The Coddling of the American Mind

I just started reading “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.” After reading the introduction, I want to share a couple of quotes and an excerpt that resonates with me.

While the following quotes primarily focus on college students, I sense that they, and much of the book, may apply to high school students and their parents as well. In fact, my primary premise as a teacher is that the difficulties many students face today derive from the well-intentioned, but misguided efforts of their parents. In other words, and ironically, my peer group unintentionally harms their children as they seek to help them. I firmly do not believe that is their intent. However, until they recognize the potential for their actions to cause harm, the damage will continue to be wrought.

All students must be prepared for the world they will face after college, and those who are making the largest jump – the ones most in danger of feeling like strangers in a strange land — are the ones who must learn fastest and prepare hardest. The playing field is not level; life is not fair.

…adults are doing far more these days to protect children, and their overreach might be having some negative effects.

One of the reasons I became a high school teacher was the desire to help students ready themselves for the rigors of college. When I entered college in the fall of 1982, I realized quickly that the academic intensity in my courses, especially in mathematics and science, significantly surpassed that of high school. Students in my college were responsible for reading course content and completing assigned homework BEFORE a topic was addressed in class. Sylvanus Thayer pioneered this method at the United States Military Academy at West Point over 200 years ago. Learning this way became a blessing, and an integral element in my success in life but at the time it felt like a curse. Had I been sheltered from that demanding and sometimes overwhelming experience, I would not have obtained my bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering, of that I am sure.

The authors list three ideas to be “happier, healthier, stronger, and more likely to succeed in pursuing your own goals.”

  • Seek out challenges, rather than eliminating or avoiding everything that “feels unsafe,”
  • Free yourself from cognitive distortions, rather than always trusting your initial feelings, and
  • Take a generous view of other people, and look for nuance, rather than assuming the worst about people within a simplistic us-versus-them morality.

As a parent of two boys ages 16 and 20, a former secondary mathematics teacher, a successful tech professional, and a graduate of three post-secondary institutions, I believe these are fine ideas.

I plan to share more of my thoughts from my reading of this book over time.

The Coddling of the American Mind

About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Independent consultant and junior college adjunct instructor. Former secondary math teacher who taught math intervention, algebra 1, geometry, accelerated algebra 2, precalculus, honors precalculus, AP Calculus AB, and AP Statistics. Prior to teaching, I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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4 Responses to The Coddling of the American Mind

  1. Pingback: The Rise of Safetyism: When Student Perception Rules | Reflections of a Second-career Math Teacher

  2. I think part of the problem is students underestimate how difficult college coursework can be, especially in STEM fields. They show up planning to do some combination of: work 40 hours, join a frat/sorority, play a sport, attend football games, live the “college experience,” and major in marine biology. They find they either need to give up extracurriculars, give up a competitive major, or settle for a “gentleman’s C.”

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  3. You might enjoy this video of a talk given by Richard Rusczyk at Math Prize for Girls a few years ago: https://youtu.be/TYCxbFad36g?t=403 (It’s a long video, so I’ve linked to the most relevant slide.) Would love to hear your thoughts.

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    • Richard’s efforts with AOPS are excellent. His talk speaks to what I believe is problematic with secondary mathematics instruction not only for students who are perceived to be gifted mathematically but for those who have not had the opportunity to blossom for whatever reason. And as he states, sadly, school is not enough. I learned that lesson the hard, exhausting, and expensive way.

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