Some education experts advocate a return to exclusive teaching of the three R’s (reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic), whereas others advocate teaching so-called “soft” skills summarized as social-emotional learning (SEL). Ken Dodge, the William McDougall Professor of Public Policy, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the Center for Child and Family Policy, will provide a theoretical overview of the skills that are encompassed in SEL and then describe three studies that address this education policy controversy.
First, the Fast Track Longitudinal Study followed 1,199 children from kindergarten through adulthood. We assessed both hard skills (e.g., IQ, grades, test scores) and soft skills (e.g., social competence) in early years and found that hard skills predict high school graduation but not much else, whereas early soft skills predict educational attainment, employment, incarceration, health, and well-being at age 26. Second, the Parenting Across Cultures (PAC) study used assessments of hard and soft skills in 1400 children from 14 cultural groups of children around the globe to find that soft skills better predict later educational success, health, mental health, and well-being than do hard skills. Third, in the Fast Track randomized controlled trial, we found that early learning of soft skills (but not hard skills) mediates impact of intervention on adult outcomes. Dodge will conclude with a discussion about what we should be teaching our children in school.