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: Why 42 had to be impeached twenty years ago

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Twenty years ago this month, I found myself seriously double-booked, so to speak.

The editing of the first volume of my John Paul II biography, Witness to Hope, was entering the ninth inning, and I was furiously engaged in exchanging edited and re-edited copy with my editors in New York. At the same time, the Clinton impeachment drama was cresting. And as I had long done speechwriting for Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I spent week after week of split time, working on John Paul II from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., then switching to impeachment for a couple of hours before returning to Witness to Hope in the evening.

It was not the optimal way to work but it had to be done, even if it seemed likely that the president would be acquitted in a Senate trial. On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives voted two articles of impeachment and senior House members, including Mr. Hyde, solemnly walked the two articles across the Capitol and presented them to the Senate’s leaders. On toward midnight, Henry Hyde called me and, referring to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, said, “We’re not going to make it. Trent won’t fight; I saw it in his eyes.” After a long moment I replied that, if we were going to lose, we had a duty to lay down a record with which history would have to reckon.

Which is what the great Henry Hyde did during the January 1999 Senate trial, where he bent every effort to prevent the proceedings from descending into farce.

For Hyde, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton was an unavoidable piece of nasty business. It was not a matter of partisan score-settling, nor was it a matter of punishing a president for gross behavior with an intern in the White House. It was a matter of defending the rule of law. As Henry put it to me when it seemed clear that the president had perjured himself and obstructed justice, “There are over a hundred people in federal prisons for these crimes. How can the chief law enforcement officer of the United States be guilty of them and stay in office?”

Impeachment is a political process and it was clear by mid-fall of 1998 that the politics were not breaking toward removing the president from office. They had been pointed that way over the summer, though. And as the pressures built, it seemed as if the Clinton presidency might end as Richard Nixon’s had: Party elders, in this case Democrats, would go to the White House, explain that it was over, and ask the president to resign for the sake of the country. Then around Labor Day that year, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times and other columnists began suggesting that, if Clinton were impeached and convicted, the sexual revolution would be over, the yahoos of reaction would have won, and we’d be back to something resembling Salem, Massachusetts, during the witchcraft insanity.

That was preposterous. It was also effective. And within days, at least in Washington, you could fill the templates shifting: This wasn’t about the rule of law, it was about sex and the yahoos couldn’t be allowed to win. (That Henry Hyde was the leader of the pro-life forces in Congress neatly fit this storyline, of course, abortion being a major plank in the platform of the sexual revolution.)

So once the game was redefined — Are you for or against the puritanical yahoos? — there was little chance to wrench the political process back to what it was really about: the rule of law. In his opening speech during the president’s trial, Henry Hyde tried valiantly to refocus the argument, insisting that high office did not absolve a man from obeying his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the laws of the United States and his oath swearing to tell the truth to a federal grand jury. To suggest that it did was to “break the covenant of trust” between president and people, dissolving “the mortar that binds the foundation stones of our freedom into a secure and solid edifice.”

It wasn’t a winning argument. But it was the right argument. And on this 20th anniversary, the nation should remember with gratitude those like Henry Hyde who, under fierce assault, stood for the rule of law.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore | Flickr