The Denver Catholic is reporting on the study conducted by Michael Gottfried, Associate Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Jacob Kirksey, a doctoral student at the same institution. The two set out to discover whether or not Catholic schools were better than public or other private schools in imparting traits of self-discipline in their students.
The study focused on two main questions; whether or not children in Catholic elementary schools are more self-disciplined when it comes to the likelihood of engaging in verbal and physical confrontations and controlling their tempers, and if the relationship between Catholic school attendance and self-discipline is stronger in just certain subsets of students.
To answers these questions, the researchers analyzed two waves of nationally representative data on elementary school students that were collected as part of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten.
According to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, their analysis revealed three key findings:
1. Students in Catholic schools are less likely to act out or be disruptive than those in other private schools or in public schools. According to their teachers, Catholic school children argued, fought, got angry, acted impulsively, and disturbed ongoing activities less frequently.
2. Students in Catholic schools exhibit more self-control than those in other private schools or public schools. Specifically, they were more likely to control their temper, respect others’ property, accept their fellow students’ ideas, and handle peer pressure.
3. Regardless of demographics, students in Catholic schools exhibit more self-discipline than students in public schools and other private schools. Thus, there is at least some evidence that attending Catholic school may benefit all sorts of children.
“It is important to recognize that these findings are not causal,” the Institute reports. “Despite the authors’ efforts to construct a plausible control group, there may be unobservable differences between Catholic and other private school students.”
“Since Catholic school doctrine emphasizes the development of self-discipline, it seems likely that Catholic schools devote more time and attention to fostering it,” they wrote. “If other schools took self-discipline as seriously as Catholic schools do, they would likely have to spend less time, energy and political capital on penalizing students for negative behaviors.”
“The most obvious feature that Catholic schools and similar faith-based schools have in common is their focus on religion — including such specifically Judeo-Christian values as humility, obedience, kindness, tolerance, self-sacrifice and perseverance,” they added.
“Perhaps students are more likely to internalize such values when they know they are loved not only by their teachers but by their Creator […] Religion can mold hearts and minds in ways that suspensions, restorative justice and Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports can’t begin to match.”
As a result, the Institute suggests three key takeaways from the study:
1. Schools that value and focus on self-discipline will likely do a better job of fostering it in children.
2. Other schools have something to learn from Catholics schools when it comes to fostering self-discipline.
3. We should not underestimate the power of religion to positively influence a child’s behavior—and shouldn’t restrict families’ choices on the basis of religion.
The Institute added: “To the extent that school choice programs can widen access to great schools that provide an academic boost and promote self-discipline—Catholic or otherwise—they deserve our eternal support.”
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