Over the past decades, a tide of “safetyism” has crept over American society. As Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt put it in their book “The Coddling of the American Mind,” this is the mentality that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. The goal is to eliminate any stress or hardship a child might encounter, so he or she won’t be wounded by it.
So we’ve seen a wave of overprotective parenting. Parents have cut back on their children’s unsupervised outdoor play because their kids might do something unsafe. As Kate Julian reports in “The Anxious Child and the Crisis of Modern Parenting” in The Atlantic, parents are now more likely to accommodate their child’s fears: accompanying a 9-year-old to the toilet because he’s afraid to be alone, preparing different food for a child because she won’t eat what everyone else eats.
Meanwhile schools ban dodge ball and inflate grades. Since 2005 the average G.P.A. in affluent high schools has risen from about 2.75 to 3.0 so everybody can feel affirmed.
It’s been a disaster. This overprotective impulse doesn’t shelter people from fear; it makes them unprepared to deal with the fear that inevitably comes. Suicide rates are way up, depression rates have skyrocketed, especially for girls. As Julian notes, a staggering number of doctor visits now end with a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication, like Xanax or Valium.
But there has been one sector of American society that has been relatively immune from this culture of overprotection — medical training. It starts on the undergraduate level. While most academic departments slather students with A’s, science departments insist on mastery of the materials. According to one study, the average English class G.P.A. is above 3.3 and the average chemistry class G.P.A. is 2.78.
While most academic departments have become more forgiving, science departments remain rigorous (to a fault). As much as 60 percent of pre-meds never make it through their major.