May 8 – Thanks, Mom, for the stories

readingIt was the perfect sound bite for the culture wars and some of the partisans in the trenches seized upon it immediately and loaded their muskets full of it and fired gleefully at the enemy lines across the way. Professor: If You Read To Your Kids, You’re ‘Unfairly Disadvantaging’ Others

An obscure philosophy professor was interviewed on an obscure Australian radio program, The Philosopher’s Zone, and somebody found the quotes, and in a world where viral is good, the news went viral.

Adam Swift, the interviewed professor, and his colleagues have studied families and social inequality and have discovered that children from healthy families do better in life than children from less healthy families. Specifically, they discovered that nothing advantages one child over another more than positive interaction with parents.

In The Philosophy Zone interview, Swift said, “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.” 

So far so good.  But rather than concluding that it might be wise, for instance, to encourage more parents to read bedtime stories, Swift wonders aloud if it might be better for those parents taken to reading bedtime stories to their children to consider restricting their bedtime reading for the sake of “leveling the playing field” for those children whose parents don’t read to them at night.  In the end he abandons the idea, but hopes that those parents who read bedtime stories to their children will at least think about the way they are unfairly disadvantaging other peoples’ children with their nasty habit.

The story made for interesting columns and blog posts on a slow news day.  Who knows, The Philosophy Zone may have picked up some new listeners.  In fact, in the age of viral and bad ideas taking on a life of their own, what Adam Swift said in the interview about things other than bedtime stories, is really alarming. “Nothing in our theory assumes two parents: there might be two, there might be three, and there might be four,” says Swift…

Beware of obscure philosophy professors.

But it’s Mother’s Day weekend and the evidence is in, life tends to turn out better for children whose parents give them bedtime stories.  A bedtime story every night pays bigger dividends than an expensive private school education.  Or, might we dare say, dance lessons and soccer, Little League and the travel team?

My mother used to read bedtime stories to us.  We’d line up on the couch and she’d begin to read.  Sometimes she fell asleep before the story was over.  I think still counts.

Of course, dads need to read bedtime stories, too, but for today, thanks, Mom, for the bedtime stories.  The advantage was all ours.