by Marsha Rakestraw

As more schools recognize the importance of helping students master their emotional skills, as well as their academic skills, social emotional learning is becoming a mainstream part of the curriculum. Studies show it can reduce violence and improve academics.

But as this article by Vicki Zakrzewski on Greater Good notes, that’s not enough.

We can still have emotional intelligence and cause great harm.

Along with cultivating our emotional intelligence (EI), we need to cultivate our ethical center. As Zakrzewski says,”

“The challenge is that performance character by itself is not necessarily good or bad. A person can exhibit great perseverance and creativity, but use it towards bad means—take your pick of corporate scandals to see this in action. To blunt ends-justify-means thinking, schools need to balance achievement-oriented performance character with the ethical orientation of moral character, while also teaching emotional skills.

“Case in point: A recent study found that students at a middle school that emphasized moral character demonstrated higher rates of academic integrity than students at two middle schools that taught only performance character. In other words, the students who cultivated their moral backbone were less likely to cheat than the students who developed perseverance.”

Read the complete article.

Humane education embraces both emotional intelligence and moral character as central elements of being a compassionate, conscientious citizen. As Zoe Weil wrote in a blog post for,

“A school full of seemingly respectful children who have little awareness of their complicity in suffering removed from sight, and who have little sense of their responsibility to create and support humane and just systems are not, ultimately, the kind of children we should be raising in today’s world, which calls upon us to bring our good character to a much wider field of engagement.

“We all seem to agree that compassion and kindness, wisdom and integrity, perseverance and courage, honesty and trustworthiness, generosity and helpfulness, responsibility and respect, and critical and creative thinking are among the best qualities of human beings. Now the great task is to put these qualities into practice meaningfully for a healthy future for all people, all species, and the ecosystems upon which we all depend.”

Wherever in our lives issues of emotional intelligence or social emotional learning are raised, it’s important to remind ourselves and others that it matters how we use it.

If we’re persevering, are we doing so in a way that does good, or that causes harm?

If we’re striving to be kind, does our kindness encompass people, animals, and the earth, rather than focusing on a narrow view that excludes others?

Are we living with integrity as well as creativity?

Humane education follows a both/and path, which is part of what makes it so valuable in creating a better world for all.