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Infantilizing College Students

I overheard a college senior say recently that the world expects too much: “I’m still just a child.”

I thought, oh really? When my wife was your age — 21 — she was graduated from college, newly married and running a small photo agency in New York City.

Eric Posner would side with the Peter Pan student. [1] In Slate, he writes that campus speech codes and suchlike are necessary because college students are really children:

And this brings me to the most important overlooked fact about speech and sex code debates. Society seems to be moving the age of majority from 18 to 21 or 22. We are increasingly treating college-age students as quasi-children who need protection from some of life’s harsh realities while they complete the larval stage of their lives. Many critics [2] of these codes discern this transformation but misinterpret it. They complain that universities are treating adults like children. The problem is that universities have been treating children like adults.

A lot of the controversies about campus life become clearer from this perspective. Youngsters do dumb things. They suffer from lack of impulse control. They fail to say no to a sexual encounter they do not want, or they misinterpret a no as yes, or in public debate they undermine their own arguments by being needlessly offensive. Scientific research confirms [3] that brain development continues well into a person’s 20s. High schools are accustomed to dealing with the cognitive limitations of their charges. They see their mission as advancing the autonomy of students rather than assuming that it is already in place. They socialize as well as educate children to act civilly by punishing them if they don’t. Universities have gradually realized that they must take the same approach to college students.

Somehow, I doubt that Eric Posner would favor banning Sex Week on college campuses, to say nothing of co-ed dorms, on the ground that the Special Snowflakes need protecting. (I actually do favor single-sex dorms, on the grounds of women’s safety.)

This is incredible. Eighteen year olds are considered mature enough to vote, and mature enough to be handed a rifle and sent into combat. But Eric Posner considers them too juvenile to hear an opinion without benefit of trigger warning. More Posner:

What is most interesting is that this reaction comes not from parents and administrators, but from students themselves, who, apparently recognizing that their parents and schools have not fully prepared them for independence, want universities to resume their traditional role in loco parentis.


These big babies don’t really want the school to act like Mom and Dad, except insofar as Mom and Dad are enablers of their childish desires. They want to be able to have sex without consequences or guilt, and want to be protected from the Boogie Man’s point of view. Contemptible.

But what is Eric Posner’s excuse? He teaches law at the University of Chicago Law School.

[H/T: Hector]

5 Comments (Open | Close)

5 Comments To "Infantilizing College Students"

#1 Comment By AJ On March 10, 2015 @ 2:37 pm

I could be wrong, and I did read Posner’s piece a few weeks ago, but I got the impression that he was satirizing the notion than college students are so juvenile. Again, maybe I was reading into the piece more subtlety than was actually there, but that’s what I thought initially. Then again, it was in Slate.

#2 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On March 10, 2015 @ 7:16 pm


It’s quite true that a good deal of modern SJW cultural liberalism has become a parody of itself.

#3 Comment By Andrew J Kern On March 10, 2015 @ 10:52 pm


Thanks for this post. This problem, it seems to me, starts the day a child enters school. The goal of a classical liberal education was to set people free, but freedom was understood to mean self-rule. A person ruled by somebody else is not free.

Thus Virgil to Dante at the top Mount Purgatory: “I now crown and miter you lord of yourself”, a very problematic phrase in any other context.

But when a child enters a conventional school, he has made his last choice, apart from the really silly ones of which classes to take.

A person can’t learn to rule himself without making decisions of ever greater complexity and depth of insight. Doesn’t it seem lie if he goes through 12 years of being treated like a child a number of what ought to be predictable outcomes will follow?

He will be immature.
He will look to external and universal means of establishing his value because dealing with the particulars of daily self-rule will be beyond his confidence level.
He will be highly dependent.
I suppose I could go on and on, but I’ve already said more than is my due, so I will end now.

#4 Comment By Michael Price On March 11, 2015 @ 8:21 am

Can we consider the college students adults and Eric Posner as the child?

#5 Comment By Bo Grimes On March 11, 2015 @ 11:06 am

Except when it comes it sex. Then they are considered adults at 15 or 16, sometimes younger.