Sunday, May 18, 2008

In Loco Parentis Or Who's the Boss?

I used to have a benign view of the implications of in loco parentis (Latin: in place of the parents) acquired in my education coursework oh so long ago it seems. I recently did some research on the history and application of the doctrine of in loco parentis, and found it to be more all-encompassing than I had thought. At school open houses, I used to joke that in loco parentis did not mean “the parents are crazy.” I explained that according to the law parents are responsible for the education of the children, but parents subcontract that job to the schools, so schools are accountable to the parents. Similarly, although I am responsible for the maintenance of my home, I might subcontract, for instance, a plumbing job, and the plumber would be accountable to me.

I decided to investigate claims such as this one and this one that in loco parentis is not so benign. These sources believe the doctrine is no more than a ploy of the state to usurp parental authority to raise their children as they see fit. At least that is the raison d'etre for The Alliance for the Separation of School and State , a right-wing site. Historically, courts had long held that a father's authority over his children was inviolate, stemming form the Roman legal doctrine, patria potestas.

A few sources see the doctrine the way I did such as this one which obliquely contains the germ of the idea.
Rishworth suggests that the doctrine signifies that the state education system exists for the benefit of students, with state schools and their employees endeavoring to act in the best interests of students. He states, “... to say that schools act in place of parents is a useful reminder of how schools should act”.

Blackstone stated it more clearly:
The rights of schools over their pupils were codified before the U.S. Constitution was written. In 1765 the legal scholar Sir William Blackstone wrote that, when sending kids to school, Dad "may also delegate part of his parental authority, during his life to the tutor or schoolmaster of the child; who is then in loco parentis, and has such a portion of the power of the parents committed to his charge." (my bold)

But I could not find an authoritative explicit statement anywhere that reflects the doctrine of in loco parentis the way I had always understood it. In fact, I found that as far as the schools were considered, the main value of the doctrine was in allowing schools to harshly punish students in ways traditionally reserved to the father.
By far the most common usage of in loco parentis relates to teachers and students. For hundreds of years, the English common-law concept shaped the rights and responsibilities of public school teachers: until the late nineteenth century, their legal authority over students was as broad as that of parents...


For example, in 1977, the Supreme Court held that the disciplinary paddling of public school students was not a Cruel and Unusual Punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment (Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 97 S. Ct. 1401, 51 L. Ed. 2d 711), and that students who were disciplined in a school setting were not denied due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Or here:
Students got whatever rights their school administrators saw fit to give. At Harvard in 1951, the Administrative Board could tell reporters that it would increase the punishment for a window smashing -- by however much it wanted -- "if a student's name is on the police blotter or in the Boston press." That was the power of in loco parentis.

The doctrine can cut both ways, Universities are in trouble for recommending student loan lenders who have a financial relationship with the school.
Bribes, or to put it euphemistically, incentives, require two actors: the giver and the receiver. Lenders are at fault for offering such inappropriate gifts and incentives to university officials, but unscrupulous university officials bear just as much blame for accepting these gifts. As administrators of educational institutions that not only teach, but also care for their students, financial aid officials are acting in loco parentis. They should be giving the same unbiased financial advice that a parent would give to her child, particularly because many students have little experience with financial planning when they take out their first student loan.

In loco parentis has taken on new meaning as epitomized by the title of this article, “In loco parentis: helping children when families fail them.” Schools have taken on more and more of the responsibilities traditionally reserved for parents. Parents welcome breakfast, lunch, daycare, counseling, health care services and more provided by the school, especially if the services are free. A principal in a Northern California elementary school told me the school spends so much time, money and effort on the delivery of these auxiliary services that the main mission of the school, education, is neglected.

School people complain about parental abdication while at the same time sending clear signals that parents are inadequate. Parents talking to teachers are talking to people who usually consider themselves experts, not co-collaborators. After all, they are the ones with the teaching credential. My children's teachers would talk down to me until they learned I was a teacher. The change in their attitude and approach was instantaneous. Teachers entertain themselves in the teachers' lounge with stories of ridiculous parents, while parents tell their friends equally incredible stories of ridiculous teachers.

It is perfectly obvious that teacher credentialing has nothing to do with teacher quality. It only certifies that the teachers have been exposed to whatever information the state wants then exposed to. States have differing and often arbitrary requirements for teacher certification. Teachers who come from a different training environment (e.g. Montessori, Waldorf, etc) or who received their training in a different country may have different political views of education and be wonderful teachers anyway. We have to wonder why some states require homeschooling parents to be state certified to teach their own children. Even though I came back from Japan with an accomplished teacher resume, it was illegal for me to teach my own children in California.

In order to homeschool in California, the parent must establish a private school using the same paperwork as any other private school. Or the parent can enroll their children in the independent study program of a public school where the coordinator of the program oversees the child's education. The schools often use the independent study program as an alternative to expulsion. In a strange reversal of in loco parentis, the state to whom the parents are delegating the education of the child re-delegates that responsibility back to the parents and controls the parents' efforts to teach their child. The in loco parentis gate swings wildly on its hinges.

Parents can be forgiven for suspecting that the state wants to control the transmission of culture and values to the next generation. Homeschoolers, even nonreligious ones, understandably want to take back their children. Some have even gone to jail because of hostile superintendents of education. The Home School Legal Defense Fund (HSLDF) has extensively documented the level of control states may seek to exert and the legal actions states have initiated, ostensibly because the education of future citizens is in the state's interest. Parents suspect that state funding for enrollment is the true reason. Many homeschoolers operate underground to avoid state meddling.

States worry that if homeschoolers were not highly regulated, the children would receive an inadequate education. On the contrary, parents who voluntarily choose to homeschool are clearly and highly committed to the education of their children. Homeschooled children typically attain exceptionally high levels of academic achievement. In the view of these parents, schools have betrayed their trust and have overstepped the responsibilities of in loco parentis. That's why they have boycotted public and private schools.

For an overview of homeschooling and a list of links, see this website.

No comments:

Post a Comment