In Loco Parentis

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To be a grandparent is to come full circle. But while gender is said to be a construct, simply a state of mind fashioned by the patriarchy to oppress birthing persons, sex is real enough. And as has been true from Eden’s tragic denouement into the Land of Nod, grandmas and grandpas travel in different circles. Different circles to be sure, but there is a sense of Quantum Mechanic’s Theory of Entanglement to our separate paths. Even though grandparents might be separated by time and space we remain bound to each other. To change metaphors, grandmas and grandpas are satellites of the same planet, our family.

Time has perhaps emptied the fuel tanks of the primal engines that first powered us into those orbital paths, but no matter, our trajectories have been well and truly set. We both orbit in the gravitational grip of our progeny.

Returning to the original metaphor, I have the advantage of having been this way before, but suffer from my memory’s sad repair, a torn and stained road map of a road once traveled. The words on the map are in an archaic dialect, familiar but strangely obtuse. Most disturbing on this second time around is the missing energy that once brought magical enchantment to the journey. That passionate joie de vivre once experienced is now only a faded remembrance, much like the map of memory itself.

But now as then, school looms large in the lives of families. “Education” being the metronome governing the lives of parents and their children and by extension that older class of the superannuated pleased to have earned their name’s quaint qualifier – “grand”.

I hesitate to speak for grandmas on this second time around. It often seems despite our parallel paths that they have traveled a far country, a land at once familiar and exotic. As a traditional man, I struggled to make sense of this journey, often floundering in my effort to cope with the counterintuitive demands of family life and in so doing missed much of the scenery. While Grandma, seemingly content in simple acceptance enjoyed the ride understanding that orbital mechanics were not to be denied.

It is hard for Grandpa to resist comparing his grandchildren’s experience to his own, no matter how ill-remembered and post edited Grandpa’s memory. And in the way of all human beings, to make judgments about perceived difference.

All my grandchildren go to public school in suburbia, and truth be told, pleasant suburbia. The buildings, classroom materials, the quality of infrastructure is light years beyond that which was my own, some sixty years past. My children’s teachers are college graduates, usually decades in place. The appurtenances to their education – hot lunches, after school activities, structured parental expectations – are first rate.

To all outward appearances, they have all the advantages it can be reasonable to expect, so much better compared to my own experience. My schooling began in a three room country school, three grades to a room. Our teachers were by no means college graduates and of my nine years there, only one teacher lasted beyond a single term. That exception was terminated after his second year for incompetence, a fact clearly evident to even the 7th Grader that I was.

And yet as I experience life in and among my various grandchildren I am gripped by the suspicion that I was given a better education than they. Of course on the face of it that is a laughable conclusion. Virtual Himalayan Ranges of metrics could be summoned to prove me wrong. And yet…

A lifetime’s experience has taught that what can be measured will be measured – paid for and encouraged. That which cannot be measured will be denigrated and shown the door. And it is immediately obvious that modern education is a statistician’s dream, a metric driven engine. That same lifetime’s experience has also taught that metrics are often WMD’s in the hands of the chump, of the bureaucrat, of the manipulator.

The case for metrics is undeniable. Back in my own ill-remembered education there were three teachers and a part-time custodian/cook. These four answered to a school board of three civic minded farmer/parents. Overseeing this county wide assemblage of some 15 to 20 similar schools was a County Superintendent and secretary.

Obviously such an ill-begotten educational infrastructure was an open invitation to all manner of iniquitous malevolence, racism, sexism, cis-genderism, religiosity, weightism, broism, ageism, homophobia, etc. Given the lack of degrees and professional certifications on the part of the teachers, how could the education delivered be anything other than mediocre at best? How on Earth could one expect a coherent carbon-negative policy be implemented in such a ramshackle educational structure?

At the same time, the teaching staff were little more than exploited wage slaves with no recourse to unjust or exploitive working conditions. Going back to my 7th grade teacher, terminated at the end of term. Was he truly a blithering idiot? Or was he simply the victim of unjust expectations on the part of unschooled farmers coupled with the inadequacies of rustic children suffering from inferior educational opportunities? My goodness, the school board members suffered from a total absence of credential, their diction betraying their own regrettable lack of proper education.

Luckily, my grandchildren suffer from none of these deficiencies. Their teachers are properly credentialed and subject to rigorous Continuing Education requirements. The principals and ancillary staff of their schools are also credentialed and certified. Behind these front line workers stands a truly impressive administrative apparatus, also properly credentialed and certified.

No longer can a blithering idiot be simply terminated. Educators of all stripes and duties are now represented by the most powerful labor union in the world. Due process will be observed. In a corollary to the maxim of the great English jurist, William Blackstone, our schools believe it better for thousands of children to be ill-educated than one doubtful teacher be removed.

A grandpa of a certain age and inclination cannot help but be reminded of the American auto industry in the 1970’s. The parallels between Education in the 21st Century and the American auto industry in the 1970’s are inescapable.

In 1970, Detroit had virtually monopoly status, was rolling in money and politically powerful. The union representing auto workers, the UAW, had veto power in the Democratic Party much like that of the teacher’s today. The UAW chief’s, Walter Reuther followed by Leonard Woodcock, were frequent guests in the Oval Office. Their words received a deferential treatment in the councils of the mighty and given a respectful hearing in the media.

The senior managements of the car companies were dominated by executives skilled in union negotiations, chiefly with legal and financial backgrounds. The union and company managements existed in a symbiotic relationship, secure in their monopoly status. Lee Iacocca, a lone engineer, stood out at the time as the only senior executive in the entire domestic auto industry who was a “car guy”.

But in the 1970’s, the oil price shocks brought on by exported dollar inflation made fuel economy a “thing”. The Federal government in its ham handed way began regulating automobiles, i.e. emission controls, mileage standards, safety standards, etc. A new generation, the Baby Boomers, were a new kind of customer, seeking a different product. Detroit’s product needed substantial re-engineering, but the executive suite understood lobbying, union negotiations and financial legerdemain.

Mahogany Row had no interest in or exposure to the factory floor or design studios. One is reminded once again of Absolom Bracer’s First Law of Management:

“Engineers are located as far as physically possible from executive management”

The American consumer would have had to continue buying the Detroit product but for one thing. Unlike Education, Detroit in the 1970’s was a market monopoly, not a government monopoly. Volkswagen, Toyota, Datsun. Izusu, etc. emerged from under the rocks and worked on engineering cars, not union negotiations and lobbying.

I bought a Chevy Luv (Isuzu built) in 1976. It quite simply was everything the Detroit product was not. Inexpensive, fun to drive, rugged and simply built along with delivering good gas mileage. As auto company management and the UAW continued their self absorbed and complicated minuet, given a choice, American car drivers, including myself, migrated away.

I believe my grandchildren are being educated in the style of a 1975 Ford LTD. Nothing wrong with the LTD land yacht, but it was a dinosaur and I preferred my Luv pickup. Given the financial disasters and plummeting market share befalling the Detroit auto industry over the next three decades, I believe most people agreed with me.

I have little doubt that Detroit’s car companies and the UAW both employed statisticians using rigorous analytics to create metrics monitoring their productivity. I also have little doubt that those metrics supported Detroit management and the UAW, proving their product and factories the best in the world. Metrics are not a new invention, having been used for a long time. Scripture’s Book of Exodus describes their use some 3,500 years ago in a manner familiar to all toiling on the front lines. Metrics are the tool used by those who manage what they do not know how to do.

Let’s not forget a more recent practitioner, Robert McNamara, the best and brightest of President Kennedy’s Best and Brightest, an “expert” who “transformed” Ford Motor Co. He not only made Ford Motor Co. a forerunner in the use of metrics, but also brought those same management techniques to the Pentagon, most notably in the Vietnam War. Given America’s recent experience, it would appear the metrics and management philosophy introduced by Mr. McNamara remain in place.

Metrics are not a bad thing. They are numbers, statistics pure and simple. But let us not forget Mark Twain’s astute assessment of over a century past; “There are three kinds of liars; liars, damned liars and statisticians.”

Metrics are powerful tools. But they depend on measuring useful things, honestly and intelligently. In order to measure usefully, honestly and intelligently, one must have a clear idea of what it is one wants to do. This of course can be a problem, particularly in a bureaucracy.

Back in the day, I suspect those civic minded farmer/parents on my schools’ Board of Education did not have a Mission Statement, let alone metrics. However I suspect they wanted their children to learn the 3 R’s and become responsible adults. While they were understandably lacking the sophisticated metrics used by my grandchildren’s school systems, I think those bygone teachers and school board members did a fair job measured by that standard.

Taking the entire school enrollment during my kindergarten year (50-60 students), to my knowledge most all the students left competent in Readin’, Ritin’, and Rithmetic. To my knowledge, virtually all became responsible adults. In fact, out of that group would emerge three executive level engineers in Fortune 500 companies as well as successful contractors, managers, bank officers and entrepreneurs.

But the Cedar Canyon School of my youth was a different place and time. It now exists only in memory, having been plowed under and returned to farmland shortly after my graduation into the hormone addled halls of high school. My grandchildren live in a different world. What is the goal of their schooling in their time and place? And importantly, who should set that goal?

It was in the Manchester, England of 1855 that a school, funded by charitable donations for orphans and children of the working poor, adopted a “Mission Statement” that would over time set the direction of today’s educational establishment.  That “Mission Statement”, or motto, was “in loco parentis”, a Latin phrase loosely translated as “in the place of the parents”.

As an aside, it is both interesting and depressing to trace how much of the past century and a half’s misery began with charitable efforts to alleviate the plight of the urban poor in 19th Century Manchester, England. There is a direct and unbroken line from 70 Great Ducie Street and environs in 19th Century Manchester to Karl Marx, to Lenin, to Stalin, to Mao, to Castro and now to Bernie Sanders, AOC and Hugo Chavez.

“In loco parentis” has evolved from its initial meaning as a charitably supported substitute for the missing parents of destitute orphans to today’s understanding that the educational system is an arm of the government, an arm of the government with primary responsibility for the education of all children. This government controlled education is charged with not only training all children in basic skills, but shaping their character, establishing normative behavior and forming their world views. As a matter of both law and custom as well as practice, Education supersedes their actual parents in this regard.

So much for the fundamental Christian’s argument that Evolution is unable to create entirely new species! And it took only a little over a century for it to happen!! My own experience of the world in a demanding occupation is that the 3 R’s are critical, but beyond that, other things are much more important; ambition, drive, grit, character, etc.

Again, my opinion only. Lifelong learning is essential, but credentials, degrees and certifications are capricious standards, much like metrics themselves. There exists a very distinct line between training and education but in practice they are confused.

Upon attaining maturity, in simple terms a person’s education is defined by degrees held among other things. As a working manager, I found degrees to be useful indicators only as a very broad go-no go gauge in hiring. Even then, the difference between the degreed and non-degreed on the job was not so much in themselves, but in how they were treated because of their degree. As to qualitative differences in the graduates of different institutions, I found such differences, if they exist at all to be blurred at best with the most clear difference to be in the “old boy network” they accessed.

Training, no matter its name or institutional basis, produces measurable skills that lends itself to certifications of competence in the skill being measured. My own experience as a manager served to jaundice me in this regard, as I found a clear inverse relationship between the prestige of the professional certifications and actual competence on the job. There is that timeless reality captured by George Bernard Shaw’s infamous idiom;

“Those who can – do

Those who can’t – teach”

Thus we are left with the conundrum – “What is the point of education?” And importantly – “Who gets to determine the point of education?”

If the point of education is to acquire life skills, to enable people to get a good job, then one has to grapple with my own life’s experiences noted earlier. Of course my own experiences are idiosyncratic, perhaps unrepresentative. But then one must explain the widespread lack of degree attainment in that most dynamic of modern industries, computer software.

Of course, my own experience was substantially tainted by the lack of an invasive Human Resources department in my company for most of its existence. Invasive Human Resource departments are for companies a bit like death and taxes, virtually inevitable. One adds Human Resources like a decorative cutting on a border to complete the garden, supporting its intended holistic design purpose, but as the company deals with government contracts, litigious employees, the legal thickets of health and welfare benefits, one finds that the simple cutting intended to complete the garden has become a frenetically spreading bindweed.

Once a company acquires Human Resources infrastructure, the degree/certification need becomes an essential requirement, thereby justifying the present Educational complex in all its splendor – ipso facto. Thus we are left with the logical conclusion – modern bureaucracies, whether corporate, government or non-profit, will have Human Resource departments demanding certificates of competency (?) from recognized and accredited external bodies.

And so we have the modern Educational complex. Its well disguised point is to satisfy the the human resource infrastructure in government and business which serves as an inflexible gate keeper to attractive employment opportunities for adults. Thus whoever determines the needs of human resource structures, thereby determines the point of education.

One can see that modern education has little need for parents other than as the supplier of raw material to the system. Thus in loco parentis along with the present day educational infrastructure makes a lot of sense, just as Robert McNamara’s metrics at Ford Motor Co. and the Pentagon made a lot of sense in their own time. There is very little place for parents other than to pressure their children to achieve the best possible certificated outcome for their child, which responsible parents will do. Their child’s ability to obtain a well paid position in the cube farms of America depends upon it.

My grandchildren will probably do well, all things remaining the same, with their Ford LTD educations. I am somewhat concerned however. Even government mandated monopolies inevitably face competition. How will my grandchildren with their Ford LTD education compete against the inevitable cheaper, more economical, higher quality competition that will inevitably appear?

As I noted earlier, metrics measure that which can be measured. That which cannot be measured is denigrated and shown the door. And yet wisdom as well as experience teaches that the intangibles, by definition that which cannot be measured, are the most important things. Virtually no previous culture of any worth has seen education as job training. Throughout recorded history, education has been concerned with shaping the character of its children.

Character is the great imponderable that most parents and even a higher percentage of grandparents want to develop in those who follow them, in their children and grandchildren. How do we educate our children and grandchildren to be what we hope for them to be, people of character, of understanding, of compassion, of integrity, of faith?

In loco parentis or perhaps something else?

For inspiration, we might return to that 3,500 year old text recounting the previously mentioned early example of metrics. In the Book of Deuteronomy, we find this advice to us, parents and grandparents, as pertinent now as then:

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up.”

One Response to “In Loco Parentis”

  1. Jeffrey Esbenshade says:

    The metrics of Robert Mc Namara where alive and well
    in my fraternity house from 1965 to 1969, as we waited for the dinner bell
    to ring, the 6:00 news on the 3 networks, started out with body count in Vietnam.
    How many Americans were killed that day and how many Viet-Cong died. No wonder
    I dropped out of ROTC. War by the numbers.
    I was drafted into Army and received a 90-day early release to obtain a teaching
    degree. Did not use the degree until 30 years later. I taught in Jeffco Public
    schools for 16 years. I loved it! the last two years were very sad as my fellow
    teachers found out I voted for Mr. Trump. I guess they forgot I fought to defend
    the constitution, I earned my right to free speech to vote for any person I liked.

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