Is there any value in this emotional stuff?

20th April 2012 at 01:00

It is hard to imagine how you could fake intelligence in an IQ test to get a higher score than you deserve. But if you try out one of the many emotional intelligence tests available, cheating looks easy.

Here's a typical question: "How difficult do you find it to make friends?" If you are aiming for a high emotional quotient, you are unlikely to tick the "I cannot make friends" box (even if you are, in fact, a misanthropic loner grumpily filling in the form in your shack in the woods).

A PhD student at the University of Oslo published a cunning study four years ago that compared how well 111 business leaders performed in an emotional intelligence test to how their employees rated them for their empathy and leadership. No correlation between the two emerged.

Teachers in Britain can be extra cynical when they hear the language around emotional intelligence, as it may remind them of other fads that have slipped out of fashion (such as labelling pupils as visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners) or been exposed as containing pseudoscientific bunkum (Brain Gym).

The drive towards promoting social and emotional aspects of learning, or Seal, also annoyed some teachers when the Labour government started it in 2007 because it seemed another case of schools being landed with a job that should have been done by parents.

Yet let us not throw out all the good work that schools have done in this field. One of the depressing changes to the UK's education system over the past few decades has been the increasing tendency to involve the police in matters that schools would have once resolved themselves, criminalising children for offences instead of punishing them internally. In that context, the rise of restorative justice schemes in schools must be welcomed, and their spread is partly thanks to Seal programmes.

The claims by some emotional intelligence schemes may be overblown. However, it would be even dafter to imagine that your pupils' emotions have no impact on how they learn. The trick, of course, is to find the useful stuff and ignore the rest. Teachers should be trusted to use their intelligence on this, emotional or otherwise.

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro @mrmichaelshaw.

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