A number of years ago, I read Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, in which he explains Emotional Intelligence (EQ)—the ability to recognize one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior—and why EQ matters. Reading this book led me to read more on EQ and how working on one’s own EQ, as well as turning others on to the concept, could open up a whole new way of positively navigating the complex world of interpersonal relationships, especially when dealing with conflicts at home, in the workplace and community.

Thankfully, a growing number of educators are seeing the importance of nurturing EQ in school environments, from pre-school on, building on EQ concepts through Social and Emotional Learning.

How Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is connected with the UDHR and Human Rights Education: As we outline on pages 14-15 in our Curriculum and Resource Guide, here are primary aspects of how SEL connects with our work:

  • The Curriculum lesson plans involve students and their teachers engaging in exercises and discussions that can stir up emotional reactions. For example, in Lesson Plan 3, students are asked to write, relate, and then discuss stories involving their experiences with human rights being respected and disrespected. One student’s story may cause other students to feel uncomfortable, sad, or angry. It is vital to create a safe environment for students, as well as teachers, to exchange their opinions and feelings so that empathy and learning can result from the exchanges. Awareness and nurturing of SEL competencies will help encourage respectful dialogue, while honoring the emotions likely to manifest.
  • Realizing the rights called for in each UDHR Article is a complex process. After all, one person’s right to free expression may impinge on that same right of another. Developing and nurturing SEL competencies enables youth and adults to appreciate and value different perspectives, and be more open to shifting their own positions so as to foster mutual respect, understanding, and peaceful, constructive problem solving.
  • We have found that learning about the UDHR through the arts has encouraged students to act more respectfully toward others, in part because they are now aware of the internationally agreed-upon framework that defines every person’s human rights in a way that supports their embodiment of the UDHR principles. Being aware of and then integrating the available tools to nurture SEL competencies is likely to enhance the results of learning about the UDHR, while also advancing the overall healthy development of students:
    • The research clearly demonstrates that SEL programming significantly improves children’s academic performance on standardized tests. Moreover, compared to control groups, children who have participated in SEL programs have significantly better school attendance records, less disruptive classroom behavior, like school more, and perform better in school. The research also indicates that children who have participated in SEL programs are less likely than children in control groups to be suspended or otherwise disciplined. These outcomes have been achieved through SEL’s impact on important mental health variables that improve children’s social relationships, increase their attachment to school and motivation to learn, and reduce anti-social, violent, and drug-using behaviors. The research also indicates that SEL programs with the best outcomes are multi-year in duration, use interactive rather than purely knowledge-based instructional methods, and are integrated into the life of the school rather than being implemented as marginal add-ons. (CASEL, Safe and Sound, 2005)

I am continually inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt’s message, delivered as part of her 1958 speech on the tenth anniversary of the UDHR:

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”


I believe that furthering awareness about the importance of Social Emotional Learning makes it more likely that we will more deeply embody UDHR concepts, as Eleanor Roosevelt so eloquently describes.