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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Augustine would give a name to this kind of disordered relationship to wisdom and learning: curiositas. Curiosity for Augustine is not the spirit of inquiry we prize and encourage; rather, it is a kind of quest for knowledge that doesn’t know what it’s for—a knowing for knowing’s sake, we might say, or perhaps more to the point, knowing for the sake of being known as someone who knows. For Augustine, the reason I want to know is an indicator of the sort of love that motivates my learning. Am I learning in order to grow, learning in order to know who and how to love? Or am I learning in order to wield power, get noticed, be seen as smart, be “in the know”? The disordered love of learning makes you a mere technician of information for some end other than wisdom, and the irony is that philosophy could devolve into just another way of idolizing. Indeed, Augustine could still see this in himself by the time he was a teacher: “I was seeking to use my education to please other people—not to teach them, but just to please them.”

— James K.A. Smith, On the Road with Saint Augustine

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How can we raise wiser children who will not fall prey to the Untruth of Us Versus Them and the self-righteous call-out culture it breeds? And how can teenagers and college students themselves create and foster a common-humanity way of thinking?

A. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Use the “principle of charity.” This is the principle in philosophy and rhetoric of making an effort to interpret other people’s statements in their best or most reasonable form, not in the worst or most offensive way possible. Parents can model the principle of charity by using it in family discussions and arguments.

B. Practice the virtue of “intellectual humility.” Intellectual humility is the recognition that our reasoning is so flawed, so prone to bias, that we can rarely be certain that we are right. For kids in middle or high school, find the TED Talk titled “On Being Wrong.” The speaker, Kathryn Schulz, begins with the question “What does it feel like to be wrong?” She collects answers from the audience: “dreadful,” “thumbs down, embarrassing.” Then she notes that her audience has actually described what it feels like the moment they realize they are wrong. Until that moment, the feeling of being wrong is indistinguishable from the feeling of being right. We are all wrong about many things at every moment, but until we know it, we are often quite certain that we are right. Having people around us who are willing to disagree with us is a gift. So when you realize you are wrong, admit that you are wrong, and thank your critics for helping you see it.

— Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind

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Some strategies for raising strong, emotionally resilient children by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt:

Assume that your kids are more capable this month than they were last month. Each month, ask them what tasks or challenges they think they can do on their own—such as walking to a store a few blocks away, making their own breakfast, or starting a dog-walking business. Resist the urge to jump in and help them when they’re struggling to do things and seem to be doing them the wrong way. Trial and error is a slower but usually better teacher than direct instruction.

Let your kids take more small risks, and let them learn from getting some bumps and bruises. Children need opportunities to “dose themselves” with risk, as Peter Gray noted. Jon’s kids love the “junkyard playground” on GoVernor’s Island, in New York City. It lets children play with construction materials, including scrap lumber, hammers, and nails (after the parents sign a long liability waiver). On their first visit, Ion watched from outside the fence as two ten-year-old boys pounded nails into lumber. One of the boys accidentally hit his thumb with the hammer. The boy winced, shook his hand out, and went right back to pounding nails. This happened twice and did not deter the boy. He learned how to hammer nails.

Encourage your children to walk or ride bicycles to and from school at the earliest ages possible, consistent with local circumstances of distance, traffic, and crime. Ask your school to provide a way for kids to check in and check out, so parents can keep track of children who travel to school independently without having to give them a smart-phone to track them directly.

Send your children to an overnight summer camp in the woods for a few weeks—without devices. “The old-fashioned generalist camps are where We see the most impact in terms of letting children develop their own interests,” Erika Christakis says, “where kids can make choices about what they do and don’t do.”

Encourage your children to engage in a lot of “productive disagreement.” As psychologist Adam Grant notes, the most creative people grew up in homes full of arguments, yet few parents today teach their children how to argue productively; instead, “we stop siblings from quarreling and we have our own arguments behind closed doors.” But learning how to give and take criticism without being hurt is an essential life skill. When serious thinkers respect someone, they are willing to engage them in a thoughtful argument. Grant offers the following four rules for productive disagreement:

Frame it as a debate, rather than a conflict. 

Argue as if you’re right, but listen as if you’re wrong (and be willing to change your mind).

Make the most respectful interpretation of the other person’s perspective.

Acknowledge where you agree with your critics and what you’ve learned from them.

— The Coddling of the American Mind

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In 2013, Campbell and Manning began noticing the same changes on campus that Greg had been noticing—the interlocking set of new ideas about microaggressions, trigger warnings, and safe spaces. They noted that the emerging morality of victimhood culture was radically different from dignity culture. They defined a victimhood culture as having three distinct attributes: First, “individuals and groups display high sensitivity to slight”; second, they “have a tendency to handle conflicts through complaints to third parties”; and third, they “seek to cultivate an image of being victims who deserve assistance.”

Of special relevance to our concerns in this chapter is the second attribute. Campbell and Manning pointed out that the presence of administrators or legal authorities who can be persuaded to take one’s side and intervene is a prerequisite for the emergence of victimhood culture. They noted that when administrative remedies are easily available and there is no shame in calling on them, it can lead to a condition known as “moral dependence.” People come to rely on external authorities to resolve their problems, and, over time, “their willingness or ability to use other forms of conflict management may atrophy.”

— Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind

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The effects of play deprivation and oversupervision may extend far beyond college. Steven Horwitz, an economist at Ball State University in Indiana, took the same research on play that we have reviewed in this chapter and worked out some possible consequences for the future of liberal democracies. He drew on the work of political scientists Elinor Ostrom and Vincent Ostrom, both of whom studied how self-governing communities resolve conflicts peacefully. Successful democracies do this by developing a variety of institutions and norms that enable people with different goals and conflicting desires to resolve their problems while rarely appealing to the police or the state to coerce their fellow citizens. This is the “art of association” that so impressed Alexis de Tocqueville when he traveled through the United States in 1831.

Citizens of a democracy don’t suddenly develop this art on their eighteenth birthday. It takes many years to cultivate these skills, which overlap with the ones that Peter Gray maintains are learned during free play. Of greatest importance in free play is that it is always voluntary; anyone can quit at any time and disrupt the activity, so children must pay close attention to the needs and concerns of others if they want to keep the game going. They must work out conflicts over fairness on their own; no adult can be called upon to side with one child against another.

Horwitz points out that when adult-supervised activities crowd out free play, children are less likely to develop the art of association:

Denying children the freedom to explore on their own takes away important learning opportunities that help them to develop not just independence and responsibility, but a whole variety of social skills that are central to living with others in a free society. If this argument is correct, parenting strategies and laws that make it harder for kids to play on their own pose a serious threat to liberal societies by flipping our default setting from “figure out how to solve this conflict on your own” to “invoke force and/or third parties whenever conflict arises.” This is one of the “vulnerabilities of democracies” noted by Vincent Ostrom.

The consequences for democracies could be dire, particularly for a democracy such as the United States, which is already suffering from ever-rising cross-party hostility and declining trust in institutions. Here is what Horwitz fears could be in store:

A society that weakens children’s ability to learn these skills denies them what they need to smooth social interaction. The coarsening of social interaction that will result will create a world of more conflict and violence, and one in which people’s first instinct will be increasingly to invoke coercion by other parties to solve problems they ought to be able to solve themselves.

— Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind

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The lesson we draw from this brief review of research on social class and parenting is that although kids are naturally antifragile, there are two very different ways to damage their development. One is to neglect and underprotect them, exposing them early to severe and chronic adversity. This has happened to some of today’s college students, particularly those from working-class or poor families. The other is to overmonitor and overprotect them, denying them the thousands of small challenges, risks, and adversities that they need to face on their own in order to become strong and resilient adults.

America’s selective universities are dominated by children from the upper class and upper-middle class. A recent analysis found that at thirty-eight top schools, including most of the Ivy League, there are more undergraduate students from families in the top 1% of the income distribution than from the bottom 60%. This means that overparenting is probably a much greater cause of fragility on such campuses than is underparenting.

— Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind

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There are two ideas about safe spaces: One is a very good idea and one is a terrible idea. The idea of being physically safe on a campus—not being subjected to sexual harassment and physical abuse, or being targeted specifically, personally, for some kind of hate speech—”you are an n-word,” or whatever—I am perfectly fine with that. But there’s another view that is now I think ascendant, which I think is just a horrible view, which is that “I need to be safe ideologically. I need to be safe emotionally. I just need to feel good all the time, and if someone says something that I don’t like, that’s a problem for everybody else, including the [university] administration.”

I don’t want you to be safe ideologically. I don’t want you to be safe emotionally. I want you to be strong. That’s different. I’m not going to pave the jungle for you. Put on some boots, and learn how to deal with adversity. I’m not going to take all the weights out of the gym; that’s the whole point of the gym. This is the gym.

— David Axelrod, as quoted by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt in The Coddling of the American Mind

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