Engaging Culture

The Origins of the College Student Assault Against Free Speech

I don’t normally write about social issues, but with so much media coverage and hundreds of articles written about the assault on free speech from students at the University of Missouri, Yale, Claremont, and other colleges, I wanted to make a connection. From objections about Halloween costumes, to the right to a “safe place,” to shouting down speakers they don’t agree with, to a hundred other “micro-aggressions,” today’s college students are being called “cry bullies” for wielding their victim status like an axe. Where in the world did this come from? And while racism (as the cause) makes most of the news these days, there are plenty of issues across the victim spectrum – and many are simply unexplainable. For instance the African-American student at Missouri protesting “white privilege” who comes from a family with a net worth of $20 million, or the self-righteous students upset that the media was focusing on the Paris terrorist attacks rather than promoting their grievances.

But the blame goes way back, and I believe it started with us baby boomers.  We grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, and in those days it was typical to have a rather distant relationship with our parents. As a result, many vowed never to do that with our kids. But human nature being what it is, we went to the extreme opposite end of the spectrum. We didn’t raise children, we raised our best friends. As a result, research studies and the media have reported that we raised a generation of “trophy kids” – who got trophies just for showing up. We were called “helicopter parents” because we hovered over our kids all the time, protecting them from every little hurt.

And remember it was our generation that perfected car seats, bike helmets, and just about every kid safety gadget known to man.  Nothing wrong with safety, but for our generation of parents, it was an obsession. I think there’s a law being discussed in California that won’t let kids out of car seats until they graduate from high school. And worse – parents have become their children’s agents and coaches for life. The Wall Street Journal reported a few years ago that companies have discovered when a boss reprimands a millennial employee, the millennial employee’s parents call the boss to complain!

So for a generation that’s been hyper-protected, hovered over, lavished with undeserved awards, and having parents fight their battles, it’s not a stretch to see that when reality hits, victimhood becomes a natural choice.  After all, they’ve grown up sheltered from insults, criticism, and negativity so it’s natural when they hit the hard wall of reality, they recoil. Which explains why Pew Research has noted that 40% of Millennials want free speech censored. It’s just too much for these precious cupcakes to face things they don’t agree with. But novelist George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

freespeech-SamGraham-flickr-370x242Now before you complain that I’m painting every Millennial with the same brush, there’s no question that many of that generation are doing remarkable things. We have two daughters in that category who work very hard in their careers, and understand how to face reality without hurt feelings.  But in the overall scheme of things, and looking at these incidents across the country, the connection needs to be made.

Coddle a generation – even out of good intentions – and they expect that life will always be that way.  And what are the implications for the future of the culture? When these self-proclaimed “victims” become government leaders, CEO’s, or teachers, where does it end? As our first president, George Washington said, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

oxquRiTA previous generation called “The Greatest Generation” hit the beaches at D-Day and in the Pacific to protect the rights that these students so easily dismiss. With bullets spraying around him, when the steel doors of the landing craft went down, my father was among those college aged men that would have loved a “safe place.”

But not at the expense of freedom.

Title Photo: Mikala Compton

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  1. “When these self-proclaimed “victims” become government leaders, CEO’s, or teachers, where does it end?”

    I think this is the questioned I’ve been dwelling on for a few weeks now. Phil makes a good point, but I think this is a phenomena that has serval prongs to it. This country has become so PC in the past few years and the leadership of this country is not helping at all. As millennials we need to lead the way especially if we want to continue to preach the Gospel because many people find that offense and as “hate speech.”

  2. Your analysis is spot on Phil.

    I too have often contemplated how the sense of entitlement and ‘thin-skin’ that many (not all of course) Millenials have will shape the future of our nation as they transition into positions of business and political leadership.

    I have serious questions about the kind of America my kids and grandkids will inherit. I’m concerned about how this could well lead to an acceleration of the erosion of the Constitutional freedoms enjoyed by our generation and the ones that came before us.

    I am also a pastor, and on a Kingdom level my concern is that this cultural phenomenon has created a generation who expect the Scriptures to conform to their world view, thus rejecting the truth that the Scruptures are to conform us to Jesus’ image.

    We live in challenging times indeed, ones which which require profound wisdom if we’re going to successfully navigate the waters of the current culture to shape hearts and minds with truth.

    I appreciate your analysis and insights.

  3. I applaud your views here, Phil. This country is in some serious trouble with this kind of thinking. Actually, I find it alarming. You’re right, our generation went wrong when it relinquished its parental responsibility by “friending” their children, as well as protecting them from all adversity instead of allowing them to grow and mature through adversity, and teaching them how to appropriately handle it. It’s frightening to think we will have emotionally immature adults running our country.

  4. i’m guilty of this. I thought that by extending my kid’s “youth” it would give them more time to be children and put off the realities of being an adult. Baaaaad idea. Thanks to me and so many others like me we have ended up with a generation of “entitled” people. The slogan, “you deserve a break today” killed us. Why? Why do you deserve a break? Why does anyone “deserve” anything? The truth is, we don’t. We get what we work for. Period. I apologize for adding to this nightmare. Thankfully, my kids have grown out of their “entitled” stage and now, in their late 20s, have begun to realize that world is not waiting to serve them. My dad put me to work at 14. I never saw any problem with it. It was just what you did to get by and have some money in your pocket. We weren’t poor but no one was going to hand me a $20 for the weekend. Heck, I’ve handed out so much cash I hate to think about it. Sure, I love my kids and want them to have the best and be the best but tough love is a better plan. Make them grow up – and fast or you will get what you “deserve”.

  5. Allow me to once again recommend “Generations” by Stauss & Howe and/or, in a more accessible treatise of the same idea, “Pendulum” by Roy Williams. Or, easier and quicker, make your way through this Wikipedia article on the former…


    The basic idea is that societies run in ~80-year cycles, which are made up of two ~40-year cycles, which are made up of two ~20-year cycles. Generations come of age, encounter problems and challenges, blame their predecessors as if such problems never existed before, and pursue solutions that are opposite-ish of what’s been being done regardless of history’s lessons. The result is swings between good times and bad, crises and renewals, and periods of heroes/individualism and institutions/collectivism; combine those with the directions you’re moving between each of the two, and you wind up with the conditions that form eras.

    Right now, we’re in a time of crisis with a collectivist attitude toward fixing its problems. Such times have almost always produced the worst of the world’s events as nonconforming individuals who don’t join the collective or submit to the schemes of its institutions are forcibly pushed in or otherwise….”dealt with.”

    If the theory holds, “times like these” in this “collectivist” period will go on for another 20 years or so, with the next ten getting even worse (i.e., more repressive and/or violent toward those outside the collective) before we will perceive a let-up and the beginning of a turn in what most of us here would consider the “right” direction. Even then, society will just be beginning to *head* in the “right” direction…there is no “snap-back!”

    The 80-year length of the overall cycle suggests that society never winds up back as it “should” be in anyone’s lifetime, the feeling of “should” usually being defined simply by when one and one’s cohort comes of age and not by objective thought, reasoning, or research. What you feel is “right” — your definition of “the good ol’ days” — *never* comes back. Unless you live to 100.

    That being the case, it’s important to realize your responsibility is to lead, manage, guide, steer, influence, and carry out your calling in the times and the conditions as they are, not as you wish they would be again; they’re not coming back.

  6. I half agree with this article. I think there is a drastic culture of hovering parents AND severely neglectful parents. Neglect creates a ton of emotional issues in kids. So it’s a combination of hurt kids that were not fought for or protected attempting to ‘protect’ in their own way too.

  7. You’re right concerning hovering hovering hovering and coddling. You’re 100% right about free speech…I’m all for treating folks with dignity and respect, but we don’t get to decide who gets to speak freely.

    I recall being on campus in 1970, being uncertain as a kid about Viet Nam but feeling absolutely sure that the ROTC folks didn’t deserve the horrible treatment they received from protesters. So perhaps this phenomenon isn’t as new as we think. Maybe it just gets more coverage.

    I wonder about your comment concerning “the African-American student at Missouri protesting “white privilege” who comes from a family with a net worth of $20 million.”

    “White privilege” has nothing to do with money. I grew up in a lower middle class white family with every benefit of white privilege that couldn’t be purchased by that young man’s $20 million.

    My opinion…that sort of comment, tossed so casually into the middle of a discussion in which it really doesn’t fit, demonstrates how far we have to go in the discussion about race relations.

  8. After reading this post, best selling writer Jan Dargatz sent me this email:

    “Phil: Several years ago I read a very interesting article about the fastest growing psychological disorder in our nation: Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). It occurs when the “normal” narcissism of children and teens extends into their twenties. If that happens, unchecked, the condition is rarely curable (a narcissitic adult never sees that he or she has a problem…everybody else has one) and becomes a lifetime condition. The interesting thing in light of your well-stated column is that adult narcissists rarely are good parents—they are too self-centered, entirely focused on how their children can make THEM look good. I see huge theological implications –adult narcissists expect God to be all about THEM, rather than to see their challenge as being a person who expresses true humility before and worship of the true Almighty One, the King of the Universe. (Narcissists believe THEY are the center of the universe and everybody else needs to pay them homage.)
    It appears in the research that nobody but a PARENT can impact a narcissitic teen so NPD doesn’t result. The parent needs to say, “I may have made you the center of my world but you need to know that nobody else got that memo. You may have a right to speak, and even to whine, but nobody else has a responsibility to LISTEN to what you say, or HEED what you demand. Shut up and listen with respect to the adults around you, and learn some things that will result in opinions that do demand respect for you.”
    Oh may it be true! –Jan

  9. Phil,
    There is another component worth considering, as the assault on free speech has not occurred solely in an organic manner. Social engineering (psychological manipulation) programs via various institutions and employed over decades, and now generations, have yielded a monumental change (mostly decline) in American thinking, society, morals and values.

    1. Truth enough Scott. I also think that the 60’s radicals have been on the faculty now for decades, and that has enormous influence as well. (Largely because that’s who’s driving the social engineering programs you mention).
      Thanks for the insight!

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