One of my readers, unhappy with my last two blogs on political correctness (blogs 6/23/15 & 8/10/15), sent me an article from the Atlantic Monthly which opposed my view. (“The Coddling of the American Mind,” by Greg Kukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, Atlantic Monthly, September 2015 pgs. 42-52.) The authors complain that political correctness in education is scrubbing “campuses clean of words, ideas and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.” (Ibid pg 44)
What follows are arguments on the dangers of coddling young minds which, the writers fear, could lead students to “think pathologically” (Ibid pg. 45) — meaning when students are allowed to be on guard for the negative, they avoid examining the merits of their beliefs and feelings which, after all, is the purpose of an education. On the last point, I agree. Unfortunately, the examples of super-sensitivity they provide are a tad absurd. Students of one Harvard Law School professor, they write, exhorted her to drop rape law from her curriculum for fear it would distress some students. (Ibid pg. 44) A Michigan scholar wrote a column for a conservative student publication satirizing what he believed to be “a campus tendency to perceive microaggression in just about anything.” (Ibid pg 50) For his beliefs, a group of women posted rude messages on his door, behavior laced with the kind of insensitivity the women said they abhorred. (Ibid pg. 50).
Okay. I’ll admit some people can take an idea to its extreme. But examples of foolish demands or thoughtless behavior don’t turn all Millennials who, presumably, were coddled” by their Baby Boomer parents, into gelatinous blobs of pathological disorders. I do agree that life is messy, hard and unfair, and education shouldn’t attempt to soften the blow with a sanitized version of the humanities. If art, philosophy, and science have no commerce with ordinary life, then why study them?
Nonetheless, I think Millennials are attempting make a suggestion to their seniors — who may themselves be warped by the brutalizing world — that a little sensitivity wouldn’t hurt. Heaven knows, the Democrats and the Republicans could use some. So could religious factions in the Middle East and the folks living in North and South Korea.
Fear rules the world and fear, sadly, is at the heart of Kukianoff and Hairdt’s article. Peek behind the curtain of their concerns and truth reveals itself. What they fear is a revolution: … social media has also fundamentally shifted the balance of power in relationships between students and faculty; the latter increasingly fear what students might do to their [teacher’s] reputations and careers by stirring up online mobs against them. (Ibid, pg. 45.)
From my perspective, a generation of the best and brightest who wish to bring sensitivity into our lives is no generation to fear. True, like all youth, they can be irritatingly smug. True some will take the cause to excess. Still, that’s no reason to turn deaf to the central message of tolerance and compassion. If teachers have the grace to learn from their students, they will see a new paradigm is afoot and that to remain on their pedestals, they will need new skills.