Eight years after the publication of ‘The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education’ the Guardian claimed that ‘the defining insult of 2016’ was ‘poor little snowflake’. The so-called ‘snowflake generation’ had matriculated and seemingly couldn’t cope with the challenging ideas that they found ‘offensive’ at university. They were shaken by statues of colonialists, needed ‘trigger warnings’ on their courses and retreated into ‘safe spaces’ when their beliefs were threatened. They even felt that just being at university could damage their mental health. As Kathryn Ecclestone and I documented in our book, the therapeutic turn in education was in danger of creating a generation of ‘can’t cope kids’. The emergence of the ‘snowflake student’ appeared to prove that we were right.
But who is to blame? Students hadn’t suddenly become different, vulnerable beings. It was their teachers, lecturers, school and university managers, as well as quangos like Ofsted, who saw them as inherently vulnerable and prioritised safety above all else.
Is the therapeutic turn unstoppable or can we regain a vision of children and young people as intellectually resilient and willing to pursue knowledge even if it shakes their beliefs to the core?
Dennis is Professor of Education at the University of Derby. He is the founder and director of the campaign group Academics For Academic Freedom (AFAF) which is now a membership organisation with a members’ blog. In 2008, he co-authored with Kathryn Ecclestone the controversial and bestselling book, ‘The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education’ which is to be re-issued this year in the Routledge Education Classic Editions series with a new introduction. His latest book, ‘The Death of Academic Freedom? Free speech and censorship on campus’ will be published by Routledge next year.