Protect Us from the Protectors

Carol Iannone

Jonathan Haidt has proposed at a number of speaking events that the hysterical extension of political correctness into ever more refined restrictions on the campus today is a result of the millennial generation having been raised without the freedom of unsupervised play. The delineation of  “microaggressions,” the demand for “safe spaces,” the ever expanding prohibitions on speech, the eruptions in fury at administrators and teachers who are insufficiently solicitous toward them, all of these arise, suggests Haidt, from today’s college students having been raised in an era of excessive fear and ultra-protectiveness toward children.

Following the tragic kidnapping and subsequent death of six year old Etan Patz in 1979, Haidt argues, abductions of children, mostly due to parents in the midst of contentious divorces, were gradually translated into a universal danger to all children everywhere. Over time, the rise of cable television, the internet, social media, all contributed to making everyone acutely aware of this supposedly ubiquitous peril. All of this was augmented, we might add, by the proliferation of tv and movie dramas about dangers to children.  

Thus arrived the era of the helicopter parents, hovering constantly, creating young people who are accustomed to having adult supervision and protection at all times. This contrasts with the unsupervised play that many over fifty can remember, in which an older child might disappear from parental sight for hours at a time, only to turn up for dinner or sleep.

Russ Nieli has observed that many college students today, even though boarding away from home, are in constant contact with their parents via cellphone, email, text, skype, all day long, and contrasts this nonstop communication with the monthly-or-so call from a dormitory pay phone that was more the standard in his college days.

I think Haidt’s explanation has cogency, but I would add a number of other points for possible consideration.

The politically correct quasi-Marxist scenario of human existence as a matter of oppressor and oppressed that young people have been taught since childhood;

The virtual disappearance of real racism and other signs of prejudice in their more aggressive forms and the subsequent need to find something to fill out the PC scenario that they have been taught is the nature of life;

The decline of common courtesy due to the leftwing attack on all tradition and the feminist critique of “patriarchy”;

The ordinary unpleasantness of life interpreted as attacks on one’s very selfhood by an oppressor of one type or another;

The feminization of men, so that fathers, if present at all, do not provide a model of strength and resilience against the vicissitudes of life;

The lack of sufficient unconditional mother love due to mothers pushed into the workforce, producing therefore a continuing need for attention and self-affirmation on the part of their offspring, by whatever means available.

The prevalence of relativism and nihilism that say there is no truth, leading to subjective impressions holding sway;

The absence of instruction in real critical thought--how to weigh evidence, consider context, detect logical fallacies, arrive at thought-out conclusions, and so forth, so that students are left with only their feelings and subjective responses, and the strength and energy they can summon to push these forward.

Admittedly, these are broad suggestions, and, assuredly, there are many exceptions and many students who rise above any gaps or deficiencies in their background. But, given heightened concern, even from progressives, about the escalating nature of campus protests, these ideas may deserve some attention. I would say the most serious, from an academic point of view, is the last, since that is where good, rigorous college-level instruction could offset previous deficiencies in understanding and development.

Image: Public Domain

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