Mechanchim and "In Loco Parentis"

Rabbi Nochem Kaplan

When parents drop off their children at school the school assumes the responsibility to act as parents in their absence, that's the legal doctrine of In Loco Parentis.

Parents need to be sure that that their child's health and safety are being cared for, the school act on their behalf. Parents need to be sure that their child's physiological developmental needs are attended to and nourished and the school assumes that responsibility. Then things get a bit vaguer; psychological needs, value systems, these too are issues which schools have been attempting to deal with in the last half century, with qualified and limited success.

school.jpgThat's the norm for schools across the US and internationally in developed countries. Do yeshiva/ day schools differ regarding Loco Parentis? 

The Torah introduces the mitzvah of Talmud Torah - the Divine commandment to study Torah - with the words "V'shinanto L'vanecha" commonly translated as: you shall teach them diligently to your children. The Talmud explains the personal obligation to study is expressed in a parent-child relationship because a teacher is like a parent as well. Jewish tradition demands a different standard of dedication from the teachers of Torah it demands that each student must be seen as a child.

So we mechanchim and mechanchos stand in loco parentis in a spiritual sense and need to transmit Har Sinai to our students. As the Talmud puts it “ma lahalon b'eima u'beyirsah af cahan" just as we stood transfixed with awe at Har Sinai, so to must we transmit the aura of awe. That is the core objective of all chinuch, our immutable goal without which nothing else can be achieved. Our most sacred mission is to inculcate Yiras Shamayim; to profoundly connect every child with the Al-mighty.

We are faced with unprecedented challenges in chinuch today, we are up against aggressive influences which our parents could not have imagined and the only antidote is to infuse the nefashos of our children with Yiras Shamayim, a profound sense of being in the Divine presence.

We dare not be ambiguous about this, we must make our ultimate objectives crystal clear, to ourselves and those charged with educating children. Our mission is to inculcate Jewish values and our belief system.

If a student has learned his lessons well but is disinterested in his Jewish obligations, we have failed him. "What has the Torah taught you?" demanded one of the great Chassidic masters of an erudite student? You may have learned the text and gained knowledge, but how has your study impacted your daily life? 
We need to devote all our energies to assuring that our studies impact daily life, but how? No teacher can teach Yiras Shamayim in the abstract, not even the most creative and masterful of educators can preach Yiras Shamayim to children and get them to listen, much less absorb.

It is an intangible, learned by osmosis, by devoted mentoring, through watching and learning to emulate a role model. It is not a subject to be mastered and not a skill to be acquired; it is a consciousness and state of mind which is inculcated by loving parents and teachers, who demonstrate it in their personal lives. Cooperatively, parents and teachers acting in loco parentis can create an environment which cultivates and imbues Yiras Shamayim. 
Living an exemplary Jewish life as a mechanech or mechaneches is not something limited to school hours, it must be something honest and real; the students smell that genuineness a mile away and are attracted to it like bees to honey.

Of course the issue of inculcation Yiras Shamayim, is generally a much more complicated challenge. Being a "dugma chaya"- exemplary example, may not in-itself be as effective as it used to be. The school is not an island and every child in today's world is exposed a plethora of stimuli, not all of them desirable. His home environment, the community he lives in, his friends (and those of his parents) all impact him powerfully. We are challenged to compete with so many conflicting influences that there can be no easy answers, certainly no magic formula.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that we are falling short in too many cases. A serious talk with some of our secondary school children will yield a deeply disturbing conclusion; we may be teaching but they are not necessarily learning. A walk down a busy street in the summer will lead to the same conclusion.

I want to suggest that beyond the dugma chaya imperative there are other educational concepts which we need to be conscious of. There is not "one size fits all" formula for reaching kids in a profound way. 
I have heard some cite statistics ostensibly showing that this is the way it always was, it is only the numbers that have become larger. To them I say: we don't have any throw away children! If the Rebbe taught us anything it is that every Jew counts!