The Coddling of the American Mind

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

First off, don't think this is a "kids today, get off my lawn" kind of book.  It's not.  Plus, they hated the title and wanted it to be called Disempowered.  Check out the video below (which was a bit of tongue-in-cheek Halloween fun) for some explanation!

I've been a Lukianoff fan for some years now -- as the president of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, he's been working on First Amendment rights at colleges for years, and that's how I got to hear of him.  (Back in 2014, I took a kid to see him speak on a panel at the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley.  The event was extremely Berkeley;  I laughed all the way up Bancroft Ave. afterwards, but I'm pretty sure poor Lukianoff wanted to scream.  On the strength of that, I cadged a Facebook acquaintance.)

I know a bit less about psychologist Jonathan Haidt, but I've been following him too since he started Heterodox Academy, an association of university professors hoping to influence academia in the direction of more ideological diversity.  When everybody thinks the same, knowledge suffers.  Haidt has also written a couple of interesting books.

A few years ago, Lukianoff and Haidt got together and wrote an article for the Atlantic that made something of a splash.  You see, Lukianoff felt that his life had been greatly improved by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy strategies that teach people to analyze their own thinking and change cognitive habits to better reflect reality (he gets searingly honest about his own mental health struggles).  And as he studied trends on campus, he wondered if students weren't being taught to do the opposite -- to embrace cognitive habits that would actually harm them.  The article was the result of their collaboration, and then as further evidence became available, it turned into a book.

If you're a parent of teens/new young adults, you may have noticed the epidemic levels of depression and anxiety that seem to be prevalent.  (A couple of years ago, I told my oldest, "I don't know what we did, but I'm sorry!" -- not as a personal apology, but as a generational one.)  We're all trying to figure out what's going on and why things are so difficult for our kids.  I think this book may have identified some of what's going on.  Haidt and Lukianoff pick out six strands of modern life and break them down in their effort to identify what's causing problems and how we can make it better.

It's well worth reading, has lots to think about, and if you're a parent of young kids, it will inspire you to resist damaging trends in modern parenting.  Plus, you can photocopy the handy list of cognitive distortions, stick it on the fridge, and work on your mental habits!






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