A problem in American education receiving growing attention is "helicopter parenting." Parents hover over their children, controlling and protecting them, and inadvertently denying them opportunities to take responsibility, to take ownership of their activities and lives. There are complaints that even in college and beyond, parents are at hand, continuing to direct their children instead of allowing them to take charge of their lives.
At the same time, there is a growing call for schools to somehow teach students to take more initiative, to take more ownership of their education. Schools, like parents, are in the habit of telling students what to do. The students learn to follow instructions, to complete assigned tasks, but not to be creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial.
There is, in a sense, an increasing infantilization of students, and perhaps of people in general. Industrialization offers many advantages, but is based on construction of not only machinery but structures that fit people into factories, making them cogs in the machinery of production. Assembly line industrialization needed not creative craftspeople, but robotic workers who could repeatedly and efficiently perform defined tasks. Until mechanical robots were invented, people were transformed into the human equivalent of robots, predictable, efficient workers who followed specified procedures. The need for creativity and judgment were minimized.
It is considered good progress to become a society with "a government of laws and not of men," in the words of John Adams. When Gerald Ford took over the presidency from the disgraced Richard Nixon, he supported this view, saying, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.” Here the superiority of control by laws, rather than by the arbitrary wishes of those people in power, was evident.
As Barry Schwartz points out, when following rules reduces the need for judgment, people get less practice in judgment, and thus become less capable of good judgment.
Christopher Ratte, a professor of archeology at the University of Michigan, took his 7 year old son, Leo, to a Detroit Tigers game. When Professor Ratte purchased lemonade at a concession stand, he was given Mike’s Hard Lemonade. He did not know that “hard” can mean alcoholic, and had no idea the drink contained 5% alcohol. A security guard noticed Leo drinking the lemondade, resulting in Leo being taken by ambulance to Children’s Hospital, where doctors determined there was no trace of alcohol in his blood. Then,
- “Doctors cleared him to go home with his father, but instead, police officers put Leo Ratte into a Wayne County Child Protective Services foster home. They said they hated to do it, but had to follow procedure. County bureaucrats said they would like to let Leo go home, but they had to follow procedure. After three days a juvenile court judge ruled the little boy could come home to his mother, but only if his father moved into a hotel. A judge said he hated to do it, but he had to follow procedure. ... At each step, informed and responsible officials, police officers, social workers, and judges said they hated to do what they did, but had to obey procedures. Procedures are usually what people from bureaucrats to corporate CEOs cite when they fear to take responsibility for an independent decision. Decisions can be criticized and second-guessed. Procedures may be dumb, but they spare you from thinking or being criticized from the consequences of your own judgment.”
- - Scott Simon, Music Cue: The Case of Mistaken Lemonade, NPR, May 3, 2008
Increasing reliance on following instructions and rules, satisfying requirements rather than determining and taking ownership of a course of action, leads to a mentality guided by rules rather than judgment. Judgment becomes devalued. The less it is relied on, the less it is exercised. The less it is exercised, the weaker it becomes. The weaker it becomes, the less it can be relied on, and the more reliance must be placed on rules.
So the process that was encouraged by industrialization is strengthened. The rules say there is freedom of speech, and people taught to rely on rules rather than judgment conclude that since the law does not limit what they say, they are free to say anything they wish, however rude and hurtful. If that proves unsatisfactory, the seemingly inevitable solution is addition of more rules.
As society shifts from exercise of judgment to robotic following of rules, people are infantilized. Thus it seems American college students are no longer sufficiently responsible to choose their own Halloween costumes. At Yale, administrators sent email advising students to avoid wearing costumes that might cause offense. The Economist comments:
- "Given that it is legal for 18-year-old Americans to drive, marry and, in most places, own firearms, it might seem reasonable to let students make their own decisions about dressing-up.... Yet a determination to treat adults as children is becoming a feature of life on campus, and not just in America."
- - The right to fright, The Economist, Nov. 14, 2015
Lack of good judgment and initiative is accompanied by fragility. Much as a young child is driven to tears by a problem mature people would recognize as minor, many students are overly sensitive, so thin-skinned they cannot tolerate the slightest offense. A recent article in the Atlantic suggests how far this trend has developed:
- "Two terms have risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. For example, by some campus guidelines, it is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American “Where were you born?,” because this implies that he or she is not a real American. Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response. For example, some students have called for warnings... that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby portrays misogyny and physical abuse, so that students who have been previously victimized by racism or domestic violence can choose to avoid these works.... ... This new climate is slowly being institutionalized, and is affecting what can be said in the classroom, even as a basis for discussion. During the 2014–15 school year, for instance, the deans and department chairs at the 10 University of California system schools were presented by administrators at faculty leader-training sessions with examples of microaggressions. The list of offensive statements included: “America is the land of opportunity” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”"
- - Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind, The Atlantic, Sept. 2015
According to Harvard law professor Jeannie Suk, the emotional fragilityof students has become an obstacle to teaching about law related to rape:
- "About a dozen new teachers of criminal law at multiple institutions have told me that they are not including rape law in their courses, arguing that it’s not worth the risk of complaints of discomfort by students. Even seasoned teachers of criminal law, at law schools across the country, have confided that they are seriously considering dropping rape law and other topics related to sex and gender violence. Both men and women teachers seem frightened of discussion, because they are afraid of injuring others or being injured themselves."
- - Jeannie Suk, The Trouble With Teaching Rape Law, New Yorker, Dec. 15, 2014
It is reported that there is a growing problem of immaturity in China:
- “Too much protection and support from parents has given rise to a generation that has never really grown up,” Ms. Zhou said.
- “Many clients tell me their marriage was based not on love, but on ‘convenience’ — that their parents told them it would be a good match,” she said. “When asked what they expect of their future partner, many say they trust their parents’ experience. That’s not the attitude of an adult.”
- Some commenters on Weibo agreed. “China is a country full of grown-up babies,” one user wrote.
- - KAROLINE KAN, Chinese Dating Show Puts Veto Power in Parents’ Hands 点击查看本文中文版, NYT, FEB. 16, 2017
The U.S.A. seems to have a similar problem:
- Milo Yiannopoulos had everything he needed to be a smash success in today’s conservative world: a big personality, an intuitive sense for baiting the left and no inhibitions about causing offense. ...
- Many on the right are pointing to the Yiannopoulos controversies as a symptom of a trend toward conservatism as performance art, placing less value on ideas like small government and self-reliance than it does on attitude, personality and provocation. While there are respected conservative thinkers on issues like tax reform, immigration and health care, they say, provocateurs like Mr. Yiannopoulos suck up most of the oxygen, becoming the public face of the movement and pushing more serious ideas to the sideline.
- “You essentially have a world where there are no adults left, nobody exercising moral authority to say, ‘No, this does or does not meet our standards,’” said Matt Lewis, the conservative author of “Too Dumb to Fail,” which dissected how conservatives have abandoned ideas for outrage. “Everybody is just responding to perverse incentives to get more buzz.”
- - JEREMY W. PETERS, Milo Yiannopoulos Resigns From Breitbart News After Pedophilia Comments, NYT, FEB. 21, 2017
Of course it is commonly said one of the problems with Trump is that he is immature, that he never grew up. In Quora, someone asked, "Why does Donald Trump seem so immature?" Answers included:
- "He seems immature because his behavior is grossly inappropriate for a person his age. ... His mercurial, impulsive, disjointed and unpredictable behavior recently prompted Jon Stewart to label Trump a "man-baby." Yeah, he looks pretty immature to a lot of us. Scary."
- "Because he is emotionally immature, and speaks at a fourth grade level and acts like one…any 12 year old child with an ounce of sense would tell you that they’ve met people like him on the schoolyard."
- - both from Why does Donald Trump seem so immature?, Quora (as of Feb. 22. 2017)
Politico reported that at a news conference, candidate Trump behaved childishly:
- Trump seethed like an irritable 2-year-old instead of exhibiting the kind of restraint and comity we usually associate with a finalist in the presidential sweepstakes. I’m a big baby, the Trump outburst announced to all, and I’ll just act out until my anger is appeased!
- - JACK SHAFER, Donald Trump Is a 2-Year-Old. It’s Time for the Press to Treat Him Like One., Politico, June 01, 2016
In January, 2017, The Telegraph published an article with the headline Donald Trump's childish tantrums threaten to derail his presidency before it has even begun.
- CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, Donald Trump's childish tantrums threaten to derail his presidency before it has even begun, The Telegraph, 13 JANUARY 2017
- The brains of young adults between ages 18 and 22 are not fully developed and are less capable of making decisions that can have long term effects. Our society needs to recognize this and make sure that there is structure and support in place to prevent dangerous behavior among all young adults.
- - BL Philadelphia, PA, Nov. 17, 2017 Comment on Frank Bruni, Their Pledges Die. So Should Fraternities., NYT, Nov. 17, 2017
- There's nothing wrong with the Greek system.
- The problem is the wrong kids are going to college. They are philistines. Their parents are philistines. They failed to teach their children basic civility. They have no business being in college.
- College used to be an institution for mature, sophisticated young people. Today it's just high school with less rules, more booze and lots of debt.
- Today every kid has it drilled into his or her head that college is a requirement. Kids who used to become plumbers and carpenters and truck drivers now feel the need to attend university.
- Leave the Greek system alone. Make college harder for the unwashed, hooligan rabble to get in to.
- - Johannes de Silentio NYC, Nov. 17, 2017 Comment on Frank Bruni, Their Pledges Die. So Should Fraternities., NYT, Nov. 17, 2017
- Study abroad now — like nearly everything else — is more structured, brief and undertaken with a goal in mind. It has become a must-get college experience, a coveted résumé credential and a way to test independence for a generation that does so carefully. ...
- Most want academic credit, but any foreign experience counts. ...
- What’s clear is that study abroad — once the way to get fluent in a foreign language or firsthand exposure to cultural sites — is less and less about that. In fact, said Cheryl Matherly, vice president and vice provost for international affairs at Lehigh University, “if you had programs just based on students with language ability, you wouldn’t have anybody going.”
- Enrollment in foreign language study, she said, “is cratering.”
- Increasingly, study abroad happens in English. And schools like Lehigh are making targeted foreign forays — cast as global learning — a centerpiece of campus offerings. They appeal to students across majors with tailored experiences like marketing in Shanghai or combining tech and business in Prague, which slip into convenient time slots, like summer. ...
- And — the best part — Lehigh organized it. Ms. Carroll said the university set up her housing and internship, provided a stipend for meals and travel (plus $800 to make up for missed summer earnings). All that, she said, “makes it significantly easier to do this.” ...
- The very value of going abroad — being uncomfortable, trying to operate in unfamiliar surroundings — is also what makes it hard. ...
- “This is about solving an open-ended problem in an entirely different culture, in an entirely different location without friends and family.”
- For a generation accustomed to support and structure, it’s unsettling. ...
- And yet improvisation — having to operate in a strange culture and make changes on the fly — is what provides the career boost that everyone talks about.
- - Laura Pappano, From Albania to Singapore, U.S. Students Look for Tailored Experiences Abroad, NYT, June 7, 2019
- I think we’re challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.
- - Rachel Carlson, quoted in JONATHAN NORTON LEONARD, Rachel Carson Dies of Cancer; 'Silent Spring' Author Was 56, NYT, April 15, 1964
- You must face realities instead of taking refuge in ignorance and evasion of truth. Yours is a grave and sobering responsibility, but it is also a shining opportunity. You go out into a world where mankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before, to prove its maturity and its mastery — not of nature, but of itself.
- Therein lies our hope and our destiny.
- - Rachel Carlson, in her commencement address at Scripps College, quoted in MARIA POPOVA,Rachel Carson’s Bittersweet Farewell to the World: Timeless Advice to the Next Generations from the Woman Who Catalyzed the Environmental Movement, BrainPickings, 4/12/2019