I’m fond of telling my students that pretty much anything should be considered a “moral theology” question. (They don’t often believe me.)

Consider the news headlines about the ban on homemade lunches. My knee jerk reaction was to think “How unfair! Parents ought to be able to decide what their kids eat.” Except that then I have second, and I believe better and more rational thoughts, for it turns out that the “homemade” lunches mentioned in the article consist in cheetos, sodas, and other processed foods. Should we care about this or is this truly a problem for the parents alone? On one hand, these foods are cheaper and more enjoyable for kids, making this a win-win situation for many parents. On the other hand, associations (though not causations, as researchers are careful to note) routinely show up in studies – links between nutrition and child obesity (and with it, the rise in obesity-related diseases), and nutrition and one’s ability to do well in school.

So the principal decided to take it upon herself to ban them except in cases of medical necessity. Granted that parents who object could likely find studies that support the opposite claims (as is usually the case when it comes to scientific studies), it is the principal in this case who has the authority to ban the lunches from her school. She’s apparently not alone in her decision to do so, but though the article treats that fact with some interest it is not really of interest according to the principle of subsidiarity. I’m particularly thinking of the following: “The principle of subsidiarity protects people from abuses by higher-level social authority and calls on these same authorities to help individuals and intermediate groups to fulfil their duties.” (Section 187, Compendium).

These days, there is a rather common cry that the “government” is taking over our lives when cases like this surface, especially since schools tend to be state-sponsored in one way or another. Education is such a prime example of this. Those who are running for office often decry the state of education and then try to push broad, sweeping bills through to show that “we mean what we say.” The No-Child Left Behind Act comes to mind.

Meanwhile, we non-politicians tend to see only the distinctions between federal and state levels, but much less so at local levels. But if we’re taking the principle of subsidiarity seriously, the feds and the state should be supporting local schools in all the ways it can, but stay out of decisions that schools themselves ought to be making – including whether it is appropriate to “teach to the test,” and how to measure their student populations’ successes. Someone teaching special education on a reservation, which has undoubtedly unique aspects compared to, say, the wealthy school district in my area that everyone wants part in. Or, the impoverished “Teach to the test”, even in statewide measures, make no sense, but because education is big bucks, the state and the feds are involved far more than I think is warranted. We ought to trust each other more – especially the people on the ground.

Just as we ought to trust a principal to know her school and make a determination about lunches. She’s not being unfair or unjust; she’s giving students with very particular needs an out, but she’s also making a fairly-considered decision for her school.