As Frank Furedi compellingly argues in this deeply perceptive and important book, these phenomena are not just harmless fads acted out by a few petulant students and their indulgent professors in an academic cocoon. Rather, they are both a symptom and a cause of malaise and strife in society at large. At stake is whether freedom of thought will long survive and whether individuals will have the temperament to resolve everyday social and workplace conflicts without bureaucratic intervention or litigation.
Mr. Furedi, an emeritus professor at England’s University of Kent, argues that the ethos prevailing at many universities on both sides of the Atlantic is the culmination of an infantilizing paternalism that has defined education and child-rearing in recent decades. It is a pedagogy that from the earliest ages values, above all else, self-esteem, maximum risk avoidance and continuous emotional validation and affirmation. (Check your child’s trophy case.) Helicopter parents and teachers act as though “fragility and vulnerability are the defining characteristics of personhood.”
The devastating result: Young people are raised into an “eternal dependency.” Parenting experts and educators insist that the views of all pupils must be unconditionally respected, never judged, regardless of their merit. They wield the unassailable power of a medical warning: Children, even young adults, simply can’t handle rejection of their ideas, or hearing ones that cause the slightest “discomfort,” lest they undergo “trauma.”
It is not surprising to Mr. Furedi that today’s undergraduates, having grown up in such an environment, should find any serious criticism, debate or unfamiliar idea to be “an unacceptable challenge to their personas.” …