Friday, May 22, 2015

Parental Responsibility

Here is an interesting philosophical piece courtesy of Australian public radio.  It talks about social fairness and what role parental responsibility can play in either leveling the playing field or increasing the inequality.  Their contention, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, is that parents who read bedtime stories to their children give them an unfair advantage in life and such activities should be restricted.

“So many disputes in our liberal democratic society hinge on the tension between inequality and fairness: between groups, between sexes, between individuals, and increasingly between families.”  This basic observation led a couple of philosophers to research specifically the role of families, the structure and support, in the issues of inequality.  Is it “fair” that some people are raised in loving families where parents spend quality time talking to children and reading to them whereas others are ignored or abandoned to the care of a single over-committed parent?

Their research showed them that family activities like “reading together, attending religious services, playing board games, and kicking a ball in the local park, not to mention enjoying roast dinner on Sunday” gave a child more of an advantage than attending a private school.

What they are questioning is a real, measured difference in skills between children from higher vs. lower socioeconomic backgrounds.  According to a Stanford study from a couple of years ago, this difference can amount to as much as two years of academic readiness by the time children reach kindergarten.  But they admit in this study that the destiny of children need not be locked in by the parents earning ability.  “One critical factor is that parents [from different socio-economic strata generally] differ in the amount of language stimulation they provide to their infants. Several studies show that parents who talk more with their children in an engaging and supportive way have kids who are more likely to develop their full intellectual potential than kids who hear very little child-directed speech.” 

Apparently when raising children, the old saying that talk is cheap turns out to be a benefit.  Children of poor families can enjoy the advantage of being raised by involved parents as economically and easily as children from well-to-do families while the economically better off children can be handicapped by parents overly involved with their jobs and with trying to make the right social and political connections.

This inexpensive, self-help solution should be great news to all families as the government continues to spent over seven and a half billion dollars annually on a Head Start program that even the government itself found “did not show a clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for children.”  Once again we find the answer closer to home than Washington.

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