Warm, Friendly, and Distant

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One of the optical illusions created by the decision to home school or to have your children in a private Christian school is a significant one. It is this. The temptation is to think that in the home school, success or failure is fundamentally a parental matter while in the private school, success or failure is fundamentally a school matter. In truth, it is always a parental matter.

School teachers are supposed to be servants, and servants can be utilized wisely or poorly. You can have good servants and poor ones, and when you have good ones, they can still be utilized poorly. But the fundamental responsibility always rests with the one who employs the servants.

When parents refuse to avail themselves of such servants, this is absolutely fine when the work gets done, and not fine when it doesn’t. When parents enroll their kids in the school, but fail to take responsibility for how their kids are growing and developing, the results are frequently not pretty. And this can happen in the best school imaginable — and such parental collapse does not (necessarily) reflect badly on the school. I put necessarily in parentheses because sometimes the school and the parents fail together, each in their respective roles. The school never has the primary role. But the educational failure can occur even when the servants are good servants, being utilized poorly.

Schools do have their own responsibilities, of course, but they are not parental responsibilities. They have a responsibility to provide the services that they say they are going to provide, and they have a responsibility to communicate faithfully with the parents as they do so. But if the parents are not interested in following up on that communication, this is not a school problem — except to the extent that it may create problems at school.

Say we have the Smiths and Millers, and I have no one particular in mind here. These are made-up Smiths and made-up Millers. Mr. and Mrs. M.U. Smith are homeschooling their kids, and Mr. and Mrs. M.U. Miller have their kids enrolled at the local M.U. Christian Academy. Each family has three kids, a boy and two girls. Let us say that in both families, both girls get pregnant about six years before they were supposed to, and that the respective boys have a thing or two to teach that guy in Proverbs about how to avoid that lion in the streets. In short, both families represent familial tragedies. Do we have home school fail and Christian school fail? Not really. We actually have Smith and Miller fail. In the home school setting, everybody can easily see that, while with the Christian school, there is more scope for trying to shift responsibility. The Millers have more available excuses. But it comes down to the families in both instances.

Now this does not mean that there are not temptations common to homeschooling generally, as well as temptations common to having your kids in school. As I am fond of saying, when enrolled in math class you have math problems. Whatever it is you are doing, that is where your problems are. So it is the responsibility of parents, depending on what options they are pursuing, to acknowledge the existence of such problems, and not to deny them for the sake of a particular educational ideology.

Homeschoolers can deny the problems because they want to function as “homeschoolers,” rather than as “the Smiths.” But at the end of the day, if there are significant problems, everybody knows where the problems are.

But when parents just leave their kid at the Christian school drop off point, and drive away, a different problem is brewing. We must resist the optical illusion of thinking that home schooling parents are any more responsible for how the education and upbringing of their children turns out. They are not. Parents are parents, period. Parents are responsible, period.

Nancy and I put all three of our kids through the whole Logos program, and it would be safe to say that we were and are die-hard supporters. But at the same time, we were extremely wary of certain tendencies that we knew could easily happen in the life of any institution. We were jealous parents — we did not want the school to supplant our influence.

This supplanting of influence can happen in two ways. One is when the school forgets the principle of in loco parentis and tries to supplant that influence. In this case, the school is being an incompetent or sinful servant. The other occurs when the parents just check out, and the school has to make shift with what they are working with. The parents drop off the kid and the tuition check, and sometimes just the kid. When the parents leave a vacuum like this, the school has to work hard at trying not to fill it. They can do what a servant can do, but they cannot fill the center, and they should not try. Stepping into the center will only make things worse.

There are many examples of this kind of thing, so let me just mention one. In the context of another institution other than the family, Paul tells Timothy to treat the younger women “as sisters, with all purity” (1 Tim. 5:2). Avuncular hugs are all well and good, but not everybody is an uncle. John Bunyan says, I think in Grace Abounding, that he noticed some wanting to go around hugging people in the spirit of the early Christians, but, he observed, they always seemed to find “the comely ones.”

Now in a Christian place, like a good school, where life is not mechanical, professional, and detached, there will be a good deal of warmth and love going around. Good deal, and that general theme has my vote. But when our kids were there, if Nancy and I had seen our daughters participating in the general bonhomie by hugging male teachers, we would have responded, not by blaming the school, but by concluding that our family was not functioning as it should. On the school side, of course, the advice that Paul gave Timothy should always be remembered, but this exhoration is directed to parents. Parents who create vacuums should not blame nature for abhoring those vacuums.

If your church has a youth pastor who is handsy with the girls, that is a problem for the session to address. Great, and they should address it. But parents who have loved their daughters into a state of security approaching the sublime will find that they don’t have to “warn” their daughters about that youth pastor. The youth pastor will already creep them out. They will give him, what is called in the Navy, a wide berth.

Knowing that many families create neediness in their daughters, pastors, youth pastors, teachers, and so on should take care to cultivate a demeanor that I call being “warm, friendly, and distant.” Chumminess is not what you want. But their responsibility is not to not create this — it is to avoid compounding the problems associated with it. The basic responsibility always rests with the parents, whether at school or home.



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