A college education isn’t intended to make people think any more, write Greg Lukianoff, a First Amendent specialist, and Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, in The Coddling of the American Mind. “It is meant to make them comfortable.”
The culture of “safetyism” promotes three Great Untruths, they write. What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; always trust your feelings; and life is a battle between good people and evil people.
In a New York Times op-ed, they cite “efforts to disinvite speakers, punish people who tell jokes deemed offensive and regulate everything from dining hall food and Halloween costumes to the organizations that students are permitted to join.”
Helicopter parents are partly to blame, they write. Children won’t grow up to be resilient adults if they’re always under adult supervision. They need time to play freely, “including thousands of falls, scrapes, conflicts, insults, alliances, betrayals, status competitions, and even (within limits) acts of exclusion.”
“After-school playtime” has “morphed into structured activities overseen by adults,” they write. Kids don’t learn to organize their own games, negotiate conflicts or bounce back from failure.
The self-governing skills learned on the playground are critical for liberal democracies, writes economist Steven Horwitz in Cooperation Over Coercion. In democracies, writes Horwitz, people settle their problems by talking, relying on informal norms or using local conflict-resolution procedures. They don’t appeal to higher authorities — not to the principal, not to the dean and not to Mommy.
“Democracy is hard,” conclude Lukianoff and Haidt. “It demands teamwork, compromise, respect for rules and a willingness to engage with other opinionated, vociferous individuals. It also demands practice. The best place to get that practice may be out on the playground.”
I remember a big argument during a softball (whiffle ball?) game at the park when I was a kid in the baby-boom era. Someone had batted out of turn. A divorced dad insisted on butting in, then got so mad he took his bat, his ball and his son home. We were annoyed. It was very rare to have a parent present when we played. They were busy.