Lukianoff, G. & Haidt, J. (2018). The coddling of the American mind: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure. New York. Penguin Press.

Review by Michelle L. Poland, West Virginia University, [email protected]

Safetyism (compulsion to eliminate all real and imagined threats), antifragility, social justice, concept creep, safe spaces, trigger warnings, disinvitation (recension of speaking engagement invitations).  In The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt explore these topics alongside major University events that have been trending on American campuses over the last decade.  The book is divided into four sections: Three Bad Ideas, Bad Ideas in Action, How Did We Get Here?, and Wising Up.  Throughout each section the authors utilize quotes from ancient philosophers, concepts from modern day psychology, as well as science and statistics to “unpack” the issues facing many campuses across the country.

The Three Bad Ideas are framed as “Great Untruths”: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker, Always trust your feelings, and Life is a battle between good people and evil people (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2018).   For the first untruth, the authors explore peanut allergies and vaccines to encourage readers to understand that challenges are needed to strengthen systems.  It is argued that “human beings need physical and mental challenges and stressors or we deteriorate” (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2018, p. 22).  Academic advisors have an important role in empowering students to meet challenges or new ideas with enthusiasm.  Instead of allowing an uncomfortable idea to be pushed away, advisors can encourage students to listen respectfully, critically think, and then make positive change in their world.

This then leads to the idea of antifragility.  A system is antifragile if it becomes “rigid, weak, and inefficient when nothing challenges it or pushes it to respond vigorously” (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2018, p. 23).  This is also the section of the book that explores concept creep, safe spaces, and trigger warnings.  All of these ideas can be summarized by the term safetyism.  It is “a culture that allows the concept of “safety” to creep so far that it equates emotional discomfort with physical danger that encourages people to systematically protect one another from the very experiences embedded in daily life that they need in order to become strong and healthy” (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2018, p. 29).   A University campus is a great location for students to be given the power to test ideas, beliefs, and challenge themselves.  The campus should be a respectful testing ground that allows graduates to enter the “real world” confident and resilient.

Lukianoff & Haidt also dive into the trend of “disinviting” controversial speakers, and found that in 2017 a majority (58%) of college students felt it was “important to be part of a campus community where I am not exposed to intolerant and offensive ideas” (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2018, p.48).  This idea is also explored to reinforce that discomfort is not synonymous with danger and that education is truly meant to encourage critical thinking, not comfort.  If a student feels uncomfortable with a topic, academic advisors can play an important role in facilitation of the decision process for managing those feelings and finding a solution that still allows for open discussion.

Bad Ideas in Action explores recent events in University history (including the violence that erupted on the University of California, Berkeley campus in February 2017 where Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak) and how those events have led to a new definition of violence to include several nonviolent actions (including speech that would negatively impact protected identity groups).  It is at this point in the book that the concept of a “witch hunt” on campus is introduced.  They suggest a witch hunt has four features: they arise quickly, include crimes against the collective, the charges are often trivial or fabricated, and there is a fear of defending the accused (p101-102).  Not only are current events analyzed, but the authors also look for changes within the University structure as well.  Traditionally college campuses lean to the political left, but generally have some conservative representation to balance out any confirmation bias.  However, they suggest that many campuses are losing viewpoint diversity and faculty are becoming more politically homogeneous.

How Did We Get Here? explores six threads that intertwine to create this drastic campus shift.  The six main threads include increasing polarization on major culture and political issues, a rise in adolescent depression and anxiety, paranoid parenting (often fueled by media), the decline of play, bureaucracy of safetyism, and the quest for justice.  Each of these threads had events, statistics, and possible interception with other threads presented to allow the reader to truly explore the culture shift visible on college campuses nationwide.  

It is in Wising Up that academic advisors (as well as parents and University administrators) can find some insightful recommendations for future interactions with students, particularly the iGeneration that is currently on campus.  It is suggested for Universities to endorse the Chicago Statement (a commitment to free speech and academic freedom) and encourage freedom of inquiry, encourage diversity (in viewpoint as well), and orient and educate for productive disagreement.

Throughout the book, the material presented provides a foundational “toolbox” of information for academic advisors to utilize when meeting with students (particularly those included in the iGeneration).  It is important for advisors to empower their advisees to search for, and triumph over, challenges.  While students engage in higher education, advisors (and faculty), should provide small doses of challenge to allow for students to meet “real world” challenges head-on upon graduation.   Advisors can also guide students through these challenges using critical thinking and problem-solving skills.



Lukianoff, G. & Haidt, J. (2018). The coddling of the American mind: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure. New York. Penguin Press.

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

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

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