Cover image for The coddling of the American mind : how good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure / Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.
Title:
The coddling of the American mind : how good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure / Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.
ISBN:
9780735224896
Publication Information:
New York : Penguin Press, 2018.

©2018
Physical Description:
338 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Contents:
Introduction: The search for wisdom -- Part I. Three bad ideas. The untruth of fragility : what doesn't kill you makes you weaker ; The untruth of emotional reasoning : always trust your feelings ; The untruth of us versus them : life is a battle between good people and evil people -- Part II. Bad ideas in action. Intimidation and violence ; Witch hunts -- Part III. How did we get here?. The polarization cycle ; Anxiety and depression ; Paranoid parenting ; The decline of play ; The bureaucracy of safetyism ; The quest for justice -- Part IV. Wising up. Wiser kids ; Wiser universities ; Wiser societies -- Appendix 1: How to do CBT ; Appendix 2: The Chicago Statement on Principles of Free Expression.
Abstract:
"Something has been going wrong on many college campuses in the last few years. Speakers are shouted down. Students and professors say they are walking on eggshells and are afraid to speak honestly. Rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide are rising--on campus as well as nationally. How did this happen? First Amendment expert Greg Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt show how the new problems on campus have their origins in three terrible ideas that have become increasingly woven into American childhood and education: What doesn't kill you makes you weaker; Always trust your feelings; and Life is a battle between good people and evil people. These three Great Untruths contradict basic psychological principles about well-being and ancient wisdom from many cultures. Embracing these untruths--and the resulting culture of safetyism--interferes with young people's social, emotional, and intellectual development. It makes it harder for them to become autonomous adults who are able to navigate the bumpy road of life. Lukianoff and Haidt investigate the many social trends that have intersected to promote the spread of these untruths. They explore changes in childhood such as the rise of fearful parenting, the decline of unsupervised, child-directed play, and the new world of social media that has engulfed teenagers in the last decade. They examine changes on campus, including the corporatization of universities and the emergence of new ideas about identity and justice. They situate the conflicts on campus within the context of America's rapidly rising political polarization and dysfunction. This is a book for anyone who is confused by what is happening on college campuses today, or has children, or is concerned about the growing inability of Americans to live, work, and cooperate across party lines."--Dust jacket.
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Summary

Summary

A finalist for the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction

A New York Times Notable Book

Bloomberg Best Book of 2018

The New York Times bestseller!

Something has been going wrong on many college campuses in the last few years. Speakers are shouted down. Students and professors say they are walking on eggshells and are afraid to speak honestly. Rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide are rising--on campus as well as nationally. How did this happen?

First Amendment expert Greg Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt show how the new problems on campus have their origins in three terrible ideas that have become increasingly woven into American childhood and education: What doesn't kill you makes you weaker ; always trust your feelings ; and life is a battle between good people and evil people . These three Great Untruths contradict basic psychological principles about well-being and ancient wisdom from many cultures. Embracing these untruths--and the resulting culture of safetyism--interferes with young people's social, emotional, and intellectual development. It makes it harder for them to become autonomous adults who are able to navigate the bumpy road of life.

Lukianoff and Haidt investigate the many social trends that have intersected to promote the spread of these untruths. They explore changes in childhood such as the rise of fearful parenting, the decline of unsupervised, child-directed play, and the new world of social media that has engulfed teenagers in the last decade. They examine changes on campus, including the corporatization of universities and the emergence of new ideas about identity and justice. They situate the conflicts on campus within the context of America's rapidly rising political polarization and dysfunction.

This is a book for anyone who is confused by what is happening on college campuses today, or has children, or is concerned about the growing inability of Americans to live, work, and cooperate across party lines.


Author Notes

Greg Lukianoff is the president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Lukianoff is a graduate of American University and Stanford Law School. He specializes in free speech and First Amendment issues in higher education. He is the author of Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate and Freedom From Speech .

Jonathan Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business. He obtained his Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992, and then taught at the University of Virginia for 16 years. He is the author of The Righteous Mind and The Happiness Hypothesis .


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this expansion of their 2015 piece for the Atlantic, Lukianoff and Haidt argue that the urge to insulate oneself against offensive ideas has had deleterious consequences, making students less resilient, more prone to undesirable "emotional reasoning," less capable of engaging critically with others' viewpoints, and more likely to cultivate an "us-versus-them" mentality. They identify the cause in a growing obsession with protecting college students, rooted in the cult of "safetyism"-the idea that all adverse experiences, from falling out of a tree as a child to experiencing a racial microaggression as a college sophomore, are equally dangerous and should be avoided entirely. They condemn these attitudes as likely to foment anguish and leave students ill-prepared for postcollege life, and they endorse the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy as a better approach. At times, the authors' limited perspectives become apparent-for instance, their dismissal of microaggressions as simple misunderstandings that should be corrected with good grace is naïve and lacking in compassion, and their use of exaggerated hypothetical dialogues to illustrate the worldviews of those with whom they disagree can seem in bad faith. Yet the path they advocate-take on challenges, cultivate resilience, and try to reflect rather than responding based solely on initial emotional responses-deserves consideration. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

Earlier this summer, a white poet named Anders Carlson-Wee published "How-To," in The Nation. It's a brief verse riffing on the various performances many homeless people must undertake in order to render themselves visible to passers-by. "If you got hiv, say aids," CarlsonWee wrote. "If you a girl, say you're pregnant - nobody gonna iower themselves to listen for the kick. People passing fast." Corny, perhaps, but it's hard not to see this as an exercise, however forced or clumsy, in empathy. A few weeks later, The Nation appended a lengthy editor's note - longer than the work itself - to the original post, stating that the poem "contains disparaging and ableist language that has given offense and caused harm to members of several communities." One particularly offending line read: "If you're crippled don't flaunt it. Let em think they're good enough Christians to notice." Carlson-Wee apologized, too, acknowledging on Twitter that the criticism had been "eye-opening." The first reply to this tweet of contrition was a seemingly serious further rebuke : The phrase "eye-opening" was dismissive of the visually impaired. If it feels as though we no longer know how to speak or listen in good faith to one another, it's because we don't. This is the kind of controversy that might have seemed overblown as recently as the start of the Obama administration. Today it arrives with frequency and fervor - a marker of the country's rapidly shifting mores, which are the product of new generations increasingly fluent in, in thrall to and in fear of the hyperspecialized language and norms of academia. Whether you even find the above exchange intelligible reveals a great deal more than merely your political bent, touching on aspects of age, education and geography - not to mention distinctions of race and class. How did we arrive at this fraught place where the use of nothing more sinister than a body metaphor can assume the power to cause harm? Two timely new books attempt to make sense of the various cultural processes happening on social and in traditional media and, above all, in and around our nation's (mostly selective, four-year) college campuses. Whether we realize it or not, these processes have radically transformed the ways in which we speak about and to one another and give and take offense, exposing far larger and more significant currents in our national political and social life. In "The Splintering of the American Mind," William Egginton, a humanities professor at Johns Hopkins, examines the competing costs and benefits of the country's continuing shift away from a commonly accepted - albeit white - canon of shared narratives to an "exploration and celebration of marginalized racial and sexual identities." He devotes a significant chunk of the book to one of the most vexing problems of our time - rampant inequality of both economic and social capital - and demonstrates the complicated and sometimes inadvertent ways in which our winner-take-all higher education system exacerbates and locks this in. Consider that as recently as 1970 only about 10 percent of the United States population, more or less evenly spread out across the country, held a college degree. The number today is closer to one-third, and is distributed highly unevenly, sorting the nation into ever more homogeneous and incommensurate swaths. This development is as understandable as its consequences have been devastating. When, during the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump gloated, "I love the uneducated," his sentiments were cynical but not unjustified. "As Americans have become more educated and more mobile," Egginton writes, "those with educations are increasingly moving to communities where there are others who have similar levels of education." A map of Trump country would look a lot like a map of the various regions and counties from which young people with the best opportunities have consistently chosen to flee. The fracturing and castigating discourse around identity, coupled with metastasizing inequality of both opportunity and outcome, leads Egginton to make the necessary if familiar case that a humanities education - however out of fashion and reach for many Americans - is still the "key in the formation of a public capable of democratic self-governance." The liberal tradition, accessible to all and capable of generating an expansive common narrative that takes note of America in all her tribal guises and evokes sufficient "fellow feeling," is, for Egginton, our only hope out of the bind. "The Coddling of the American Mind," by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, proceeds from many of the same premises and touchstones as "Splintering," but makes a much more disturbing and comprehensive analysis of recent campus trends. The book, which expands on a widely circulated 2015 article in The Atlantic, identifies what the authors refer to as "the three Great Untruths" of the current moment: "what doesn't kill you makes you weaker"; "always trust your feelings"; "life is a battle between good people and evil people." It's a moment profoundly reshaped in the sanitized image of the hyper-connected and -protected "iGen" generation (short for "internet generation"), which directly succeeds the millennials. Members of iGen, according to the psychologist Jean Twenge, who coined the term, are "obsessed with safety," which they define to include expansive notions of "emotional safety." They began arriving on college campuses in 2013. Rates of anxiety and depression soon skyrocketed, along with demands for trigger warnings, safe spaces and disinvitations to controversial speakers, as well as sometimes violent confrontations with such speakers when they did appear on campus. Lukianoff and Haidt offer a variety of compelling explanations for the rise of the "safetyism" culture that so dominates elite colleges and, increasingly, much journalistic discourse along the lines of The Nation's editorial note. One of the most intriguing ideas they present is the Australian psychologist Nick Haslam's notion of "concept creep." Hasiam found that since the 1980s key concepts in clinical and social psychology, including abuse, bullying, trauma and prejudice, have expanded both "downward" and "outward" to apply to less severe circumstances and to take in novel phenomena. "By the early 2000s," Lukianoff and Haidt write, "the concept of 'trauma' within parts of the therapeutic community had crept down so far that it included anything 'experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful.' " Where Egginton sees a threat to democracy in a polity insufficiently and unequally educated in the liberal tradition, Lukianoff and Haidt notice something unprecedented and a lot more frightening: a generation, including its most privileged and educated members - especially these members - that has been politically and socially "stunted" by a false and deepening belief in its own fragility. This is a generation engaged in a meritocratic "arms race" of epic proportions, that has racked up the most hours of homework (and screen time) in history but also the fewest ever of something so simple as unsupervised outdoor play. If that sounds trivial, it shouldn't. "When adult-supervised activities crowd out free play, children are less likely to develop the art of association," Lukianoff and Haidt write, along with other social skills central to the making of good citizens capable of healthy compromise. Worse, the consequences of a generation unable or disinclined to engage with ideas and interlocutors that make them uncomfortable are dire for society, and open the door - accessible from both the left and the right-to various forms of authoritarianism. what both of these books make clear from a variety of angles is that if we are going to beat back the regressive populism, mendacity and hyperpolarization in which we are currently mired, we are going to need an educated citizenry fluent in a wise and universal liberalism. This liberalism will neither play down nor fetishize identity grievances, but look instead for a common and generous language to build on who we are more broadly, and to conceive more boldly what we might be able to accomplish in concert. Yet as the tenuousness of even our most noble and seemingly durable civil rights gains grows more apparent by the news cycle, we must also reckon with the possibility that a full healing may forever lie on the horizon. And so we will need citizens who are able to find ways to move on despite this, without letting their discomfort traumatize or consume them. If the American university is not the space to cultivate this strong and supple liberalism, then we are in deep and lasting trouble. THOMAS CHATTERTON williams is the author of a memoir, "Losing My Cool," and a contributing writer at The Times Magazine. His next book is about the illusion of race.


Library Journal Review

First Amendment expert Lukianoff and social psychologist Haidt argue that child-centered social attitudes dating back to the 1980s have convinced young people that their feelings are always right, and this leads not just to failure (as the subtitle has it) but free speech issues on campus and the rising polarization in politics. Bound to stir up talk.


Table of Contents

Introduction The Search for Wisdomp. 1
Part I Three Bad Ideas
Chapter 1 The Untruth of Fragility: What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Weakerp. 19
Chapter 2 The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always Trust Your Feelingsp. 33
Chapter 3 The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life Is a Battle Between Good People and Evil Peoplep. 53
Part II Bad Ideas in Action
Chapter 4 Intimidation and Violencep. 81
Chapter 5 Witch Huntsp. 99
Part III How Did We Get Here?
Chapter 6 The Polarization Cyclep. 125
Chapter 7 Anxiety and Depressionp. 143
Chapter 8 Paranoid Parentingp. 163
Chapter 9 The Decline of Playp. 181
Chapter 10 The Bureaucracy of Safetyismp. 195
Chapter 11 The Quest for Justicep. 213
Part IV Wising Up
Chapter 12 Wiser Kidsp. 235
Chapter 13 Wiser Universitiesp. 253
Conclusion: Wiser Societiesp. 263
Acknowledgmentsp. 271
Appendix 1 How to Do CBTp. 275
Appendix 2 The Chicago Statement on Principles of Free Expressionp. 279
Notesp. 283
Referencesp. 321
Indexp. 329