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: From rare books to online resources, archdiocesan library has long history of service to students

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National Library Week, observed this year from April 4 to April 10, is the perfect occasion to highlight the essential role of libraries and library staff in strengthening our communities – and our very own Cardinal Stafford Library at the Archdiocese of Denver is no exception.  

Since 1932, the library has served as a religious, intellectual, and cultural resource for seminarians and students at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver.

As the library of the seminary, we are always responsible for the four dimensions of the priestly formation of our seminarians. The library is charged with being responsible to all the divisions of the Seminary: the Lay Division (Catholic Biblical School and Catholic Catechetical School), the Permanent Deacon Formation Division, and the Priestly Formation Division, said Stephen Sweeney, Library Director. 

In addition to being one of the main resources to the seminary, the Cardinal Stafford Library serves the needs of other educational programs in the Archdiocese of Denver, including the St. Francis School for Deacons, the Biblical School, the Catechetical School and the Augustine Institute. While the library is currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was previously open to anyone, giving people access to more than 150,000 books, audios, and videos. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library was named after Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, Apostolic Penitentiary at the Vatican and former Archbishop of Denver from 1986 to 1996. He was a dedicated advocate of the library and of Catholic education.

In 1932, the library was established by two seminarians, Maurice Helmann and Barry Wogan. While they were not the first seminarians to conceive the idea of establishing a library, they are considered the founders for undertaking its organization.  

Since its founding, the library has grown and compiled a fine collection of resources on Catholic theology, Church history, biblical studies, liturgy, canon law, religious art, philosophy, and literature. Special collections include over 500 rare books dating back to the early 16th century and many periodicals dating back to the 1800s. The oldest publication in the library is a book on excommunication published in 1510. The Cardinal Stafford Library is also home to various relics and holds bills personally written by some of those saints.  

Over the past few years, the library has undergone a process of beautification through various renovations that include improvements in lighting, flooring, and even furniture restoration. During these difficult times, libraries are doing their best to adapt to our changing world by expanding their digital resources to reach those who don’t have access to them from home. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library provides a community space; we subscribe to about 200 print journals and have access to literally thousands more through online resources available on campus computers, Sweeney added. “I have been the Library Director for almost 11 years. I absolutely love my work, especially participating in the intellectual formation of the faithful from all of the dioceses we serve”.  

For more information on the Cardinal Stafford Library, visit: sjvdenver.edu/library 

Featured photo by Andrew Wright