From the Desk of Dr. PAX

Why Does PAX Have Students Predict What They Ought to See, Hear, Do, and Feel MORE of and LESS of During Daily Activities? And Why Posted School Rules Aren’t Enough.

By Dennis D. Embry, Ph.D. (aka, Dr. PAX)

For the same reason that you want your child to take Driver’s Ed before they get their license. We want to ensure our children have all the practical training and supports necessary to succeed. Driving and navigating a car in traffic and new situations is complex – even with Driver’s Ed. The day after I got my driver’s license at age 16, I made too wide of a left turn—driving my dad’s Oldsmobile 88. I hit a parked car, damaging the Olds. Fortunately, my father was graceful. Knowing the traffic rules and driving safely are two different skills.

Navigating people, tasks, and expectations at school or on the job can be complex. My first full-time job at age 17 was as a U.S. Capitol Page in the House of Representatives for the House Minority Leader, Gerald Ford and House Minority Whip, Robert Dole. It was very complicated. I had to know every member of the House of Representatives by name, because I worked directly on the floor of the House and answered the phones in the Republican Cloakroom. This required flexibility and attention to detail. You never knew what might happen – including the day I answered the phone, and it was the President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson who urgently needed to speak to Mr. Ford. Fortunately, I knew precisely what to do.

As a Capitol Page, I had to become immensely fluent in reading people and being aware of their needs, as well as my own, and making good decisions – which we now call social-emotional learning. That is not a set of rules like an etiquette book, though we certainly used good manners with the members of Congress, staff, and visitors. But situations can vary, and rigid rules of behavior rarely stand the test of every circumstance. We must learn complex and situational social-emotional skills to do well in life. The most complex, human social-emotional skills can be summed up as, “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you”. These SEL skills are present in every existing Indigenous culture and even appear in some of the oldest known writings such as those found in ancient Egypt (c. 2040–1650 BCE). Humans are among the species that can and will collaborate with others of their kind to work together for common benefits.

Why do humans do this? And why would we, as parents or educators, encourage our children to learn to work together for a common good?  The reason is simple. All humans require other humans to survive, let alone thrive. Effective cooperation and collaboration with other humans requires that we understand and empathize with what other humans are seeing, hearing, doing, and feeling in each moment.

Developmentally, children cannot pick up on these skills on their own. They require real social and situational practice. SEL skills have to be practiced and applied every day, and those skills can vary greatly by context. Predicting, monitoring, and reflecting in order to implement social, emotional, and behavioral skills is required to master those skills. Thus, each classroom or setting needs to empower children to use their full sensory and behavioral modalities to predict, monitor, and reflect throughout the school day. This is one of the reasons that students in PAX Classrooms are more likely to graduate from high school and college, avoid criminal problems, get better employment, and live better lives. PAX teaches dynamic social-emotional competencies.

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