Incorporating "soft skills" into the curriculum

"‘To the extent we can improve those skills, we can improve outcomes in delinquency and juvenile crime…’"

Teaching elementary-age students physics and literature is not likely to curb their likelihood to fall into aggressive behavior, but something about the classroom environment is leading students away from delinquency.

Examination of a study by Duke University in which high-behavioral-risk students were followed through their school years in a program called Fast Track led psychology professor Kenneth Dodge to conclude that students who developed “soft skills” in from ages six to 11 were less likely to become a part of the criminal justice system in adulthood. The academic skills they were taught in the Fast Track program had little impact when compared to “soft skills” like “teaching kids to work cooperatively in a group or teaching them how to think about the long-term consequences when they make a decision.”

Psychologist Neil Bernstein agrees that “soft skill” development in childhood education is a crucial part of raising a socially-developed teenager and adult. Bernstein also emphasizes the importance of empathy. “Being in tune with how someone else feels might also make adolescents steer clear of bullying and other ‘behaviors of concern,’” Bernstein says.

Expanding the understanding of success in the classroom to include developing a healthy social compass is perhaps the new goal for teachers of young students. As this study would imply, teaching “soft skills” in childhood might even lead to a world with more empathetic, less violent adults.