Adam Swift, a professor of political theory at the University of Warwick, demonstrates that in order to get an idea that's weapons-grade stupid, you need an extensive education.
Professor Swift was recently interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's The Philosophers' Zone, where he discussed the theory of egalitarian families he is trying to develop with his colleague Harry Brighouse. Among the things that Professor Swift would like to see is the elimination of private schools, which help create advantage gaps that exacerbate inequalities in society. In other words, rich and (sometimes) smart kids who go to private schools have an unfair advantage over poor and smart kids who go to regular public schools. I think a better path than closing down good schools is improving less good ones, but we can live and let live on disagreements about that sort of thing.
The one thing Professor Swift talked about that got some press, though, was noting how parents who read to their kids at night should be aware they are providing their child an unfair advantage over the parents who don't. He magnanimously allows such parents a few nights off of feeling guilty about all of the kids who don't get read to, but still says they should think about that occasionally. Whether or not they should actually do anything that might help out some of those kids and families apparently is a matter for smaller minds than Professor Swift's.
And while we're at it, I don't believe parents are under any effin' obligation to think about this matter in terms of "unfair advantages." Feeling something about kids whose parents' decisions, freely made or otherwise, disadvantage them even before they get to the starting line is a good thing. Wanting to somehow respond to help those so disadvantaged is also a good thing. But the mere existence of my reading parents did not cause someone else's non-reading parents, and pretending otherwise as Professor Swift seems to suggest is just plan silly.
Professor Swift compares the existence of elite private schools to reading parents, and says that while the elimination of the schools wouldn't harm the family bonding process, elimination of reading at bedtime would. It has value beyond its educational benefits. He's a prince, ain't he? It takes someone who gets paid to be listened to by impressionable 18-year-olds about whatever airy fancy flits through his brain to even talk about conditions under which bedtime reading could somehow be reduced or eliminated.
Leave aside practical considerations, such as how such behavior could ever be curtailed outside of a world where clocks strike 13, 2+2=5 and Winston Smith loves Big Brother. Philosophy professors have spent a lot of money -- mostly mom and dad's and the government's -- to get to a place where they can ignore things like the impossibility of surveilling every pre-schooler at bedtime, and we shouldn't ask them to just waste all of that by reminding them how much of the world gets by without encountering philosophy professors for years at a time.
No, let's just look at the big ol' existential elephant in junior's bedroom, which is that whether or not parents read to kids at bedtime is none of Professor Swift's gorram business. His belief that there's a utility to the activity that makes it acceptable is completely irrelevant. Also, for that matter, is why parents read to their kids or what they think when they do it. My dad did most of the bedtime reading, and I think some of it was because he didn't get to spend as much time with us as mom did since he worked at an office during the day. And sometimes it was because he liked reading and his mom had read to him and he wanted us to like reading too. And sometimes it was because that's what dads did. And sometimes it was because we were wound up and needed the semi-hypnotic effect of a bedtime story to get us ready for sleep.
But even if he was reading excerpts from the Montgomery Burns' Guide to Serf-Crushing with the deliberate intention of helping us to make other kids look dumb and fail at life, it still would have been something about which Professor's Swift's opinions were neither required nor appropriate to offer.
So please, if you have kids, read to them at night and do so free of guilt about what other parents don't do. Read to them to make them smarter, read to them to show them you care, read to them to spend time with them, read to them to help them develop a love of reading and language, read to them whyeverso you want to. And whatever you want to, and do so free of worry about what Professor Swift, I or anyone else thinks about it, because it's none of our business.
Unless you read to them from How Not to Be a Hypocrite: School Choice for the Morally Perplexed Parent, or something like that. Then I'm calling the cops on you.