Mike Lanza: Emotional Intelligence is Better Learned Outdoors Than in Classrooms

Mike Lanza writes the Playborhood blog. Having followed our thread on the shoddy science for teaching Emotional Intelligence in classrooms, Lanza had an interesting take: if kids today are lacking in "emotional intelligence," it's not because schools have failed to teach kids to get along. Rather, he writes, it's because "Children in 21st Century America don't play outside on their own any more. Thus, they have far fewer opportunities to develop social skills, leadership skills, sense of mastery, and creativity."

Lanza's point is that when kids went outside to play in their neighborhood, they learned tremendously from the experience of having to self-organize:

"Remember pickup games? Every time we did it decades ago, we were deciding what to play, who would play, where we would play, and what the rules would be. We adjudicated disputes and interpreted rules. We made exceptions to the rules for kids who were less fortunate than us – special needs kids, little kids, or just less skilled kids – because we needed their numbers to make a real game.

"Most kids today have few, if any, opportunities to self organize and self govern the way we did in those pickup games. They're also a lot less happy – youth depression is growing rapidly in America. To me, the fundamental problem of childhood in America that underlies the psychological problems mentioned above is that adults are exerting far too much control over kids' lives.

Now, to be clear, we don't really know if kids today are lacking in "emotional intelligence." It hasn't been measured longitudinally. We asked Daniel Goleman for his impression of any trends, because he's been covering this beat for over 15 years. But he didn't answer that question. Nevertheless, it's fair to speculate that teachers and parents are at least perceiving something's different about kids today.

Lanza's point is that trying to compensate for this deficit by teaching these skills in the classroom is the exact opposite way to go. We need to kick kids outdoors.

"Schools see these psychological problems as an opportunity to increase the scope of what they teach children. For example, now they want to teach children "Emotional Intelligence" on top of all the extra time they're spending to teach reading, writing, and 'rithmetic.

"This would be comical if it weren't so sad. Many (most?) educators think the answer to every problem of childhood is more schooling.

"Kids don't eat right? Teach them nutrition!

"Kids have unwanted pregnancies? Teach them sex education!

"Kids don't appreciate the outdoors? Teach them environmental education!

"Kids can't make friends? Lead a group? Think independently? Be happy? Teach them Emotional Intelligence!

"Of course, all this educational content demands more time, so even President Obama has recently suggested that school days and school years be lengthened. Schools are already cutting down drastically on recess time at school.

"They're also assigning more and more homework. Children who eat family dinners are less likely to drink, smoke, take drugs, and fight, and they do better in school, but hours of homework every evening have made family dinners nearly impossible for many busy families.

"Soon, perhaps we'll be able to say goodbye to summer vacation.

"Good grief. These educators need to be stopped before they totally destroy children's lives and their lives with their families."

Thanks for your take, Mike.