Schools in Louisville, Kentucky closed Wednesday as temperatures dipped into the single digits with wind chills between -10 to -20 degrees. This didn’t sit well with Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin who went on the radio and offered a grumpy hot take on kids these days. “There’s no ice going with it or any snow,” he told radio host Terry Meiners. “We’re getting soft.”
Bevin’s suggestion here is that by keeping kids from freezing, Kentucky school officials were coddling them an egregious way. And that’s not a mischaracterization. Consider Bevin’s response after the predictable backlash to his comments.
“I’m being only slightly facetious,” Bevin explained. “But it does concern me a little bit that in America on this and any number of other fronts, we’re sending messages to our young people that if life is hard you can curl up in the fetal position — somewhere in a warm place — and wait till it stops being hard, and that just isn’t reality, it just isn’t.”
Bevin’s comments were met with other comments that were met with further comments. And it’s fair to say that the spin-cycle of Twitter-ified social schisms is, if not damaging, annoying. But it’s also worth dwelling on Bevin’s comment because it’s such a clear articulation of a longstanding philosophy on raising kids, namely that they need to be toughened up and, more specifically, that they need to be toughened up because the world is a hard place. The logical fallacy here is that kids don’t exist in the world. They do.
I’ll keep it brief on the subject of cold: It’s dangerous and there’s no point in risking kids’ health. Teaching lessons at the cost of children’s wellbeing is a spare the rod, spoil the child approach. And research tells us that when parents spare the rod and communicate with the child, the kid tends to wind up being more resilient. Bevins want a narrative in which toughness is created by running kids through a crucible rather than by having their back. Why? Well, from a policy perspective it’s a lot easier to not help kids than it is to help them. He’s lowering the bar. He’s being, to borrow his word, soft.
But let’s move past the fairly silly conversation about wind chill and focus on the assertion that kids are being prepared to enter the world but not operating in it. Parents need to be aware that this sort of thinking is, not to put a fine point on it, dumb. Today’s kids walk into school understanding that they could lose their lives in a hail of bullets from an AR – 15. Bevin’s ilk may have worked all summer to put themselves through school, but today’s kids move into higher education understanding that they will emerge into the job market saddled with crippling debt that no entry level fast food job wages can crack. They compete for fewer spots at elite institutions. They are taught by underpaid teachers. They grind it out in a way that members of Bevin’s generation, which emerged from high schools and college with the promise of a bright career in the industrial sector, can’t possibly understand. And at the end of all that, they’ll face wage stagnation that will make it harder for them to raise kids.
It’s cold enough out there without a polar vortex.
Bevin can talk about “hard reality” if he wants. That’s his right. But what does he know? He’s not part of a generation likely to be worse off than their parents. He’s one of those parents, a beneficiary of historical and economic anomalies, refusing to understand the context of his own life or the lives of kids. He might know the temperature and he might be able to withstand the chill, but this dude has no idea which way the wind blows.