In the recent past, there has been a growing trend whereby college students are seeking protection from words that they do not like in the name of safeguarding their emotional wellbeing. This is a dangerous trend and if left unchecked it may destroy education in America. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt examine the implications of overprotecting students from unintentional microaggressions in their article: “The Coddling of the American Mind.” Lukianoff and Haidt argue that gagging instructors from using words deemed discriminatory virtually on any basis would prevent critical thinking and set a dangerous precedent for America’s education system and mental wellbeing. Lukianoff and Haidt manage to convince their readers by building credibility (through citing their experience of many years championing freedom in campuses and studying American culture respectively) and by using emotional appeals and stating reliable facts.
Lukianoff and Haidt start by describing an incident where Law Professors at Harvard have been asked by some students not teach rape law because it may cause distress among some students. That is just one of the many examples that highlight a trend whereby students are seeking to be shielded from words that may make some of them uncomfortable. The growing movement assumes that students are fragile and need some form of protection from psychological harm. To the supporters of the movement, that is the only way of making the learning environment safe. Lukianoff and Haidt argue that giving in to such demands is setting a bad precedent where students will be poorly prepared for the professional lives. They believe that in the professional environment, one may be required to engage with people and ideas that they may find uncongenial. The authors further argue that policing speech and punishing speakers may lead to patterns that cause depression and anxiety. The solution lies in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which would teach students critical thinking skills to base their beliefs on evidence instead of emotions.
In the first part of the article, Lukianoff and Haidt build credibility by stating their experience dealing with issues of academic freedom on campus and American culture. They write: “Greg Lukianoff is a constitutional lawyer and. defends free speech and academic freedom on campus, and has advocated for students and faculty involved in many of the incidents this article describes; Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist who studies the American culture wars.” By stating their experience, the authors show that they have authority over the subject they write on, and their experience makes their views credible. By stating that he has been involved in many of the incidents described in the article, Lukianoff shows that he has experienced the problem first-hand and, therefore, he is aware of the challenge it may pose to the education system in the future.
Apart from using ethos, the authors appeal to the audience using logos to show the progression of events that led to hypersensitivity on campuses. Lukianoff and Haidt trace the genesis of the new trend to the 1980s when “many parents pulled in the reins and worked harder to keep their children safe.” To keep the children safe in school, Lukianoff and Haidt argue that “dangerous play structures were removed from playgrounds; peanut butter was banned from student lunches.” Further to that, Lukianoff and Haidt argue that “After the 1999 Columbine massacre in Colorado, many schools cracked down on bullying, implementing zero tolerance policies.” The message that Lukianoff and Haidt intend to pass is that children born in the 1980’s and the 1990’s got the message that they would be protected from harm. By building up some events that led to the current movement, the authors use logical appeals to connect with the reader by showing the link between some of those events and the situation right now.
Adding to the use of logos, the authors use strong facts and statistics to support their ideas. For example, they use a study done by the American College Counseling Association that showed that the number of students with psychological issues was rising. Lukianoff and Haidt also use another survey carried out by the American College Health Association that showed that more than 50% of the students surveyed felt emotionally overwhelmed. The point that the authors seek to emphasize is that students are more fragile than ever before and shielding them from certain words or ideas would make them more fragile. The statistics drive the point that the issue is real and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Additionally, Lukianoff and Haidt use pathos to make the article emotionally appealing to the readers. Throughout the article, the authors use words that evoke strong emotion in the mind of the reader. Lukianoff and Haidt state, “This new climate is slowly being institutionalized, and is affecting what can be said in the classroom, even as a basis for discussion.” Lukianoff and Haidt further state, “ This movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally [and] it is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.” All these statements show that if the movement has its way, then instructors and students alike would be liable for punishment even for mundane matters beyond their control. The statements are also sympathetic that even class discussions would not go on in the right manner.
In conclusion, Lukianoff and Haidt do a fantastic work of showing that shielding students from words that they do not like would be a disaster for the education system and emotional health. They succeed by using pathos, ethos, logos, strong facts and statistics. It is clear to the reader that the new movement pushing the ban of certain words on campuses would not safeguard the emotional wellbeing of students rather it would be a hindrance to the preparation of students for their professional lives.
Lukianoff, Greg and Haidt Jonathan. “The Coddling of the American Mind” The Atlantic. The Atlantic. September 2015. Web. 31 January 2016.