The New Yorker recently published an article about the issues roiling liberal arts colleges across America, particularly activism, free speech, and support for underrepresented groups, while focusing on the experience at Oberlin.
A common reaction is to bemoan the craziness of the current generation and blame their parents for their perceived failures. That is not my reaction. The article didn’t make me mad nor did it make me worry about the future. I don’t think that these articles indicate any dire weakness of young people that foreshadows doom for the future. It’s important to remember that many of these protests are occurring at very small four-year institutions–they are not representative of the education that most people receive–and that the vocal complaints of a tiny group of students can get a lot of press.
I’m more sad for the students.
College was a great time in my life and the lives of many of my closest friends and family. If these students are so upset and traumatized while in the relatively nurturing cocoon of college life, I can’t imagine how much they are going to hate life after college in the “real” world. If they now argue that they should not have to do their assignments as designed because they are too distracted, how are they going to get and keep a job? If they think that straight white cisgender males shouldn’t speak in class, what are they going to do if they have a straight white cisgender male boss (which, if they work for a large company, is pretty likely to happen at some point)?
Many of the most vocal activists have serious mental health issues. This isn’t me gas-lighting them. This is in the article and acknowledged by many of the activists and Oberlin’s leadership, which is dedicating more money to mental health services. It’s quite depressing. What is the cause? Is it biology? Tough environment at home? Extreme expectations?
To me, the article is a warning. Unlike what others have inferred from it, I believe it’s not a warning about an impending collapse of society due to the fragility of the current crop of college students. Rather, it’s a warning that it’s important to teach resilience and raise children who are mentally, emotionally, physically, and academically resilient. People should be respectful, but also unafraid to challenge their own ideas as well as others’. This seems to have been lost by some today.
But let’s not freak out too much. It’s a generational rite of passage to worry about the younger generation. Imagine if Twitter existed during the 1960s. The hot takes would have been hotter than napalm.