The Atlantic just released a much needed and very important long think-piece titled “The Coddling Of The American Mind”. Just at the time I have been considering withdrawing from the academic game due to the issues raised in the article, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt sound the warning that by stifling all speech – beyond political correctness – to protecting people from getting their feelings hurt, we are not educating our young.
Lukianoff and Haidt chronicle what many have passed off as one-off examples but now must be viewed as the absolute norm in education while in parallel discussing the psychology of how this trend is harming our students mentally. They cite the actual rise in anxiety and other psychological issues in universities and colleges across the country and link the trend directly to the attempt to protect students from anything speech, ideas, or corrections to their work can cause them to feel bad.
The disturbing trend of students dictating what faculty can teach and the more disturbing trend of administration not supporting their faculty turns the tables on how the world works. When parents support student demands that they not be graded objectively, or that their kids not have to read books that contain difficult subjects, they are materially harming their own kids in the name of not hurting their feelings.
Feelings do not put humans on the moon. Feelings don’t determine whether or not a business will succeed. Perhaps one of the greatest reasons we have a generational cohort with college degrees, a pile of debt and no job is that those diplomas don’t mean anything in a world that cares less about feelings and more about results.
But beyond not educating our young, we are not preparing them for the world that they are entering upon graduation. Apart from those students with STEM degrees where mastering and applying objective truths will either make or break you in your jobs, our colleges and universities and parents are failing to instruct students that they have to accept the world as it is, not as they want it to be. Giving in to demands that students not be corrected for misspellings or grammar mistakes leaves them woefully unprepared for the day their boss explains that not being able to write in proper English makes the company look bad with clients.
I’ve long said that doers need to think more. We need more intellectualism in business and industry and in government. But likewise we need more practical knowledge and doing in the halls and suites of academia. When someone calls a guest speakers comments “paternalistic bull!^#*” at a university presentation, you have to wonder how critically this person is teaching students. When you constantly decry aggressive words or microaggressions, it is impossible to escape the logic that your calling someone out for “paternalistic BS” is itself a microaggression that could be reported against the professor to the university leadership.
I am very confident that this article will be widely read in academia and will be very positively discussed and upheld by professors who will remain too scared of losing their jobs to do anything than play along and lament the future of our country. Hopefully the courts will, as the authors predict, make incremental steps to walk back these unhelpful speech codes.
Stand firm. Prepare your people for the world they’re in and about to enter. Keep thinking and keep teaching your people to think.