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Volume 8, Issue 2: Repairing the Ruins

In Loco Parentis

Douglas Wilson

The phrase in loco parentis simply means "in place of the parents." This process is easy to understand with babysitters, and a little more difficult with schoolteachers. Nevertheless, a thorough understanding of how it applies to the process of education is essential to the sound operation of any Christian school and is key to good relations between those Christians who do not homeschool and those who do.

With regard to the first, no school has any original authority. The authority of schools and servant teachers is always derivative -- the authority to teach and discipline is delegated to them by the parents of their students. Whenever parents try to abdicate this authority, or whenever schools seek to take it without permission, as with our government schools, the biblical order is overturned. Parents are responsible before God for how their children are trained and educated, and this responsibility cannot be removed through any arrangements they make or invent. It follows, then, that no Christian parents should be comfortable with any educational process which does not fully take this responsibility of theirs into account. A school which shoulders parents aside is not a good place for children to be. Parents who meekly submit when someone tries to shoulder them aside are poor parents.
Because a school needs to use a division of labor, it is not possible for any school to "tailor make" the course of study for any given student. This does not set aside the principle. The school should have a clearly articulated vision and philosophy of education which describes the vast bulk of what the school does. This vision must be communicated clearly to the parents, and those parents who want to take advantage of it may do so. Any concerns which any parents have around the "periphery" of that school's mission should be cheerfully and willingly accommodated by the school. But if one family has a problem with the heart of the curriculum, which one hundred other families want to keep, then the authority of the dissatisfied parents should be exercised, if the concern is large enough, by removing their children from the school. The school is not being "unresponsive to parents" if they cannot help the one family without distressing one hundred others.
Relations between homeschooling families and families with kids in Christian schools can sometimes be strained. Many churches have had to deal with a lot of unnecessary turmoil because this principle of in loco parentis is not understood by those on either side of this particular pedagogical debate.
We live in a fallen world, and human beings can develop some odd allegiances. We witness this all the time. Many require a sense of loyalty to others, bent out of all reasonable proportion, for such shared activities as driving a Chevy truck or using the same brand of all-natural vitamins. We manufacture brotherhoods and sisterhoods out of the most interesting material. Some such inventions, like nationalism and feminism, have done a tremendous amount of damage. But any such loyalty can do damage on a limited scale if it provides the occasion for people to set aside biblical priorities.
Scripture teaches us where our loyalties should be, and how they should be bounded, each within its realm. We are required to render to Caesar what is his. We are told that we have special covenantal responsibilities to the members of our own households. And we are expressly told that the covenant community in the church constitutes a family. Beyond this, any allegiance to artificial "ties that bind," at the expense of the loyalties Scripture requires of us, is nothing less than three steps short of lunacy. Would anyone want to throw the peace and fellowship of a Christian church into turmoil over differing views on the importance of model rocketry? The same goes for the pedagogical differences between those who home school and those who do not. Scripturally speaking, "homeschoolers" have no covenantal bond with one another. Scripturally speaking, parents who have their kids enrolled at a Christian school have no covenantal bond with one another. Thus, they may not develop a sense of loyalty to that group ing which in any way threatens the peace of any institution which God has ordained.
Whenever people share any common interest, method, or hobby, they can and should get together to share concerns and pointers. As voluntary associations or clubs they are great, but they are not what many believe them to be.
This does not mean that how we educate our children is a matter of indifference. It means that how we educate our children is not primarily a question of a particular method. Whether or not parents successfully bring their children up to love and serve God is not trivial. The requirement of godly children is the principle, and different families use these different methods to achieve the same goals. And other families use these different methods to fail reaching these goals. Positively stated, when young people have been taught to love God, they have a bond of fellowship which they share with anyone else in the other "club."
Negatively, when a student at a Christian school falls into great sin, his parents are responsible -- not the method his parents failed to use properly. When a homeschooled student leaves home and falls away from the faith, his family is responsible.
If the principle of in loco parentis is understood, the heart of all responsibility will be understood as resting where God placed it.

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