The newest victim in a society renowned for its glorification of boutique oppressions and fabricated slights has been introduced by a British academic philosopher, and it may be the craziest yet. For it is now time for us to investigate the privilege-mongering parents who have decided to read their children bedtime stories, and how they are simultaneously hindering the social and educational advancements of children who do not have such a routine.
In a recent ABC story entitled “Is Having a Loving Family an Unfair Advantage?” Joe Gelonesi interviewed Adam Swift, Professor of Political Theory for Warwick University. This is a piece that brilliantly, albeit unintentionally, highlights the extreme manifestation of social egalitarianism when any sort of action or enforcement is suggested. The story opens with a description of Plato’s desire to abolish the family and put all children into the care of the state. While my initial thought was that this was a click-baity dramatization attempting to rope in conflict-seeking internetters, it turns out the story, the interview, and even the author fully encompassed an eerily similar tone.
Citing “social justice” as motivator for this line of thinking, Swift states that, from a purely instrumental viewpoint, one way philosophers would consider remedying the issue of inequality would be by 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.” While Swift did acknowledge that such an extreme measure would be more harmful than beneficial, this led him to his next assessment. “What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children.”
“What we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children.”
The words that went through my head when reading this part are likely not appropriate for print, however I feel you need to know that I’m quite impressed with myself in regard to some of the colorfully unique linguistic concoctions I was able to form in such a brief period of time.
So far, we have a philosopher who has introduced the idea of not allowing particular parenting practices that could create a disadvantage for some other person’s child. How could such things be gauged?
A test constructed by Swift, alongside University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor of Philosophy Harry Brighouse, was utilized in order to assess “familial relationship goods;” unique things that arise within a family unit that contribute to the flourishing of individual members. Failing this test, in their own minds, was the decision to send one’s child to private school. “Private schooling cannot be justified by appeal to these familial relationship goods,” Swift declares. Cannot be justified. How dare you try to send your child to an above average school, says the guy who works as Professor of Political Theory at one of the highest ranked Universities in the United Kingdom.
Moving on from the spectacular lack of self awareness that the good professor exhibited in his prior assertion, Swift states that while reading stories at bedtime is “acceptable,” it is also a practice that bestows advantage. While Swift is not proposing the idea of removing bedtime stories from parenting practices, he feels it is necessary that parents who do engage in such routines be mindful of the ways in which they unfairly disenfranchise children who don’t get bedtime stories. “I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally.”
Swift states that the difference in the life chances between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t is greater than the difference in life chances between those who get private schooling and those who don’t. In response to this declaration, the article’s author, Gelonesi, contends “This devilish twist of evidence surely leads to a further conclusion — that perhaps in the interests of levelling the playing field, bedtime stories should also be restricted.”
Many may ask what justification could be used to potentially limit a parent’s right to choose stories, or private schooling, or basically anything that serves to positively impact their child’s life. Luckily for everyone, Swift had an answer for that as well.
“We think that although in practice it makes sense to parent your biological offspring, that is not the same as saying that in virtue of having produced the child the biological parent has the right to parent.”
Of course! The biological parent should not, in virtue, have the right to parent their child. They might decide to send their kid to The University of Warwick, free to flaunt their superior higher education in the faces of those forced to endure Community College. That’s simply unacceptable.
Sarcasm aside, while the idea that family life and upbringing has widely, and rationally, been considered a factor in individual success in life, it’s alarming to see people promote the stance of pulling others down in order to “level the playing field” in lieu of raising others up. By criticizing, and even to an extent attacking, a parent’s commitment to early educational opportunities for their child, the mentality of low motivation mediocrity is being simultaneously promoted. We live in a society that often finds itself cheering for the underdog. While there is no shame in this, in and of itself, it is also a mindset that leads to many inserting themselves into a position of oppression intentionally. The ability to now blame the way in which other parents raise their children for any issues your own child has is an extreme, and terrifyingly real, example of this.
In a statement from Adam Swift, which can be read in its entirety here, the ABC article cited in this piece was criticized, with Swift stating “Careless polemical journalism around that piece has seriously misrepresented my views and led to a barrage of abusive emails” Additionally, Swift claims “We would never discourage anybody from reading their children bedtime stories, nor criticize them for doing so. Where parents are not willing or able to provide that kind of help, then they should be encouraged to do so, and where necessary supported in doing so. We argue that the various means by which parents confer advantage on their children are not all equally important for loving family life. In our view the grounds for protecting elite private education, for example, are considerably less weighty. We also think it is good occasionally to be mindful of the children who, due to factors entirely beyond their control, suffer for lack of loving attention from parents. Of course many will disagree with those views.”
DISCLOSURE: The author of this piece is a mother of two young children. She, quite unapologetically, reads to them every night.
Liz Finnegan is a soulless ginger with no political leanings. Pun enthusiast. Self-proclaimed “World’s Okayest Person.” Retro gaming contributor for The Escapist.
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