After sitting down and writing my previous blog post on Emotional Intelligence, Schools and Politics, I decided to contact my local conservative MP on the matter. As I mentioned, the particular mainstream party my MP represents had rebuffed teaching ‘emotional intelligence in schools as ‘ghastly’. I wanted clarification on exactly where they stand on the matter. So yesterday evening as I got back home a little blurry eyed from a week away at work, I was pleased to find that a letter had arrived from the house of commons, signed by my local MP. Here are its contents:
“Dear Mr Pither
Thankyou for your recent correspondance about emotional intelligence in schools.
Whilst we recognise that schools must ultimately make up their own mind on this issue, the Conservative Party does not endorse the teaching of ‘emotional intelligence’. However, we do recognise that children should learn how to behave properly, respecting others and controlling their emotions, and schools should certainly have a part to play this process.
Conservatives believe schools tend to be most effective in developing their pupils’ character when these considerations are built into the school’s ethos, permeating everything that the schools and its students do. High standards of behaviour should be expected at all times; children should be polite and courteous whether in or out of the classroom. In this way, good behaviour becomes the expected norm, promoted and enfored everyday. This comprehensive approach is likely to be far more effective than isolated lessons on ‘emotional intelligence’, the usefulness of which is questionable.
Our focus will be on ensuring that every child leaves primary school as a fluent reader. Too many children will struggle with reading when they start secondary school. There is enormous evidence that this has a very damaging effect on self-esteem and confidence.”
Here is my reply:
“Dear David Gauke MP
Thank you for replying to my letter on teaching emotional intelligence in schools. In reading your reply, I recognise that you took the time to read and understand my point of view for which I’m grateful. I would like to offer a short response to your clarification of where the conservatives stand on this matter.
As a software consultant, I often get told of where a client wants to be in five or so years from now. There’s usually an admirable vision such as ‘we want a flexible system that can be easily adapted, so that we can more quickly deliver software requirements to the business’. The thought process I try to encourage the client to go through is ‘given these are your wants, what’s currently holding you back right now from achieving these? And what ‘Hows’ have you identified already that will help lift these constraints in order to get you there’.
Given the Conservatives’ wants of ‘children should learn how to behave properly, respecting others and controlling their emotions’, I would want to ask the question of what’s currently stopping schools from doing this? And what ‘hows’ are there that can help achieve this? The Conservatives’s policy of concentrating efforts to ensure that when kids leave school they can read and write, and of making good behaviour an explicit part of a school’s mission statement certainly sounds like an admirable agenda.
But I do not think you can simply ask or use disciplinary measures to get kids to control their emotions. I think what stops them is that they aren’t aware enough of their own emotions in the first place. You cannot control what you do not understand.
‘Emotional intelligence’ is a measure of a person’s awareness of their emotions. This is crucial as awareness is a prerequisite for governance. As studies have shown, a person’s EQ has a greater impact on that person’s ability to succeed in life than their respective IQ. Unlike IQ, EQ can be improved through teaching emotional awareness. Why don’t kids leave school being able to read and write? Is it that teachers or the curriculum isn’t up to scratch? Or is it that we’re not spending enough time working with the kids to develop their emotional wellbeing?
I think the latter. I think the Conservatives are missing a vital trick with regards to how you actually want to achieve your aims.”