Catholic Schools are Better at Instilling Self-Discipline
In the last several months, WILL has argued that currently popular systems of discipline in American public schools are problematic from the standpoint of promoting a good learning environment. Perhaps in reaction to the overzealousness of the “Zero Tolerance” policies of the late 90s and early 2000s, many school systems have gone the opposite direction, promoting “feel good” discipline policies that result in worsened academic outcomes and reports of unsafe conditions for teachers and students.Flanders asks whether this result could be generalized to other religious schools, and even to secular private schools. The Fordham study lumps “non-religious” schools with “other religious” schools, leaving unanswered the question of whether religious schools, per se, conduce to self-discipline.
But, like in many other contexts, private schools may offer an alternative solution on school discipline. A new study by the Thomas Fordham Institute examines student behavior in Catholic schools compared to other private and public schools. They argue that Catholic schools, far more so than other schools, focus on the notion of self–discipline. Self-discipline, in general, is an intrinsic motivation to engage in positive behavior. In the context of the classroom, this can be exhibited by properly dealing with anger, or avoiding impulsive behavior without the teacher having to intervene. It is a regular point of emphasis for Catholic schools around the country. Indeed, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee lists “self-discipline” as one of the core meanings of a Catholic education. But does this emphasis manifest in better behavioral outcomes?
Using rigorous methods to create comparable samples of students, the study’s authors found that students in Catholic schools were more likely to exhibit self-disciplined behavior. This finding held in comparison to both public schools and other private schools. It also held for students of different races and income levels.
Further, so far as we can tell, the study does not preclude the possibility that Catholic schools have more latitude to impose discipline — defined a punishing bad behavior. Simply being isolated from Obama Administration policies that make it hard to discipline may be a huge advantage. Letting kids learn that bad behavior produces no consequences (or trivial consequences) is a dandy way to discourage self-discipline.
Indeed, some of the “mission statements” of Catholic schools imply their staff think this way. For example:
In 2012 Chilton Area Catholic School adopted the “Discipline With Purpose” program. This program helps children learn to become self-directed adults. It helps teach responsibility and respect in language children can understand. It also encourages educators to rethink their role as disciplinarians to teachers of self-discipline.This sounds like pious rhetoric describing the fact that you discipline to teach self-discipline.
Regardless, Catholic schools have long provided both a congenial choice for practicing Catholic parents and a valuable refuge for kids (many non-Catholic) from dysfunctional inner city public schools.