Our classrooms have become more and more like cocoons just as the real world has become harsher. A piece in the NYT this weekend highlighted how sensitive students have become to anything that challenges their beliefs or makes them uncomfortable—and how far colleges have gone to accommodate them. That piece has already gotten a lot of attention, but here’s a follow-up to it, about one of the examples mentioned in the NYT piece (h/t Matt Yglesias):
All it takes is one slip—not even an outright challenging of their beliefs, but even momentarily exposing them to any uncomfortable thought or imagery—and that’s it, your classroom is triggering, you are insensitive, kids are bringing mattresses to your office hours and there’s a twitter petition out demanding you chop off your hand in repentance. […]
There are literally dozens of articles and books I thought nothing of teaching, 5-6 years ago, that I wouldn’t even reference in passing today. I just re-read a passage of Late Victorian Holocausts, an account of the British genocide against India, and, wow, today I’d be scared if someone saw a copy of it in my office.
These pieces, and others like them, are signs of a pushback against the infantilization of the university. But there’s still a long way to go before the cocoon culture rebalances itself—and the forces of prudish repression and PC lunacy remain strong.
But at the same time, some new studies paint a dark picture of the global trends. After a long period of time during which the world was getting less violent, world events are now going the other way. More people are being displaced and more are dying in wars as the world becomes a nastier place to live in. For instance, an Australian think tank called the Institute for Economics and Peace argues that violence has been rising globally since 2007, and that the world’s worst conflicts saw almost 30 percent more deaths in 2014 than the year before.
Between the infantilizing of campus culture and the growing global harshness, something has to give and—hint, hint—it won’t be the real world. The worst thing about the current climate of PC stupidity and mandatory cocooning on campus isn’t the ugly repression it entails. The destruction of free speech and free debate in the institutions that ought to be the citadels of intellectual liberty is a terrible thing and a horrible betrayal of everything universities are supposed to be about. But there is yet a worse consequence: the catastrophic dumbing down and weakening of a younger generation that is becoming too fragile and precious to exist in the current world—much less to fight the real evils and dangers that are growing.