Inequality is in the news. There’s economic inequality (1% vs. 99%), racial inequality (see Ferguson and Baltimore), and educational inequality (all schools are not created the same) to name just a few of the ways that some people are disadvantaged compared to others. Politicians are promising to make the 2016 presidential race a referendum on solving these inequalities.
In light of inequality’s time in the spotlight, here’s an interesting question. Which gives kids a greater advantage: an elite education or parents consistently reading them a bedtime story?
In high school students work toward a 4.0, join clubs, look for leadership opportunities, seek out letters of recommendation while parents go into great debt all in the pursuit of an elite education, maybe even at an Ivy League institution. And when the student finds out that he is one of 90-95% applicants that didn’t get accepted, he often feel like his dream has been crushed and the life he wanted is out of reach. But a new study by Professors Adam Swift (University of Warwick) and Harry Brighouse (University of Wisconsin) reveals that not being read bedtime stories puts kids at a far greater disadvantage than missing out on an elite education. Here’s a brief section of the report…
“The evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t—the difference in their life chances—is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t.”
The professors teamed up to write Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships in which they lament the unfair advantage loving families give some kids. It turns out that it isn’t just bedtime stories that make a difference but also the security families give and the conversations families have that contribute to inequality.
So how should society respond to the news that loving families are incredibly important to the overall success of a child? You might think the obvious answer is that societies should do all they can to promote and aid two parent families where mom and dad are investing time and attention in their children. But that’s NOT the answer the professors came up with. Here’s Adam Smith…
“One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.”
Abolish the family? Now ultimately the professors don’t think that’s the right answer but it is one they think is credible. And they aren’t the only philosophers to suggest such an idea. In The Republic, Plato famously called for the family to be abolished and children to be handed over to the state as a way of fighting inequality.
Here’s Albert Mohler’s take on the same story…
“It is unjust that some children are loved by their parents and are read bedtime stories when others are not. It is unjust that these children have an advantage over the children who do not receive bedtime stories. What isn’t stated in this article is the absolute obvious and that is that no government is going to tuck a child in bed at night and no government is going to read a child a bedtime story.
To the credit of these two academics, even as they ask the question, is the family is unjust, they come to the conclusion that anything else would be even more unjust. And they refer to the fact that the eclipse of the family would lead to what they describe as a dystopian future – a very dark and dangerous future.”
Most parents can’t give their children the benefits of an elite education or top of the line athletic coaching or opportunities for foreign travel or exposure to fine art and culture. But almost every parent can give their child an advantage that trumps all those: a secure, loving home where kids are engaged in conversation and consistently read a bedtime story. While you’re reading to your kids tonight, you might stop and pray for those kids who don’t have the advantage of being in a loving family where bedtime stories are a well worn habit.
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