eight different types of intelligence, two of which are interpersonal intelligence and intrapersonal intelligence, the building blocks of social-emotional learning.

In 1995, Daniel Goleman wrote “Emotional Intelligence, Why It Can Matter More than IQ,” which contained innumerable references to Gardner’s theory. More than five million copies were sold. In 2019, Howard Gardner confessed, “I need to add that my work on multiple intelligences received a huge boost in 1995 when Daniel Goleman published his book on emotional intelligence. I am often confused with Dan..”  

Well, there’s certainly no confusion now as to how those two longtime friends “boost” each other’s bank accounts with continued sales of their leadership training videos from Key Step Media, Goleman’s family-owned business.  But enough about old friends.

Consider also Linda Darling-Hammond, who once a potential candidate for U.S. Secretary of Education, had endorsed Gardner’s theory. The curriculum powerhouse known as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)—a membership-based non-profit organization with more than 125,000 members from more than 128 countries, including superintendents, principals, teachers, professors of education, and other educators — also promoted the theory and materials related to it.  Although the  ASCD became totally independent of the National Education Association (NEA) in 1972, it continues to promote NEA initiatives.

It is interesting to note that only one year before Goleman’s book, another huge moneymaker was born.  In 1994, ASCD published “Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom” by Thomas Armstrong.  Book sales went through the roof and it is now in its fourth edition.  According to ASCD, “no author besides Gardner has done more to popularize MI theory than Thomas Armstrong, whose best seller Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom has become a bona fide education classic in its own right.”

Educator and consultant Thomas Hoerr has led the ASCD Professional Interest Community’s Multiple Intelligences Network for twenty years.  His published newsletters can be found here along with numerous SEL resources.  The theory of multiple intelligences has such broad appeal that it is now routinely incorporated into SEL lesson plans available for purchase from Scholastic, a publicly-traded, global, education company.

The roots of SEL can be traced back to 1983 in Howard Gardner’s work on human intelligence, upon which was built an entire cottage industry of curricula, lesson plans, books, and other instructional materials for sale. It’s not some occult or nefarious plot. It’s just another way to make money.

Retired homeschool mom. Lady detective.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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