Thursday, May 24, 2007

Education and Emotional Intelligence

How can we expect our youth to be good leaders if many of our educators and parents are not? Emotional intelligence helps us to form a strong foundation for making good life decisions. Studies show that at best, IQ only contributes about 20 percent to the factors that determine life success, leaving 80 percent to other forces.

We expect our youth to graduate from school with the tools necessary to be successful throughout life. Most of us can agree that these expectations are not being met. For example, South Carolina has a dropout rate somewhere between 35 % and 55 %. At a 50% dropout rate, the South Carolina economy is losing $273 million per year in revenue from lost wages, taxes and productivity for only one year of South Carolina high school dropouts. Multiply that by a 30-year lifetime and the costs to the South Carolina economy is $8.19 Billion for one lost class. We can multiply that cost by years of dropouts and then multiply it across the country.

Statistics also show that high school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely than high school graduates to be arrested and 8 times as likely to be in jail or prison. So when we add in the cost of jails, prisons, alcohol and drug abuse centers and mental institutions, we begin to get an understanding of the cost to society of this lost potential.

What is happening with our challenged youth? They feel they are not being heard and accepted. They are voting with their feet by not completing their education. We have been attempting to fit them into a small box of possibilities while they want to expand into the vastness of their potentiality. Instead of hearing the dreams and desires of these challenged yet talented kids, we have been telling them what they are to become. Many youth leave high school and college not knowing what they want. They may be discouraged from pursuing their dreams by those who have no dreams. They do not get engaged. They do not understand how the work they are doing in school applies to their lives.

In order to capture the passion of others, we must build emotional bonds. Brain research shows that all our decisions are made by routing sensory signals through the emotional part of the brain. If there is a compelling event, the brain can literally be hijacked by this most ancient part of our brain before the thinking brain has a chance to engage.

Almost 2/3 of our values and beliefs are formed before the age of five. Our emotional impressions and memories are based on emotions from our past. They create feelings and feelings create our thoughts. Research has shown that we are over 80% unconscious everyday. In most cases we do not realize that we are making decisions based on beliefs from the past that may or may not apply to the current situation. The way we think causes our behavior. Our behavior causes responses or reactions from others that either build up or tear down relationships. We then build successful or unsuccessful outcomes. The resulting cycle is the way we think becomes our habits of thought and these habits of thought become our attitudes.
Attitudes are a key component of emotional intelligence and play a major role in success. We can learn to be mindful and responsible for what we are thinking while making a choice for success thoughts. When we have negative thoughts that move us away from our goals, we can recognize them and choose differently. Developing a successful attitude becomes the preferred choice when we determine that we are responsible for choosing positive thoughts that move us closer to our goals.

Another key component of emotional intelligence is building relationships through compassion. We are not islands and we cannot reach our goals alone. For those children who are not taught how to build relationships, they may be ostracized from groups. Many are not taught to be compassionate and do not understand and value each other's differences. Children are taught to be competitive and may undermine each other as a matter of habit. All of this carries over into our adult life unless we learn how to overcome our relationship obstacles. However, when we are taught how to build relationships, we learn to recognize the value of each person. Even relationship-challenged youth can learn to engage with others to assist them to achieve their goals. It is a win – win for everyone involved.

A third key component is to build hope in us and in others by establishing goals. We want and need to have a vision and a purpose in our life. We want to understand what is important to us in the social, mental, physical, ethical, family and career areas of our life. These are the things that get us out of bed in the morning and that give us passion. These things will clarify for us what our values are. We can then establish what is important. By setting goals and moving toward them, we find hope. When we are hopeful, we find our joy. We can then play a part in helping others to be hopeful and to achieve their aspirations.

These concepts help to build strong leaders. There is a great need to educate our students about what it takes to make good life decisions. This can only be carried out by educators and parents who understand it themselves. So I repeat the question … can we really expect our children to be good leaders if our educators and parents are not? When we do not understand the underlying basis for deciding what is a good choice and what is a bad choice, we have no method in place to help ourselves and others to recognize what is moving ourselves and others closer to the kind of life we want and what is moving us further away from it.

The Education and Economic Development Act is a South Carolina law that has a great deal of insight. It requires, in addition to several other significant provisions that character education be taught. When we build our educators into emotionally intelligent leaders with an emphasis on attitude, interpersonal skills and goal achievement, they will engage with students in their dreams and educate them in leadership skills. Then, we will truly have a totally engaged student population who are mindful of their attitudes, compassionate for others and have hope for their future.

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