In Loco Parentis


America is an anti-authoritarian culture. We don’t like people telling us what to do. But ultimately, this is rebellion against the God who instituted authority structures for our good. God has authority over us as His creatures, and He has given us earthly authorities, such as parents, governors, employers, pastors, and teachers.

A Teacher’s Authority

Teachers hold a special position of authority. A teacher’s authority does not stem from a natural relationship, as in the case of a parent’s authority over a child. Rather, a teacher’s authority is extended from parents to a teacher. In other words, a teacher’s authority is given to them by their students’ parents.

This concept is known by the Latin phrase in loco parentis, meaning “in the place of a parent.” Parents have a natural authority over their children, which is why God gives us the 5th commandment to “Honor your father and mother” (Ex 20:12). It’s also why the Apostle Paul tells fathers to bring their children up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).

Parents can directly exercise their authority over their children. But parents can also indirectly exercise their authority by granting authority to others, such as a baby-sitter or camp counselor. The same is true in the realm of education. When parents send their children to a school, they are extending their authority to the school and the teachers it hires.

Extending Parental Authority

If parents are going to extend such authority, then they ought to make sure they genuinely back a school and its teachers. Parents ought to endorse the curriculum and worldview being taught to their children, and they ought to endorse the people teaching their children. For this reason, it is difficult to understand how Christian parents can extend such authority to a non-Christian school and unbelieving teachers. Christian parents who send their kids to American government schools cannot fully back their children's teachers and curriculum. Either they have reservations about their children's education or they are not aware of everything their children are being taught. Either way, it is a bad situation for everybody—parents, teachers, and students. 

We are witnessing the abdication of parental authority and responsibility all around us. Many parents today expect someone else to raise their kids, whether it be day care workers, teachers, or youth pastors. (This is a big reason why students are so disrespectful towards teachers today. Many parents don’t properly exercise their own authority, and then they don’t back that of teachers.) But we must live counter-culturally and take responsibility for what God has given us. If we have kids, we must exercise parental authority to raise them right. And if we send them to a school, we better make sure we are can extend our authority to that school’s teachers and administration. 

Of course, this logic should lead Christian parents to either home school their children or send their children to a Christian school. Home school has the advantage of giving parents the most control over their children’s education, allowing them to choose which books and videos they will use to educate their kids. That makes home school an enticing option.