America is infected with an outbreak that is worse than COVID-19. It affects almost everything in our society.
We call it "Coddling Syndrome," or CS for short. The underlying cause is the compulsion of many parents to fiercely shield their children from any form of disappointment or failure. CS has been around for generations but is now reaching epidemic levels.
An example of the syndrome in early education is the idea of "no wrong answers." Like it or not, three times two does equal six. A relatively small minority of parents have influenced schools to increase the proportion of ungraded work, dump "gifted programs" for high-achieving students, and eliminate objective testing for entry to elite schools to shield those who cannot qualify on their merits. The result is to demotivate and devalue achievement and skills, and the fallout is safe spaces, "participation trophies," and other similar nonsense. A new right "not to be offended" has materialized. Thin-skinned doesn't even begin to describe the phenomenon.
College kids are sensitized to "microaggressions." In response, they demand rectification and speech codes. Campuses are increasingly paved with eggshells and infested with kangaroo courts that mete out punishment for the most trivial complaint without common sense, due process, or recognition that people are imperfect. As these young people transition into adulthood, they feel entitled to compel others to adopt their viewpoints. This sense of entitlement has permeated the workplace and even the streets, as criminals feel able to offend with impunity, particularly in the face of weak deterrence.
In a recent op-ed , Washington Post columnist George Will chronicled the persecution of Jason Kilborn, a law professor at the University of Illinois Chicago. He has been pilloried and administratively punished for the crime of posing in an exam a hypothetical racial harassment case (for the 10th consecutive year) in which a black employee brought a lawsuit after being called the N-word. Although the word was used purely in a teaching context, one coddled student was offended by the very mention of the word and complained. The administration ignored the context and the importance of language to history and law, capitulated, and lit a fire of protest that went out of control. The cowardice of the university administration is nauseating.
Want another example?
At the UCLA law school, in an exam question about First Amendment guarantees, professor Robert Goldstein referred to a protest in Ferguson, Missouri, where the stepfather of Michael Brown, the unarmed man killed by police, reacted angrily to news that Officer Darren Wilson would not be charged in the killing. He shouted to a crowd of protesters, "Burn this b**** down!" Students were tasked to write a memo analyzing how the First Amendment applies to such speech. Several complained. Said one UCLA student : "These kinds of questions create a hostile learning environment for students of color, especially black students who are already disadvantaged by the institution." (This is law school, mind you.)
The dark side of this CS entitlement is that it censors legitimate speech, much of which is of no material consequence to the offended party. Where did such a right originate, and why should it have any moral or legal force? Why should a student or group of students have the right to censor legitimate educational examples and compromise instructors' standing? Why is this not obvious to university administrators?
The only known cure for Coddling Syndrome is a backbone. It's time for more school officials, employers, and other managers to grow them.
Andrew I. Fillat spent his career in technology venture capital and information technology companies. He is also the co-inventor of relational databases. Henry I. Miller is a physician and molecular biologist. They were undergraduates together at M.I.T.