An Analysis of “The Coddling of the American Mind”

© Courtesy of @kj2018. 2019.

In the autumn of 2015, American magazine company, The Atlantic, published a controversial article titled “The Coddling of the American Mind,” by authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. The essay touches on how trigger warnings, as well as the precautions taken to ensure safe spaces, is affecting American college students and the academic curriculum being offered. Whatever the reader’s opinion on trigger warnings, the literary finesse of this article enables it to be appreciated beyond its content and is highly recommended for English students interested in improving their essay-writing abilities. Within this lengthy article, we are introduced to diverse perspectives through effective story-telling, handed evidence-based facts that allow for critical thinking, as well as being walked through the process of how we came to be a society dependent on safety and regulations.

“The Coddling of the American Mind” is an informative essay in its most basic form. The authors focus on the rise of social awareness for both physical safety and mental health, they believe this increase of awareness has led to the current regulations being encouraged in colleges today. Their motive is to educate the reader of the present situations being seen nationwide, like the loss of classical literary works, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, in English courses, or the demonization of staff and schools who refuse to enforce the idea of safe spaces on campuses. They elaborate on terms like “microaggression” and delve into the earliest beginnings of the use of trigger warnings to further the reader’s understanding of the topics discussed. They offer an abundance of perspectives that allow for critical thinking on the reader’s part.

To evaluate this article, some criteria has been considered. I am focused on the effectiveness of this essay. Is the introduction engaging and forward so the reader can understand the authors’ thesis? Are the transitions easy to follow? Do they offer evidence from credible sources? It is my hope that this analysis will offer insight into how the writing process occurs and is successfully demonstrated.

First, an author must lure in their readers with an effective hook. The introductory statement is engaging immediately, it strikes suspicion and fear into the hearts of readers with a carefully concocted statement that encourages the audience to continue into the meat of the essay. The reader is curious and likely to continue reading. The thesis is vague in Lukianoff and Haidt’s essay, obscured by flowery words, it is in the second sentence. Still focusing on the first paragraph, the authors exhibit factual events that give leverage to their thesis argument that trigger warnings are making college campuses rigid and static, giving their flimsy thesis much more support. In the second paragraph, they describe the basic idea of what trigger warnings are as well as explaining important terms such as “microaggression”. Giving concise descriptions behind these words and phrases ensures that the reader will be informed. The reader is more educated on the topic and can effectively contribute to the conversation with facts in hand.

They go on to explain the effects of this movement across campuses, detailing the events and behaviors that are occurring because of a growing desire for censored material and courses. It is important to include these key details so that there is depth and urgency in their cause, the authors need legitimizing evidence to encourage the reader to join their argument. The last few paragraphs examine the possible reasonings behind this movement, looking more at the concept of critical thinking versus politically correct processing.

Transitions are easily distinguishable from other parts of the essay which allows the reader to manage the length of the article with ease. As great as these aspects are, I believe the authors may have attempted to persuade readers with flaming, or enticing, words like classism and privilege, topics that tend to uproot centuries of pain and fear. They go on further, claiming that students are politically motivated rather than concerned about their mental well-being. These points have undermined their credibility to an extent, because opinion-based statements like these, that are being construed as factual are misleading and encourage an emotional response from the reader, forcing them to engage defensively rather than critically. It makes the reader suspicious of the author’s intentions, which can make the read rather difficult and even off-putting.

The authors take effort to describe the similarities and differences between political correctness that rose in the 1980’s and 1990’s to what we are experiencing through the resurgence today. The movement witnessed more than two decades ago is described as one that “sought to restrict speech (specifically hate speech aimed at marginalized groups), but it also challenged the literary, philosophical, and historical canon, seeking to widen it by including more-diverse perspectives,” (Lukianoff, 2015), whereas today’s movement is focused on emotional and mental health. They state that the movement today “presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche” with a goal of “protecting students from psychological harm,” (Lukianoff, 2015). I believe this statement effectively tells readers their opinion while also stating fact.

The authors reflect on their thesis with a comparison that many people can relate to. Most of their readers, we can assume, have grown up through the tumultuous decades described, we know of the plight that many artists and even ordinary citizens were faced with at the time — discrimination. Having relative statements and examples encourages your reader to believe that you as an author are relatable, ensuring that your readers will stay until the end of the article. This requires participation from your audience, they are more willing to do put in effort to bring attention to this cause whether that means sharing the article with friends online or it may mean that they begin researching on their own to arrive at a conclusion that may, or may not, match the authors’.

An especially important analysis of trigger warnings includes the authors’ question of how this change in social awareness affects the student’s psyche. Haidt is a social psychologist and believes that trigger warnings are a hinderance to college students, the very people this movement is said to be helping. He believes that allowing students to avoid uncomfortable subjects “prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong,” (Haidt, 2015). As an employee for a company or corporation, an employee will often find themselves mirroring their company rather than actively speaking out against it. If students are given the choice to opt out of uncomfortable situations that pose no physical harm to their bodies, then they will not be an effective worker, something that will challenge their livelihood. Addressing this important aspect, Haidt highlights the double-edged sword in one paragraph. It is critical to inform the reader of the effects of a topic, especially on the people most affected by the topic.

Lukianoff and Haidt’s article is one that can be looked to as a fine example of what it takes for one to create an exceptional literary piece. “The Coddling of the American Mind” offers varied opinions and presents diverse situations to allow for critical thinking in a surprisingly efficient and logical way. I believe the use of factual events, including quotes from credible sources, and the use of thorough exposition allow for this article to be an important read for students eager to improve their writing and to gain enough insight to perform similarly in their own work.

Works Cited:

Lukianoff, Greg, and Jonathan Haidt. The Coddling of the American Mind. The Atlantic, 2015.