Haidt is also founder of Heterodox Academy, a group of academics who believe in diversity on campus, including viewpoint diversity, especially among professors.
He and Daniel Shuchman, a New York investment fund manager who is chairman of the free-speech-championing Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), approached me with the idea of starting Let Grow. Our goal is to end the modern day practice of treating all kids as if they are physically, emotionally and psychologically fragile.
In this culture-wide mania to protect kids from everything that could possibly hurt them — a culture that results in helpful suggestions like this: “Before sending the kids out to play make sure the ground is slip-proof and fall-proof” — we are actually taking away our children’s chance to grow up strong and capable. We are in effect teaching them to feel hurt, scared, and helpless. On campus, this same lesson continues as students are taught to seek authority figures to solve their problems and shield them from discomfort — even the discomfort of having their ideas challenged.
The antidote? Well, you’ll hear it toward the end of Haidt’s lecture, but here’s a spoiler: They key is to start raising more resilient, “I can handle this” kids, by giving them back some independence and overthrowing overprotection. How?
Here’s one independence-growing program Let Grow is promoting. And here’s another. And another! By the time these can-do kids get to college they will scoff at the idea that they need protection from everything, even people and ideas they don’t agree with.
Prof. Haidt presented this Wriston Lecture at this year’s Manhattan Institute gala in New York City last month. I attended and left feeling my IQ had jumped about 17 points (for the night). So here’s Haidt, and below I have excerpted his Let Grow shout out.
What he said about Let Grow:
I also want to call your attention to someone else who is searching for a solution: Lenore Skenazy has been sounding the alarm about what happens to kids when we raise them like veal, protecting them from everything including emotional harm. Answer: they ask to be protected in college, too. They expect that college will be a giant safe space, and that there will always be a designated adult to resolve their conflicts. Lenore has so many ideas for how to restore childhood to children—to give them the unsupervised time they need to become autonomous, self-supervising adults.
With seed money from Daniel Shuchman, she has started a nonprofit called LetGrow.org. I serve on the board, along with Peter Gray, from Boston College. One of the reasons Let Grow is so important, and the reason I mention it now, is that unsupervised free play turns out to be crucial for the development of democratic citizenship. I just want to read you a few sentences from one of Gray’s articles on the importance of unsupervised free play:
To play with another person, you must pay attention to the other person’s needs, not just your own, or the other person will quit. You must overcome narcissism. You must learn to negotiate in ways that respect the other person’s ideas, not just yours. [Gray goes on to describe the way that kids learn about rules, when adults are not present.] They learn in this way that rules are not fixed by heaven, but are human contrivances to make life more fun and fair. This is an important lesson; it is a cornerstone of democracy.
So please do not despair. Be alarmed—the situation is truly alarming. But most Americans are decent, thoughtful people who don’t want to give up on their country or its universities. There are many things we can do to reduce tribalism, strengthen our kids, and repair our universities. We—the baby boomers and gen-Xers who fill this room—we have made a mess of the [metaphorical clock that regulates society]. Left and Right, Republicans and Democrats. But we can make up for it if we can come together, admit that we messed up, and change what we are doing to kids, and to college students. We just might be able to raise a generation of kids who can care for the clock after all.
Can do! – L.