Catholic Education and Self-Discipline in Students

For many parents, the issue of choosing a school is a momentous and pivotal part of raising their children. A new study by the University of California Santa Barbara may now influence that decision.

The longitudinal study examines the relationship between attending a Catholic school and the ability of children to exercise self-discipline. Intriguingly, students at Catholic private schools demonstrated significantly higher levels of self-discipline.

The researchers, associate professor Michael Gottfried and doctoral student Jacob Kirksey, analyzed the results of two studies conducted in 1999 and 2011, each of which worked with 15,000 to 17,000 kindergartners from a range of schools. The study used standards like the amount of arguing and fighting in the classroom to measure how well children were able to control their temper.

The results were not entirely unexpected, but one aspect was surprising. Not only were students attending Catholic schools more well-behaved in class, but this finding also extended across demographics.

Gottfried and Kirksey speculated that a school that places high value on self-discipline will more effectively cultivate it in its students. Admittedly, students at Catholic schools may come from families that consider attending such a school important, so other factors may have influenced these results.

Regardless, the researchers urge other schools, both private and public, to consider whether they put sufficient focus on self-discipline. They encouraged schools to evaluate their values, as some schools may be wasting time and energy disciplining students when they could more effectively teach self-discipline at an early age.

This is a facet parents may also wish to take under consideration. Irrespective of their religious beliefs, parents may find that a Catholic school instills the behaviors, especially self-discipline, they would like to see in their children.

In fact, the researchers suggested that the religious nature of a Catholic school is partially responsible for these results. A faith-based school promotes a variety of virtues like kindness and obedience that are less emphasized at a secular school. When students are surrounded by a culture that values such behavior, they may be more inclined to internalize it.

Whatever the instigator, these results should be helpful to parents of young children. As the time to leave daycare and enter kindergarten approaches, it is vital to think carefully about what schools will foster beneficial, life-long behaviors.

Steven Virgadamo | New York, NY | Long-time leader and an advocate of school choice legislation.

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