The provocative title is based on some significant assumptions. First that people reading the title will have any idea what the word coddling means and then that Americans actually have minds that can be pampered into delusion.
After more than fifteen years working in higher education there is little doubt in my mind that there has been a significant shift in the actions and attitudes students in the past five years as the iGens have filled campuses. However, perception is not necessarily reality and “college students are an easy punching bag and target for generalizations.”While Lukianoff and Haidt offer some very strong arguments for the shift that is taking place yet some have argued that the main motivation for their treatise is that “they perceive their home [security or academic position] is being threatened.”
Much of the shift that has taken place has as much to do with economics and altered perceptions of the purpose of a college education than it does solely with thoughts of safetyism and the 3 bad ideas. Many students arrive largely unconcerned about how they will develop greater critical thinking skills by being immersed in a thorough liberal education. Rather, they frequently arrive with preconceived notions about what career has the greatest potential to earn them a large income and complain that general education requirements are only money gathering ploys foisted on them by institutions that prevent them from taking the courses they need for their major. Maybe some of this attitude does come from the changes in US education as standardized testing and ‘No Child Left Behind’ requirements have been tied to federal educational funding. They learn what they have to learn to make it through the system and when they arrive at college they anticipate the same.
In order to help students develop strong critical thinking skills it is necessary at times to challenge their assumptions and encourage them to consider topics from multiple perspectives. This does not happen without the development of a level of trust between instructors and students that provides them some freedom to explore, debate, questions and challenge thinking. However, this has become more difficult to develop in an economically driven and polarized society.
While many have concerns regarding the viability of true democracy when emerging generations lack the critical thinking skills to accept differences of opinion, there are also significant questions for the future of the church. There is little room in the minds of many emerging adults for exclusivism that Jesus claims when he states “I am the way…..”. The idea that those who lack a relationship with Jesus will be condemned to some form of eternal punishment is not tolerable and appears to promote bigotry. Therefore, the church would be wise to take a book like this and make a concerted effort to understand the next generation so that it may proclaim the Gospel in a manner that connects to their understanding.
Change is upon us, but this is not a threat to the faith, nor is it anything that the church has not endured in its past. Young people still have important life questions they just approach them differently. They still desire adults to walk with them they simply also believe that they have something meaningful to offer to the conversation. Yes, it does appear that much of what Haidt and Lukianoff suggest may be occurring is a result of changes in parenting, education, politics, economic insecurities etc. We therefore should not be surprised at the outcome. They are reflecting what they have been taught. Yet, generational tension has been survived before and will be again. No doubt there will be more books that question the upcoming generation and more than likely they will write their own about their children and grandchildren.
The church in particular needs to be at the forefront of understanding. Of welcoming this generation with open arms and helping them to discern God’s desire for them. This will not happen if trust is not established, if current adults do not swallow some pride and work on accommodating those that are coming, if the church fails to model the lifestyle of a true disciple of Jesus. If individuals in the church can pull that off there is an entire generation that desires to be included.
Jesse Singal, “How ‘Coddled’ Are American College Students, Anyway?,” The Intelligencer, September 26, 2018.
John Warner, “A Million Thoughts on ‘The Coddling of the American Mind’,” Inside Higher Ed, September 18, 2018.
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure(New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2018).