To the Editor:
Educators receive more helpful advice and information than ever (“Guidance Given on Young and Disruptive,” Jan. 16, 2008). We know how to teach students effectively, and accommodate those who need it. But we still have too many students behaving in unhealthy, self-defeating ways that negatively impact their education.
Behavior of any kind starts and continues because it serves a purpose. It’s always goal-orientated. Students often have “mistaken” goals, however. Generating a dysfunctional amount of emotion in the form of anger, anxiety, depression, shame, guilt, loneliness, and even boredom gives purpose to unhealthy, self-defeating behavior, and also gives rise to these mistaken goals.
We do little if anything in public education to really teach emotional management. Rules and consequences don’t do it.
The most important step in improving emotional management is developing an internal locus of control. Most people, including teachers and parents, have an external locus. They believe that what others say and do, and what happens, determines how they feel. That causes them to generate more emotion than necessary or helpful, to miss opportunities to feel better, and to behave in self-defeating ways.
It is our thoughts about what happens that cause how we feel, however, not the events of our lives. We do little to teach or encourage students to have an internal locus of control. We actually do quite the opposite.
We also do little to teach them to recognize and correct the irrational thinking that gives rise to a dysfunctional amount of emotion and unhealthy, self-defeating behavior. We teach the scientific method in science classes, but do little to teach or encourage students to apply it to their everyday lives.
Teaching students to have better emotional management would be the cheapest, quickest, and most effective way to address all the various problems individuals, schools, and society face.
A version of this article appeared in the January 30, 2008 edition of Education Week as We Do Little to Teach Emotional Management