It's not all about me

24th August 2007 at 01:00
Instead of focusing on emotions and self-esteem, schools should encourage pupils to build up their thinking and problem-solving skills

THE CHAMPION of the drive to make Scots more confident will next week launch a fierce broadside against the emotional intelligence "industry".

In a new book, Carol Craig, chief executive of the Glasgow-based Centre for Confidence and Well-being, fears that attempts to make emotional literacy a key plank of pupils' education could backfire, and "unwittingly undermine young people's well-being and confidence in the longer term".

Dr Craig, author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, will set out her arguments on Monday at the Edin-burgh Book Festival to mark the publication of her latest work, Creating Confidence, which is aimed at professionals working with young people. She urges caution in developing "emotional literacy" in pupils to make them confi- dent individuals, one of the four capacities in A Curriculum for Excellence.

She echoes the concerns of Kathryn Ecclestone, a professor of education at Oxford Brookes University, who argues that "a vocabulary of emotional vulnerability is likely to encourage the very feelings of depression and hopelessness it is supposed to deal with".

Dr Craig is particularly exercised by a new initiative in England, which she fears could spread to Scotland. Guidance entitled The Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning recommends that schools should take a whole-school, taught approach to social and emotional skills for all pupils from the age of three to 18. It contains checklists of competences against which pupils should be evaluated 42 skills for pre-school and primary and 50 for secondary.

Dr Craig comments: "Nothing like this has ever been carried out by an education system, so this prescription takes emotional literacy into the realm of large-scale psychological experimentation."

She believes schools should encourage pupils' confidence by concentrating on building up their thinking and problem-solving skills, rather than dwelling on their emotions and self-esteem. The latter approach, she argues, can easily lead to self-obsession and over-reliance on professionals to sort out people's emotions what she calls the "all about me" agenda.

Dr Craig goes so far as to suggest that focusing on feelings and emotions "is likely to fuel mental health problems for many young people, rather than contain them". She also believes most teachers will never be trained well enough to deal with the subtleties.

In an article in today's TESS, Dr Craig says there are many ways schools can build pupils' confidence, citing the Determined to Succeed and Assessment is for Learning programmes as two of the vehicles, alongside outdoor education, sport and the arts.

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