Sunday is Mother’s Day, a yearly chance to reflect on all the bedtime stories dear old Mom told and all the other loving things she did to create America’s appalling levels of income inequality. That’s the view of one British academic, at least, and it seems the illogical conclusion of the entire egalitarian left’s line of reasoning.
The British academic is Adam Swift, a professor of politics and international studies at England’s University of Warwick, who told an Australian radio interviewer that “The evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t — the difference in their life chances — is greater than the difference between those who get private schooling and those who don’t.” The good professor doesn’t therefore condemn bedtime stories, which he acknowledges are useful in developing family bonds that he considers socially beneficial, but he adds that “I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally.” He’s more adamant about banning private schooling, which he does not find useful in fostering those family bonds that he generously finds some social benefit to having, and we infer that he would also ban anything else a loving mother might do to give her child an advantage in life which does not serve some broader public utility that he can readily identify.
Something about the professor’s last name and logic reminded us of Jonathan Swift’s famous essay on “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick,” in which he jocularly advocated that the impoverished Irish of the early 1700’s sell their children as food, but apparently the more recent Swift intended his remarks in earnest rather than as satire. We’ve confirmed this from several seemingly reliable sources, including a unsettlingly sympathetic account of the interview on the “Philosopher’s Zone” of the Australian Broadcast Company’s web site, and find it all too believable that Swift should hold such outrageous views. The part about banning or stigmatizing private education is by now a common refrain on the American left, which regards even such half-assed educational reforms as charter schools as racist, and of course they’re downright apoplectic about those loving mothers who are providing first-rate educations to their children at home, where they’re getting God only knows what sort of idiosyncratic and officially unapproved ideas in the poor little dear’s heads, of course the left is equally adamant that inheritance taxes should prevent a mother from passing along any money or other property to a child or a grandchild, and a similar worry that any one child might turn out to be better or in any other respect different from another child seems to inform a whole host of other issues.
Swift and his fellow egalitarians are obviously quite right that not all mothers are created equal and their disparate motherhoods create unequal life chances for their offspring. Our own mother was a most excellent bedtime story-reader, and made sure that a memorization of the alphabet and a recognition of its symbols and an extensive vocabulary accompanied us to our very first day of school, and sent us off to school on time each day in clean clothes with a bellyful of healthful food, and took us to symphony concerts and art museums and historical sites, and inculcated a love of reading and learning ,and gave us a few necessary swats on the head whenever we’d improperly conjugate a verb, and she shared with us a sense of right and wrong grounded in the ancient faith of our ancestors, and although it hasn’t resulted in any noticeable income equality that we can brag about, which it probably would have if we’d more diligently followed her advice, we cannot deny that it has significantly increased our life chances in other important ways. We still have the love of reading and learning about music and art and history, the faith of our ancestors grows more important to us with each passing day, we’ve written a couple of novels, and we don’t say anything about how we seen something, as so many people do around here, so we frankly if snobbishly assess that in many ways we are a lot better off than many other mothers’ kids as a result.
We hope that Mom doesn’t feel the least bit guilty about it, though, and we want her to know that we don’t hold her at all responsible for how some of the dullards that we sat with in public school turned out.. Knowing her to be an old-fashioned Okie rather than an up-to-date British academic, however, we trust she has already come to the common sense conclusion that the problem driving all that inequality is not the mothers who read bedtime stories to their children but the ones who don’t. In some elastic senses of the term “equality” can be an admirable goal, we suppose, no matter how unrealistic it might be by any definition, but it’s a most dangerously anti-liberty concept when it means dragging down the best rather than lifting up the worst. Nor can we see how the illogical conclusion of liberal egalitarianism serves any public good.
We’re friends with a fine young sixth-grader whose mother and father are sacrificing to send him to one of those private schools, despite the lack of any apparent racism or class antagonisms on their part, and he was read bedtime stories to boot, and he’s coming along so well that we now expect him to come up with some idiosyncratic and officially unapproved idea that will someday be of great benefit even to the public-schooled dullards with the unlettered mothers. We’d like that that our own idiosyncratic and officially unapproved ideas, so carefully typed out according to the standard English that our mother would smack us for violating, might yet also provide some social benefit that a British academic can’t readily identify. We’d like to think that all the mothers who have read to their children at bedtime and provided any other advantage they could to improve a young life’s chances have made the world a far better place.
We’d also like to wish our Mom, and all those other mothers who read bedtime stories to their children, a most happy Mother’s Day.
— Bud Norman