The Coddling of the American Mind

In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health. By Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

Something strange is happening at America’s colleges anduniversities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke. Source: The Atlantic

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

is a 2018 book by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. It is an expansion of a popular essay the two wrote for The Atlantic in 2015. Wikipedia

I was recommended this book by a teacher at my school, and many of the ideas here resonate with me. That said, it is also clear that there are significant differences between Norway and the USA. Especially regarding kids being able to play on their own and American parents fear of children being kidnapped by evil strangers. The topic Safetyism refers to a culture or belief system in which safety has become a sacred value, which means that people are unwilling to make trade-offs demanded by other practical and moral concerns.” It is the idea of safety, including “emotional safety”, being prioritized in a culture organized rooms where only people of the same beliefs and viewpoints are allowed.

Still, here are some points I would like to share from the book that I think might be worth following up on.

Think for Yourself Scholarship!

Submit your essay by April 30th, 2022.
Choose one of these prompts for your 500-word essay:

  1.  Have you ever had an experience that made you wish you didn’t have social media? What did you learn from it? 
  2. Some people say young people should be shielded from controversial books, ideas or speakers. Do you agree? Why or why not? If yes, who would you let decide what you could be exposed to?
  3. Write about a time you and your friend disagreed about something important. What did it take to remain friends?
  4. Write about a time you could have taken offense at something someone said about you or an issue but decided not to.
  5. Write about a time you didn’t speak up — or almost didn’t — for fear your idea might be unpopular. What did you learn from this, and would you do the same thing again?

Read this commencement speech delivered by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts

From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either

Ideas for middle school and high school

  1. Regular brakes from concentrated classroom work
  2. Teach debate and have students argue for positions that oppose their own views
  3. Offer media literacy classes that teach students the difference between evidence and opinion, and how to evaluate the legitimacy of sources.
  4. Place clear limits on devices’ time. Two hours a day.
  5. Protect your child’s sleep
  6. Emphasize the importance of giving people the benefit of the doubt. There are no “Us” or Them”, we are all part of the same human race and when interacting with others we should first seek to understand rather than be understood.

After reading the book I read this review by the Guardian. It is a critical review of the book worth reading

The core irony of The Coddling of the American Mind is that, by opposing identity politics, its authors try to consolidate an identity that does not have to see itself as such. Enjoying the luxury of living free from discrimination and domination, they therefore insist that the crises moving young people to action are all in their heads. Imagine thinking that racism and sexism were just bad ideas that a good debate could conquer! (As if a person did not need a minimum level of material security to participate in the kind of disinterested debate David Remnick and Steve Bannon might have enjoyed at the New Yorker festival.)

As the right liberals insist that students are suffering from pathological “distortions”, a sense of unreality prevails. In their safe space of TED talks and thinktanks and think pieces, the genteel crusaders against “political correctness” create their own speech codes. As their constituency shrinks, their cant of progress starts to sound hysterical. The minds they coddle just may be their own.

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