the many “limits” of soft skills

Despite the apparent linearity of soft values and the relative ease of understanding its significance in human development in continuity with the attention that pedagogy has always reserved for the relationship between learning and the conditions for making it optimal, also playing on the affective-emotional level (from Pestalozzi to the psycho ). twentieth-century analytical proposals), the deepening of the debate on the subject, which has developed over the last two to three decades, allows us to identify three main approaches which, although united by common intentions, are characterized by the reasons that support them.

The first is the one originating in the world of work. As you know, research on soft values they started in the field of social psychology applied in the labor market. This original and specific area of ​​interest expanded rapidly in other directions, especially after studies by James J. Heckman (born in 1944, Nobel Prize in Economics in 2000, professor at the University of Chicago) and his lockout critique of the test system to verify students’ knowledge , a practice that is widespread in the United States.

Through the careful comparison of the scholastic results obtained by the students and those discovered in the tests, the American scholar came to the conclusion that with the same results, those who had good qualities were not only cognitive (i.e. Big Five) was destined for a brighter career and full of greater satisfaction. Heckman’s research went on to show that fundamental aspects that characterize the career path and life as a whole – such as deviant eating behavior, substance abuse, violent tendencies, tendency to depression and dissatisfaction, likelihood of being involved in illegal activities, lower life expectancy – were inversely related with possession of non-cognitive skills.

Further research brought Heckman on educational grounds in many ways and appreciated the modifiability of personality traits. In fact, they are malleable, take shape from the first years of life and depend on the family lifestyle and the importance they attach to the school years. The latest results of Heckman’s research are oriented towards reading soft values in the sense character skills that is, as constitutive of the human personality: although knowledge and mastery of cognitive skills are an important basis, the development of people and their destiny also in adulthood also – and much – depends on the permanent mobilization of deep and often less obvious and left latent. In this regard, Giorgio Vittadini, an economist responsible for several interventions in support of Heckman’s dissertations, made significant contributions (cf. JJ Heckman, T. Kautz, Education and evaluation of human capital. The importance of “character skills” in school learningintroduction by G. Vittadini, Il Mulino 2016).

Other researchers have instead focused their attention on learning from soft valueslooks above all at the processes of socialization and the relationship between these and the socio-emotional sphere (hence the use of the term social emotional skills, a formula preferred by OECD experts). Whose soft values and character skills they are upbringing, how can one act so that social and emotional skills are valued, become part of family and school life? This is not an unknown question, because in all schools in the world, the socio-emotional development of children and young people in a more or less effective way is a permanent constant, because it is consciously or implicitly impossible for young people and adults to spend a long period of coexistence. without this affecting their socio-emotional dimension.

This seemingly banal experience has attracted the attention of especially educational psychologists and sociologists (among OECD researchers we should mention the works of Oliver P. Johns and Filip De Fruyt, in Italy works and studies by Andrea Maccarini and the Trentino Research Group led by Francesco Pisanu and Franco Fraccaroli), developed through research that has explored the facilitators and those that can slow down the development of social emotional skills. It turned out that making them explicit during school life is likely to develop faster and be more lasting, and that it is therefore appropriate to build curricula that strengthen the socio-emotional dimension.

But many accidents are also other positive and adjuvant factors such as the clarity of the school’s pedagogical goals, the context in which the educational project is managed, the positive climate shared and connected with the families, attention to students’ needs, ability. to make use of more pedagogical resources and of course, and perhaps most of all, the mature personality of the teachers.

The debate regarding soft values finally, it is articulated in a third direction, and this is closely related to the character’s education. That soft values in themselves they can be considered “neutral” as they are the result of psychological observation that only relates them to their prediction without expressing judgments of any kind. But it is also true that they directly or indirectly cross sensitive topics on topics with a high degree of doubt, such as, for example, the nature of personal identity (extroversion, emotional stability, conscientiousness), of interpersonal and societal relationships (comfort, openness ). -mind).

And it is precisely in this direction that a third interpretation, of an ethical nature, has developed soft values. In this case, they are perceived as preferred ways to access the formation of not only the personality, but to the personal character that is considered to be the basis for the education of an ethical conscience.

Prominent figures in this field are some students of the psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987), such as Thomas Lickona (born 1943), animator along with some of his collaborators (Eric Schaps, 1942-2021, and Catherine Lewis), of one of the major US initiatives in the movement of Grade education and authors of a true manifesto guide to moral education. In this case training of soft values it borders a territory with a strong pedagogical vocation that is intertwined with strong ethical and religious reasons: character education aims to develop virtues “good for the individual and for society”.

It is worth remembering here that the issue of character education in Anglo-Saxon countries in partial counter-trend with the functionalist efficiency that governs local school policies – where we are at most talking about active citizenship – is a primary concern. This is evidenced by the numerous documents that the school authorities make available to schools (easily accessible online), the specific programs developed by groups of schools, initiatives taken by private agencies and finally the activities of specific associations involved in this sector (the more known and important is it The Association for Grade Education based in England).

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