The Corbyn campaign has certainly produced a lot of policy statements. Last week one appeared on mental health. It included a new proposal: to introduce into the school curriculum a course on life skills, emotional intelligence and parenting to better equip our children and young people to the challenges of modern living.
Now anything that raises metal health as an issue is welcome – for this Jeremy Corbyn should be congratulated. However how and why has the phrase ‘emotional intelligence’ emerged in this context? Who suggested its introduction here? Whatever his strengths, Jeremy is not a policy man: in thirty years in Parliament Jeremy has written nothing worth reading (nor indeed said much worth remembering)
My eye was drawn to the phrase emotional intelligence (or EI) because I spent over two decades in management education and training in corporate organisations. We were always looking at new approaches to develop the soft skills – influencing, communication, assertiveness – that are all underpinned by personal empathy. In 1995 the US Psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote a book Emotional Intelligence that became a best seller catching the mood of the time. Advocates argued he offered a new approach; critics that he was merely repackaging existing ideas.
What is curious is how emotional intelligence in schools suddenly found its way into Jeremy’s policy statement. I think that one of two things could have happened. The first is that someone close to him, looking for copy that would sound good, picked up the term from a Google search. The second is more likely. Jeremy is now being courted by a gaggle of aspirational academics who see a new chance for their pet idea to be taken seriously (and naively believe that in due course this will secure them recognition and funding).
Now I’m not saying that this is no case for significant changes in the personal and social education programmes delivered in schools. I don’t know enough about it and neither, I am certain, does Jeremy. However there are major issues to be considered: what should be taught? are schools the best places to teach this topic and schoolteachers best equipped to do it? should any curriculum be tightly specified?
Politics needs to about far more than sound bites if change is to be achieved: implication and application must be thought through. This is not an activity where Jeremy is comfortable. If he wins I suspect EI in schools will quickly be forgotten.