The press has typically described these developments as a resurgence of political correctness. That’s partly right, although there are important differences between what’s happening now and what happened in the 1980s and ’90s. That movement 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. The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.
Apropos of a theme the Atlantic has been exploring plenty, not only can it be said there is an environment of "vindictive protectiveness" education in the United States has become goal-focused to a point where love of learning has been supplanted by a push for successfully reaching targeted goals.
The truth—for this parent and so many others—is this: Her child has sacrificed her natural curiosity and love of learning at the altar of achievement, and it’s our fault. Marianna’s parents, her teachers, society at large—we are all implicated in this crime against learning. From her first day of school, we pointed her toward that altar and trained her to measure her progress by means of points, scores, and awards. We taught Marianna that her potential is tied to her intellect, and that her intellect is more important than her character. We taught her to come home proudly bearing As, championship trophies, and college acceptances, and we inadvertently taught her that we don’t really care how she obtains them. We taught her to protect her academic and extracurricular perfection at all costs and that it’s better to quit when things get challenging rather than risk marring that perfect record. Above all else, we taught her to fear failure. That fear is what has destroyed her love of learning.
It's probably not good enough for anybody to be average or even below average in academics these days. Yet decades ago one of the more bracing introductions to a college course I ever took had a professor saying: "I don't want us to misunderstand each other. Most of you are average writers. Most of you will get average grades. There is nothing wrong with getting a C."
But then given the trajectories of academic life and publishing these days it seems like a life that demands much and rewards little. Twenty some years ago getting into an academic setting to do research seemed like a fun idea. Now it seems more like a dodged bullet with the shifts in culture and it's hard to commend higher education with its attendant debt.