In one of the most bizarre discussions about inequality I’ve ever heard, Australian philosophers Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse suggested on Australia’s ABC Radio that reading to children gives them an “unfair advantage.”
Swift contended that parents can be the cause of inequality and lack of social mobility.
I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very different chances in life is because of what happens in those families.
That idea is probably not surprising to anyone. After all, wealthy families can send their kids to private schools. They can afford tutors. They often have a stay-at-home parent.
But Swift even goes further and says that bedtime stories are partially to blame.
Once he got thinking, Swift could see that the issue stretches well beyond the fact that some families can afford private schooling, nannies, tutors, and houses in good suburbs. Functional family interactions—from going to the cricket to reading bedtime stories—form a largely unseen but palpable fault line between families. The consequence is a gap in social mobility and equality that can last for generations.
Even weirder, he suggested abolishing the family.
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.
Here’s the audio:
In the U.S., conservatives like Rush Limbaugh are blaming “liberals” for such a suggestion and perhaps Swift is liberal, but it’s certainly not a typical liberal solution to inequality.
While it is documented that reading to children gives them a leg up in school and probably in life, the dumbing down of society is a conservative idea, not a liberal one.
Australia suffers from a wealth gap, like much of the world. Conservative policies, like anti-unionism, outsourcing of jobs, low and no minimum wages and tax cuts for the wealthy do far more to encourage the wealth gap than does reading to kids.
Perhaps instead of discouraging parents from reading to kids, we should make it so parents don’t have to work multiple jobs so they have time to read to their kids.
Featured image via Wikipedia.