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The Coddling of the American Mind

How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

By Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haidt
13-minute read
Audio available
The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haidt

The Coddling of the American Mind (2018) seeks to go behind the scandalized reporting and to establish what’s really happening on US college campuses. Drawing on psychological theory and wide-ranging research, The Coddling of the American Mind demonstrates that university life has taken a worrying turn.

  • Baffled readers trying to understand campus politics
  • Parents of college-aged kids
  • Citizens concerned about accelerating political polarization

Greg Lukianoff is the CEO and president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a free-speech advocacy group focusing on college campuses. He is the author of Freedom From Speech and Unlearning Liberty.

Jonathan Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He has also written The Righteous Mind and The Happiness Hypothesis.

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The Coddling of the American Mind

How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

By Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haidt
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now
The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haidt
Synopsis

The Coddling of the American Mind (2018) seeks to go behind the scandalized reporting and to establish what’s really happening on US college campuses. Drawing on psychological theory and wide-ranging research, The Coddling of the American Mind demonstrates that university life has taken a worrying turn.

Key idea 1 of 8

Young people need to face challenges in order to become strong.

When you were a kid, were you allowed to bring peanuts to school? If you live in the United States, your answer to that question probably depends on your age.

Starting in the mid-nineties, America found itself facing a minor public health crisis, as the rate of peanut allergies in the population began to soar. Faced with the prospect of putting children’s health at risk, many schools decided to ban the foodstuff from lunchboxes altogether.

Seems like a good idea, right? Well, not exactly. A 2015 study discovered that shielding children from peanuts may have actually been contributing to the surge in allergies.

The key message here is: Young people need to face challenges in order to become strong.

In that 2015 study, researchers followed a group of children from infancy to the age of five. They found that without early and repeated exposure to peanuts, many of the kids’ immune systems never learned how to deal with them in a healthy way – leading to serious allergies down the line.

In the same way, when we try to shelter young people from all of life’s challenges, we run the risk of weakening them in the long term – a phenomenon attested to by life on American college campuses.

Since 2014, student life has been dramatically altered by the rise of safetyism. This term refers to a growing culture that prizes safety at all costs, and sees challenges and difficulties as intolerable burdens that need to be eliminated.

But here’s the thing: safetyism rests on a novel and expanded meaning of the word “safety.” Over time, it’s come to include protection against challenging ideas and feelings of discomfort, not just physical threats.

And that means safetyism can be used to silence dissenting students and speakers. After all, if students need to be “protected” from anything that makes them uncomfortable, why should they be exposed to arguments that make them feel “unsafe?”

Well, remember the peanuts. Sometimes overprotection can be more harmful than allowing young people to encounter challenges and risks. In fact, it’s only by facing adversity that we can begin to develop real strength.

Imagine a young person who has been sheltered from difficult emotions for most of his life. Is he likely to find it easier to get by when he becomes an adult? Probably not. Life has some challenges, upsets, and pain in store for all of us – and it’s better to learn how to deal with these things early on, rather than to run into trouble later in life when the stakes get high.

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