By Keith Simon
Loving Family > Elite Education
True story: This fall a middle school teacher reached out to a coach for the school’s football team asking him to make one of the players do some extra running because the student hadn’t been showing up in the teacher’s Zoom classroom. When the coach asked the player why he wasn’t “attending” class, the kid gave him that “how clueless can you be” look that only 13-year old’s have truly mastered. “Coach,” the kid asked, “do you think we have internet at my house?” The coach, slightly embarrassed that the thought hadn’t crossed his mind nor, ostensibly, the teacher’s, quickly informed him that the district had lots of resources including hot spots available for those who needed it. The kid shrugged his shoulders indicating he wasn’t aware of what was and wasn’t available to him. After all, he was 13. Then he said under his breath, “They probably told us in an email.” Ah the irony.
I’m not sure that the student tells the story exactly right. But I do know the coach went to bat for him and helped him get the things he needed to participate in 2020’s version of school.
Inequality is inescapable. There’s economic inequality (1% vs. 99%), racial inequality (redlining in the past has implications in the present), and educational inequality (all schools are not created equal) to name just a few of the ways that some people are disadvantaged compared to others.
In the hellscape that was 2020, and on into 2021, inequality manifests itself in the fact that some kids have access to private schools, tutors, learning communities, highspeed internet, and more while others don’t.
In light of educational 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?
As the father of 4 kids who, in varying degrees, successfully navigated high school, I’ve seen my kids and their friends work hard for good grades, join clubs, look for leadership opportunities, and seek out letters of recommendation in the pursuit of an elite education, maybe even at an Ivy League institution. Just the cost of filling out the applications can cause a middle-class family to reconsider whether this education will be worth it.
And when the student finds out that he is one in the 90-95% of 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 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 provide, and the conversations families have that advantage some kids.
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 only possibility. 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.
Again, the authors…
“Nearly everyone who has thought about this would conclude that it is a really bad idea to be raised by state institutions, unless something has gone wrong,” he says.
Agreed. Is the government going to read bedtime stories before tucking children in bed?
Most parents can’t give their kids an elite education. Heck, as virtual learning has shown, many can barely get them to sit in front of the computer and listen to the day’s lessons. But almost every parent can give them something even better: a stable, loving home where parents spend time engaging in meaningful conversation with their kids, and, if they are still at the right age, even reading them a bedtime story.
Should you feel guilty that your kids have this advantage while others don’t? No. I’m not sure your guilty feelings will help anyway. But as you put your kids to bed you might want to pray for those kids who don’t have anyone to read or talk with them whether they are from wealthy or poor families. And then you might go to your computer and make a donation to an organization making a difference by helping those kids you just prayed for.