The Corner


On The Coddling of the American Mind

The notable thing about today’s cohort of college students is that so many of them behave in such ridiculous ways. They enroll in institutions of higher education (at least, purportedly so), but then act as if they already know everything and must be protected against ideas they find uncomfortable. They even say that they feel “unsafe” when someone on campus disagrees with their beliefs. And they are eager to use power to punish those who are less than perfectly “progressive.”

How we got here is the subject of a book just released, The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff (president of FIRE) and Jonathan Haidt (a professor at NYU and the founder of Heterodox Academy). In today’s Martin Center article, I discuss the book.

The big argument the authors make is that today’s young Americans are being taught Three Great Untruths: first, that people are very fragile and must be protected against any and all possible harm (including ideas), second, that they should reason with their emotions, and third, that the world is divided into warring tribes of people who are either good or bad.

Cook those ideas — which usually begins long before kids get to college — in a broth of media culture, and the result is a disturbingly large number of students who believe outlandish things.

Instead of helping them grow up, the college environment does the opposite — it reinforces the great untruths. That begins with orientation, which often focuses on the obsessions of campus leftists with race, class, gender and so on. Lukianoff and Haidt write:

Imagine an entire entering class of college freshmen whose orientation program includes training in intersectional thinking, along with training in spotting microaggressions. By the end of their first week on campus, students have learned to score their own and others’ levels of privilege, identify more distinct identity groups, and see more differences between people. They have learned to interpret more words and actions as acts of aggression. They have learned to associate aggression, domination, and oppression with privileged groups. And they learned to focus only on perceived impact and to ignore intent.

The book offers a lot of sound advice for dialing down the perversity of our campuses, such as for officials to stop using the word “safe” when students wail that someone has dared to disagree with them. Coddling of the American Mind deserves to be widely read and discussed.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.