New study finds Catholic school students have better self-discipline

Aaron Lambert

A Catholic education doesn’t just help foster better spiritual discipline; it can help to improve a student’s self-discipline, too.

At least that’s what a recent study conducted by the University of California Santa Barbara found. According to associate professor Michael Gottfried’s and doctoral student Jacob Kirksey’s findings, Catholic schools help to instill better self-discipline among their students than public schools and other private schools.

It was the first study of its kind, and its directive was to answer two questions. One: Are children in Catholic elementary schools more self-disciplined than similar students in other schools, as measured by the likelihood of arguing and fighting and ability to control their temper, among other things? And two: Is the relationship between Catholic school attendance and self-discipline stronger for certain types of students?

Gottfried and Kirksey analyzed nationally representative data collected by two Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies conducted in 1999 and 2011 that examine child development, school readiness and early school experiences. Each cohort comprised 15,000 to 17,000 kindergartners who attended public schools and 1,000 to 2,000 who attended non-public schools, of whom close 50 percent attended Catholic schools.

Their analysis revealed three key findings: Students in Catholic schools are less likely to act out or be disruptive that those in other private or public schools; students in Catholic schools exhibit more self-control than those in other private or public schools; and finally, regardless of demographics, students in Catholic schools exhibit more self-discipline than students in other private schools.

The authors tried to construct a plausible control group, but they did take into account the fact that because parents often make a conscious decision to send their children to Catholic schools, there may be other unobservable differences between Catholic and other private school students, meaning the overall findings could be slightly biased.

Even so, the authors of the study came to a few main conclusions about Catholic schools. They determined that schools that value and focus on self-discipline will likely do a better job of fostering it in children, and assuming that the results of the study reflect a “Catholic Schools Effect,” they suggested that other schools consider both explicit and implicit methods to replicate it.

“Since Catholic school doctrine emphasizes the development of self-discipline, it seems likely that Catholic schools devote more time and attention to fostering it,” the authors 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.”

Since Catholic school doctrine emphasizes the development of self-discipline, it seems likely that Catholic schools devote more time and attention to fostering it.”

Additionally, they spoke into the religious aspect of a Catholic education and its power to positively influence a child’s behavior.

“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,” the authors wrote. “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.”

Featured image by Jason Weinrich

COMING UP: A man for strengthening others

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When the choirs of angels led Father Paul Mankowski, SJ, into the Father’s House on September 3, I hope the seraphic choirmaster chose music appropriate to the occasion.  Had I been asked, I would have suggested the Latin antiphon Ecce sacerdos magnus as arranged by Anton Bruckner. The all-stops-pulled moments in Bruckner’s composition, deploying organ, brass, and full choir, would have been a perfect match for Paul Mankowski’s rock-solid Catholic faith, his heroic ministry, and his robust literary and oratorical style; the a capella sections, softly sung, mirror the gentleness with which he healed souls. Above all, I would have suggested Bruckner’s motet because Father Mankowski truly was what the antiphon celebrates: “a great priest who in his days pleased  God.”

We were friends for some 30 years and I can say without reservation that I have never met anyone like Paul Mankowski. He was off-the-charts brilliant, an extraordinary linguist and scholar; but he wore his learning lightly and was a tremendous wit. He rarely expressed doubts about anything; but he displayed a great sensitivity to the doubts and confusions of those who had the humility to confess that they were at sea. He could be as fierce as Jeremiah in denouncing injustice and dishonesty; but the compassion he displayed to spiritually wounded fellow-priests and laity, who sought healing through the work of grace at his hands, was just as notable a feature of his personality.

His curriculum vitae was singular. The son of working-class parents, he put himself through the University of Chicago working summers in a steel mill. He did advanced degrees at Oxford and Harvard, becoming the sparring partner of a future Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, at the former, and delving deeply into the mysteries of Semitic philology – unfathomable, to most of his friends – at the latter. He taught at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and was pastor of an English-speaking parish in Amman, Jordan. Wherever he was, he lived like a true ascetic; he was also the best company imaginable at a meal or a party.

He was a writer of genius, although his published bibliography is considerably slimmer than it might have been, thanks to the years when he was silenced or censored by his religious superiors. A good example of his ability to combine keen insight and droll humor is his 1992 dissection of the goings-on at the annual convention of the American Academy of Religion (available here). More recently, Father Mankowski drew on his extensive experience as a confessor and spiritual director to pen, with his superiors’ permission, a respectful but sharp critique of his fellow Jesuit James Martin’s book, Building a Bridge (available here). In the decades between those two pieces, and when permitted to do so, he published essays and reviews on a wide range of topics, including literature, politics, Church affairs, biblical translations and the priesthood, while sharing his private musings with friends in a seemingly endless series of pungent parodies, revised song lyrics, and imagined news stories.

Years ago, his friend Father Richard John Neuhaus dubbed Father Mankowski one of the “Papal Bulls:” Jesuits of a certain generation notable for their intellectually sophisticated and unwavering Catholic orthodoxy, which often got them into hot water of various temperatures (including boiling) with their Ignatian brothers and superiors. Paul Mankowski was no bull, papal or otherwise, in a china shop, though. He relished debate and was courteous in it; what he found off-putting was the unwillingness of Catholic progressives to fight their corner with a frank delineation of their position. This struck him as a form of hypocrisy. And while Father Mankowski, the good shepherd, often brought strays back to the Lord’s flock, he was unsparingly candid about what he perceived as intellectual dishonesty, or what he recently deplored as “ignoble timidity” in facing clerical corruption. Paul Mankowski was not a man of the subjunctive, and he paid the price for it.

He is beyond all that now, and I like to imagine St. Ignatius of Loyola welcoming him to the Father’s House with a hearty “Well done, my son.” In this valley of tears, freshly moistened by those who mourn his untimely death at age 66, Father Paul V. Mankowski, SJ, will be remembered by those of us who loved him as a man and a priest who, remaining faithful to his Jesuit and sacerdotal vocations, became a tower of strength for others. This was a man of God. This was a man, whose courageous manliness reflected his godliness.