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Grit

When I ask veteran college teachers and administrators to describe how college students have changed over the years, I often get an answer like this: “Today’s students are more accomplished than past generations, but they are also more emotionally fragile.”

That rings true to me. ... Whatever one thinks of the campus protests, the desire for trigger warnings and safe spaces does seem to emanate from a place of emotional fragility.

And if you hang around the middle aged, you hear a common story line to explain the rise of the orchid generation. Once upon a time, the story line goes, kids were raised in a tough environment. They had to do hard manual chores around the house....

But today, helicopter parents protect their children from setbacks and hardship. They supervise every playground conflict, so kids never learn to handle disputes or deal with pain.

There’s a lot of truth to that narrative, but let’s not be too nostalgic for the past. ... There was a greater tendency in years gone by... for some women to be... untouchable. ...

In short, emotional fragility is not only caused by overprotective parenting. It’s also caused by anything that makes it harder for people to find their telos. ... It’s caused by the ethos of the modern university, which in the name of “critical thinking” encourages students to be detached and corrosively skeptical. ...

If you really want people to be tough, make them idealistic for some cause, make them tender for some other person, make them committed to some worldview that puts today’s temporary pain in the context of a larger hope.

Emotional fragility seems like a psychological problem, but it has only a philosophical answer. People are really tough only after they have taken a leap of faith for some truth or mission or love.

- David Brooks, Making Modern Toughness, NYT, Aug. 30, 2016


American higher education has a dropout problem. About one in three students who enroll in college never earn a degree. ...
College matters so much because it isn’t just about book learning or the development of tangible skills. It’s one of the first obstacle courses of adult life. The students who complete it typically go on to earn more and live healthier and happier lives, research shows. ...
For students who live on campus, college isn’t just something they’re doing. It becomes their life. When they have a problem — a bad grade, a bureaucratic frustration, a lack of money — they can more easily turn to their friends, teachers or adviser for help. “Living on campus puts you so much closer to all of the resources that are accessible to you,” said Jessica Burley, who graduated this year from Brockport with a double major in criminal justice and sociology.

As Kim Wilcox, the chancellor at California, Riverside, said: “You become connected in a deeper way. It’s harder to fall through the cracks.” ...
“A bachelor’s degree,” Suitor said, “is the single most influential determinant in multigenerational change and ending the cycle of poverty. ...
In college, students face many more decisions — about what to study, where to eat, when to sleep — than in high school. ...
After the initial transition, students can still get lost, and colleges have found the old forms of student advising were often stiff and intimidating. Advisers dealt mostly with academic issues, rather than the full range of students’ problems, and their offices were often closed at night when students had more time to visit them.

At Troy, Fulmer said, the student-support center used to be seen as “the center for students with problems.” He instead wants it to be like a kitchen table in the student’s home. “The kitchen table is where I did my homework, where I got encouragement, where sometimes I got behavior modification,” he said. “It was a safe place.” ...
As a research university, Houston was more prestigious than some of the others. Yet on the most basic measure of success — whether students were graduating — Houston was behind.
- David Leonhardt and Sahil Chinoy, The College Dropout Crisis, NYT, MAY 23, 2019


They began arriving on college campuses in 2013. Rates of anxiety and depression soon skyrocketed, along with demands for trigger warnings, safe spaces and disinvitations to controversial speakers, as well as sometimes violent confrontations with such speakers when they did appear on campus. ...
Where Egginton sees a threat to democracy in a polity insufficiently and unequally educated in the liberal tradition, Lukianoff and Haidt notice something unprecedented and a lot more frightening: a generation, including its most privileged and educated members — especially these members — that has been politically and socially “stunted” by a false and deepening belief in its own fragility. This is a generation engaged in a meritocratic “arms race” of epic proportions, that has racked up the most hours of homework (and screen time) in history but also the fewest ever of something so simple as unsupervised outdoor play. If that sounds trivial, it shouldn’t. “When adult-supervised activities crowd out free play, children are less likely to develop the art of association,” Lukianoff and Haidt write, along with other social skills central to the making of good citizens capable of healthy compromise. Worse, the consequences of a generation unable or disinclined to engage with ideas and interlocutors that make them uncomfortable are dire for society, and open the door — accessible from both the left and the right — to various forms of authoritarianism.
What both of these books make clear from a variety of angles is that if we are going to beat back the regressive populism, mendacity and hyperpolarization in which we are currently mired, we are going to need an educated citizenry fluent in a wise and universal liberalism. This liberalism will neither play down nor fetishize identity grievances, but look instead for a common and generous language to build on who we are more broadly, and to conceive more boldly what we might be able to accomplish in concert. ... If the American university is not the space to cultivate this strong and supple liberalism, then we are in deep and lasting trouble.
- Thomas Chatterton Williams, Does Our Cultural Obsession With Safety Spell the Downfall of Democracy?, NYT, Aug. 27, 2018


One thing was a little hard. All of our beans and flour had been used up, and now the wheat was about gone also.... ...
In the night a storm came on.... We tried to fix up a shelter to protect the children and ourselves, but were not very successful. We tried to use our guns for tent poles, but could not keep them in place. We laid down as close as pigs in cold weather, and covered up as best we could, but did not keep dry, and morning found us wet to the skin, cold and shivering. We gathered big sage brush for a fire in the morning, and the tracks of our nearly bare feet could be plainly seen in the snow which lay like a blanket awhile over the ground, about two inches deep.
- William Lewis Manly, Death Valley in '49 (pp. 114-122).


Many offices, including those of The New York Times, set their thermostats to 74 to 76 degrees, which you would think would feel balmy (imagine a thermostat set to that temperature during winter). Yet the other day, my colleagues — probably about 20 percent of them — were shivering in sweatshirts and sweaters. ...
The thermostats are set to 72 to 74 degrees, said Zara Rahim, senior director of communications, a number gleaned from reading studies that suggested men were happier at 70 degrees, and women at temperatures 2.5 degrees higher.
At all eight locations of the Wing, the co-working space designed for women, the seating has been fabricated to accommodate a 5-foot-4 woman — the average female height — in soft fabrics, like velvet, anticipating users with bare legs.
In the summer months, temperature is similarly considered: The thermostats are set to 72 to 74 degrees, said Zara Rahim, senior director of communications, a number gleaned from reading studies that suggested men were happier at 70 degrees, and women at temperatures 2.5 degrees higher.
If members are still chilly, there are baskets of knitted cotton blankets placed strategically throughout the club. ...
It turns out gender is less a predictor of thermal comfort than other factors, like age, activity level or, tellingly, the relative wealth of the society surveyed, according to studies conducted by researchers at the Center for the Built Environment at the University of California, Berkeley.

People in countries with lower G.D.P.s, said David Lehrer, the communications director and a researcher there, are more comfortable with a wider range of temperatures. It appears that first world discomfort is a learned behavior.
- Penelope Green, Do Americans Need Air-Conditioning?, NYT, July 3, 2019


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