It's been 20 years since I started hearing alarming tales from a friend who supervised a daycare center for hospital employees' children. She said that for the first time in her considerable experience, the preschool children of medical professionals were pitching full-scale hissy fits — hitting, kicking and even biting their parents, without being effectively disciplined.
She said it was common to see grown men and women — doctors, nurses and technicians — on their knees reasoning with 3- and 4-year-olds going ape over stuff like juice boxes and peanut butter sandwiches. My friend said the same kids most often settled down and behaved as soon as their parents were out of sight. When it's naptime, it's naptime.
Now reasoning with a 3-year-old is pretty much like bargaining with a cat. If you're lucky you might eventually bore the little scamp into submission. Thankfully, this particular folly has been largely confined to the educated classes. Truck drivers and short-order cooks know better.
More recently, however, police in posh communities have begun arresting parents for crimes like allowing their children to frequent playgrounds on their own. Apparently my entire childhood, and that of my 40-something sons, was one long serial crime. I used to cross them at the corner and let them walk several blocks to the Billy Mitchell Boys Club on their own. They learned a lot down there, not all of it on the daycare curriculum.
Judging by the popular press, it appears that many of those toddlers, coddled and cosseted all their lives, have now enrolled in college, where confusion reigns. It appears that the faculty and administration of some of our most esteemed institutions of higher education have found themselves pleading with the little beggars on their knees.
Item: At Brown University last year, administrators fearful that student anxieties might be "triggered" by a debate about campus "rape culture" set up a "safe space" to recuperate from the stress of hearing heterodox opinions. According to Judith Shulevitz in the New York Times, "the room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma."
Evidently a couple of dozen students hid out there during the debate — the wonder, I suppose, being that the event took place at all.
Item: At Emory University, students pronounced themselves traumatized by "TRUMP 2016" chalked on campus sidewalks. Demonstrators chanted "Come speak to us, we are in pain!" until the university president agreed. Emory, incidentally, is located in Atlanta, a state likely to be carried by Trump come November.
Item: English literature majors at Yale University objected that a required class in "Major English Poets ... creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color." Reading Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, Wordsworth and T.S. Eliot was deemed oppressive.
"We have spoken," they demanded. "We are speaking. Pay attention."
My response would be simple: You don't want to read Shakespeare, then find another major. What did you think English Literature was going to be?
Item: At the University of Arizona, the "Marginalized Students," a coalition of "self-described oppressed" young scholars — black, Latino, Native American, Asian, LGBT, etc. — have basically called for re-segregation, with "safe spaces" for each group. The black kids want their own dorm.
Then go back home to Mommy, would be my attitude. Maybe universal military service would be a good thing after all. Tell it to the Marines.
No snarky newspaper column, however, could possibly prepare you for Oberlin College as depicted in a fascinating piece of long-form journalism by Nathan Heller of the New Yorker.
Displaying more patience and curiosity than a person of my inclinations could muster, Heller depicts a campus with an admirable history of social activism in perpetual turmoil from ethnic and sexual controversies so arcane and self-referential as to defy parody.
A sophomore demands a trigger warning on Sophocles "Antigone." (Suicide.) Asian students object that the Chinese food is "inauthentic." (Imagine that. Second-rate Sichuan cuisine in small-town Ohio!)
Among black students' 50 "non-negotiable demands" is instant tenure for a writing instructor who says that Jews are responsible for 9/11; also that the college free itself of all remnants of "imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, and a cissexist heteropatriarchy."
Ain't that a mouthful?