In Loco Et Cum Parentis

A good friend of mine used to be a schoolmaster in England. Once at a parents’ meeting, when the parents were making a few too many complaints on behalf of their children and pointing a few too many fingers at the teachers, he stood up and said, “Don’t you understand? The parents and teachers have to stick together! It’s us against those kids!”

He was only saying in a rather unvarnished way what Pope Francis recently said in a much more magisterial way: that parents and teachers must collaborate to form the child.

The Holy Father addressed the Italian Association of Catholic Teachers on Jan. 5, and he pointed out that the relationship between education and the family “has been in crisis for some time and, in certain cases, is completely broken.”

There used to be a “mutual reinforcement” between what was taught in the home and what was taught in the classroom. This doesn’t happen anymore. Parents and teachers keep blaming each other like opposing fronts for the very apparent educational failures that children are experiencing. He called for a new “complicity” between teachers and parents. (Well, that sounds a bit like, “It’s us against those kids!”) He also used the more positive term “solidarity,” and he suggested that teachers and parents picture themselves in each other’s shoes. Good advice indeed.

But how did we even get to the place where such advice is needed? What went wrong?

We don’t need to talk about the crisis in public education, which began about the time public education began. Putting the government in charge of teaching our children was an attractive idea because it made education affordable and the government consisted of people who were parents themselves and shared the same basic values of the parents whose children attended the public school. School boards, once upon a time, were made up of parents and were accountable to parents. Now, parents have to be accountable to school boards, which often consist of non-breeding activists with a political agenda and a new set of the three R’s: radicalism, regulation, and ‘rousal. (You get it.)

The public schools have not only left the parent out of the educational process, they have driven a wedge between student and parent, teaching precisely the opposite of what parents would want their children to be taught. And while public education is “free,” the whole society has to pay directly for it—and indirectly for its results.

But as I say, we don’t need to talk about the public schools. We need to talk about the Catholic schools, which, in this country, of course, were created to counteract the public schools. The problem is that the Catholic schools have in the past few decades devolved into a privately funded version of the public schools, not only using the same teaching approach, the same curriculums, the same secular interpretations of history, literature, and science, but the same disregard for parents. And sadly, too many parents have simply accepted their passive role as non-educators. Those who protest do so in vain.

In more recent years, however, Catholic parents have rebelled against this trend, first with the Catholic homeschooling movement, and then by starting up new schools all around the country that are faithful to the Magisterium, faithful to the faith. They have restored what has been lost in education, from the teaching of the classics to the formation of the whole person: body, mind and soul. They are again taking their place as the ones ultimately responsible for what their children should learn. “General parental responsibility,” says Chesterton, “is the common sense of mankind.” Thus, “if you exalt education, you must exalt the parental power with it.”

But as with any creation of a good thing, a snake starts slithering in the grass. Now that these parents have gotten more involved in their children’s education, as well they should do, no school is good enough, no teacher is smart enough, no administrator is reliable enough. Even the most like-minded teachers are finding that they cannot live up to the parents’ standards and desires. It is a cause of mutual frustration. Thus, the Pope’s wise counsel that parent and teacher work collaboratively.

The teacher takes on a grave responsibility when he steps into a classroom with other people’s children in it. He is in loco parentis (in the place of the parent). It is a sacred duty. He is there to represent the parent, not to replace the parent. But the parent has to reinforce the teacher’s role and appreciate the teacher’s perspective. Nothing can replace a parent’s loyalty to her children, but a teacher’s loyalty to his task of conveying knowledge can balance that affection with a bit of wisdom.

The teacher might be able see that Johnny is in fact not perfect when Johnny can do no wrong in mother’s eyes. The teacher might understand better that the reason Johnny got a “C” on his paper is that it was not well-written, and that the “D” on the math test was because he didn’t study. Rather than instantly defending the child to the teacher, it might be better to defend the teacher to the child.

“It’s us against them” is only a paradoxical way of saying, “It’s us for them…whether they like it or not.”

DALE AHLQUIST is President of the American Chesterton Society, editor of Gilbert!, host of the EWTN series The Apostle of Common Sense, and chairman of the Chesterton Schools Network.

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