Lukianoff, G., & Haidt, J. (2019). The Coddling of the American Mind: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure. Penguin Books.
Reviewed by Jason Higa, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Coddling of the American Mind: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure (2019), is consistent with the NACADA Information 15 core competency, which includes the knowledge of “the characteristics, needs, and experiences of major and emerging student populations” (NACADA, 2017). The emerging student population that the book focuses its attention on, are students in the iGen (or Generation Z) population. As the iGen population continues to populate college campuses across the nation, we are seeing higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide; speakers being disinvited or shouted down, and protests becoming more violent.
Lukianoff and Haidt (2019) propose that the iGen population's behaviors are a result of the rules, practices, and norms of the three Great Untruths: (1) The Untruth of Fragility: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Weaker, (2) The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always Trust Your Feelings, and (3) The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life Is a Battle Between Good People and Evil People. Embracing these untruths has led to safetyism, which is a “culture or belief system in which safety has become a sacred value, which means that people become unwilling to make trade-offs demanded by other practical and moral concerns. ‘Safety’ trumps everything else, no matter how unlikely or trivial the potential danger” (Lukianoff and Haidt, 2019, p. 30). Safetyism was used to protect children by clearing away any potential dangers that they may face; however, this created a cycle where children became more fragile and less resilient, which triggered adults to become more protective, which in turn makes the child even more fragile and less resilient (Lukianoff and Haidt, 2019). Lukianoff and Haidt (2019) believe that this obsession of protection is one of the reasons for the higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide in the iGen population.
When universities saw an increase in mental health issues, they responded with the best intentions. Unfortunately, they responded with more safetyism, which can make things worse for students that are dealing with mood disorders (Lukianoff and Haidt, 2019). Lukianoff and Haidt (2019) suggested that as a result of the universities safetyism response, “students were beginning to react to words, books, and visiting speakers with fear and anger because they had been taught to exaggerate danger, use dichotomous (or binary) thinking, amplify their first emotional responses, and engaging in a number of other cognitive distortions” (p. 10).
Reacting to words, books, and visiting speakers with fear and anger is one of the side-effects of safetyism. Students started to label their opponents’ words as violence, which, in their minds, justified the use of physical violence as a form of self-defense. The book makes it clear that hate speech against/involving sex, race, gender, and physical violence is not appropriate in any setting, but safetyism also drove students to believe that even ideologies can be considered dangerous. This type of thinking has led to guest speakers being disinvited or shouted down.
Lukianoff and Haidt noticed another trend that was happening on college campuses, the loss of political diversity amongst faculty. Having the same political views causes a collective in ideals, which leads to less tolerance of opposing views and causes witch hunts, callouts, censorship, and disinvitation. The separation of political views also increased, causing groups on both sides of the spectrum to feel more negative towards each other. The increased separation created an attitude of us versus them instead of right versus wrong. Instead of utilizing debate to express their viewpoints, students (and even some faculty) opted to stop the opposition at all costs.
The negativity and the way the opposition is treated has created a culture of self-censorship. Many students with opposing views are afraid to stand up for what they believe is right because they are afraid that they will be called out. Even some professors are more cautious of what they say and what they put in their curriculum because they do not want to offend anyone; however, by doing so, students “may come to find even more material offensive and require even more protection” (Lukianoff and Haidt, 2019, p. 206). These one-sided arguments do not allow students to utilize critical thinking and civil disagreement skills (Lukianoff and Haidt, 2019).
The book concludes with solutions to the issues at hand, which involves commitments from stakeholders within, and outside of, college campuses. Academic Advisors can do their part by instilling the NACADA core value of empowerment (NACADA, 2017). Instead of finding ways to clear paths and avoid challenges, Academic Advisors need to allow students to face adversity, and support them as they navigate through that adversity, so that students can realize their full potential.
Lukianoff, G., & Haidt, J. (2019). The coddling of the american mind: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure. Penguin Books.
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA core values of academic advising. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreValues.aspx