of the special college snowflake and other mythical creatures of old people news
Kids today, huh? They’re narcissistic, entitled, refuse to understand the real world, want too much too quickly, and overdo it with their noble causes. You heard this one before in pretty much every publication about all those snotty millennials, right? Well, it may surprise you that this is a paraphrased quote from Aristotle, written some 2,300 years ago because if there’s a constant in life, it’s older generations complaining about those lazy, spoiled kids whose noble causes blind them to whatever the scolding elder considers to be their proper station in life, no matter the era, culture, or circumstances. And this is especially true in the age of social media where an unscientific survey of my own timelines shows whining about millennials outnumbers the actual youth complaining 3 to 1, ironically on the very multi-billion dollar websites and apps built by said lazy, entitled, good for nothing youth that has quickly dominated the most cutting edge, wealth-creating industry in history. With that much kvetching about kids these days, it’s little wonder that some of the complaints are completely made up and distorted to better appeal to the youth-bashing mindset of angry middle aged and older people.
For example, remember the common refrain that youth these days has zero respect for the institution of marriage and monogamy, screwing around on mobile apps, having sex and getting pregnant younger and younger, as seen in anti-millennial rants on Twitter, WSJ, and immortalized in articles which present anyone under 30 as a sex-obsessed bed-surfer? Yeah, none of that is in any way true. Millennials are getting married older, yes, but they’re also in a much less secure job market and spent more time educating themselves to find a job than their parents who often didn’t need a college degree and at least three years of experience to apply for entry level jobs. And they are still getting hitched. Likewise, teen pregnancy is at record lows, and the age of first sexual encounters has been rising. And as for said hookup culture in which the average 20-something has a harem of friends with benefits on call and racks up 50 partners before thinking of settling down? That’s a myth. It just plain doesn’t exist, and in fact, millennials are way more selective, with notably fewer partners on average, and even that’s an over-estimate.
Another common myth is that today’s typical college student is a special and fragile little snowflake who needs safe spaces and trigger warnings to make it through the day. You hear smarmy right wing shock jocks mocking it, and left wing pundits lamenting it. I’ve also been stung by the PC police when it tried to coral science and skeptical blogs into its agendas, and when it ran amuck on social media and tried to embed itself on college campuses. But as noted in those posts, those under their spell have always made up the vocal but small minority, and there are now numbers to prove it. Professors worry about having to provide trigger warnings and administer safe spaces, but in a survey of 800 professionals, just 0.5% of colleges adopted trigger warnings as an official policy and 85% of professors never had to issue one. Out of the rest, 13% issued them just once. In fact, 99.7% don’t give them on a regular basis. Students, on the other hand, like the idea, but don’t seem to be asking for them, just generally agree with the statement that there is a set of topics that shouldn’t be sprung on them out of the blue.
Furthermore, op-eds and think pieces warning us of how college students in the middle of PCU are about to snap because they just can’t even, rely on the feedback of college councilors who by their job definition see those in crisis all the time. It’s like evaluating how fragile cars are by asking mechanics in body shops about how many car crashes they think there are in their part of town. And just as you’d expect, the lowest percentage of councilors certain that students’ mental health and coping skills were getting worse in surveys going back to 2004 was almost 86% and there is absolutely zero hard proof that college students are burning out at spectacular rates. In other words, in every instance, close to 9 out of 10 college councilors will do their very best Chicken Little impression when asked about their students’ mental health as the actual students are doing just fine and can totally even deal even though they’re still not sure how to adult because they don’t always know when we officially consider them adults in our rapidly changing society.
Hold on, you ask, what about all the protests? Well, student activism is at an all time high, meaning that 9% of freshmen said they’d be willing to attend a protest against some sort of injustice. Does that mean much? No. Students protesting things is nothing new, and today’s protest groups are often made out to be something far greater than they are with media coverage which is ready to trumpet a grand, nationwide trend based on a few colleges. There are over 3,000 private and public four year institutions with over 21 million students of all ages. The survey which backs the idea of a massive surge in campus activism asked 141,000 new students going to 199 public colleges so it covers just a fraction of the total student body, which also includes grad students and post-docs. Sure, thousands of students will protest every year while millions will just go to class, so an all time high in activism means that next year we may see a bigger fraction of a fraction of students participating in at least one protest which is hardly disconcerting or unprecedented.
And there’s more. Instead of coming out of college with “worthless degrees” in philosophy and history, record low numbers are enrolling in humanities, a trend that’s been covered on this blog for years. Some 85% of majors are in vocational disciplines. What about the past? Well, peak humanities seems to have happened in 1992 at 13% of majors. For the last 30 years or so, the top majors were business and STEM, and the supposed STEM shortage we have today is also very much an invention of old men. Furthermore while they’re studying, 70% of students also hold down jobs, so the stereotype of the lazy college student spending his or her days having sex, hitting a bong, and then protesting a random issue before taking a Something Studies class taught by an agent of the American Communist Party only exists in the minds of baby boomers whose idea of higher ed comes from the John Birch Society. Yes, all that said, it’s true that there are very politically active far left professors and campus activists encouraging students to be the physical embodiment of PC Principal of South Park fame. But again, they’re in the minority.
When we add up all the available statistics, college students today are under tremendous strain but they’re majoring mostly in science, tech, and business, typically holding down a job while they do, their mental health is holding up just fine, and trigger warnings and safe spaces are a rare exception for them, not the rule, unless they go to the occasional campus that’s become a hotbed of activism by relatively small and dedicated groups. Many of those “special snowflakes” are those who are looking to be offended on social media, often a punchline of other social media platforms, and often aren’t even in college anymore. Remember that 91.5% of incoming freshmen, the most politically active students we’d expect to flock to political activism, said they’re not that likely to attend any campus protests, they’re only in college to get a degree then get a job as quickly and efficiently as possible. And that counts as an all time record in political engagement, competing with student protests of the 1960s, during which by the way, people under 30 reported a significantly more favorable view of the Vietnam war than those over 45, to put another popular myth to rest.
Just like with the supposedly widespread, tech-enabled hookup culture that ensnares youth today, there’s a lot of attention and hype about a PC culture that’s dominating college campuses, but when we actually look at surveys of what students really do in college and macro data from professors, there’s very little proof that beyond a few hotbeds of student activism and very loud groups that make perfect tabloid fodder, students are really overdosing on PC across America. Everyone is convinced their psyches are on the verge of shattering, they’re wasting their lives away in some poly sci or blank studies class learning the woke PC lingo under the spell of a far left activist, but the real world student is stressed out but going to class, majoring in STEM and business, working, studying, and almost never requesting a trigger warning. The ordinary “kids today” are very much the opposite of special snowflakes, they just have less tolerance for bigotry and sexism, and they’re tired of old people complaining about all their supposed shortcomings, real, inflicted on them, and imagined, at every possible goddamn opportunity.