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Catholic Schools and Peace Making

Updated: Mar 20

Dave Rojeck, PhD

Catholic School Leadership/Policy Studies

Catholic School Students
Peace is a virtue inculcated in Catholic schools

In contemporary society, the opportunity for families to enroll their children in the school of their choice has been offered to families with the wherewithal to either reside in public school zones of their choice or to pay private school tuition. In the early 1990s, a revolution in school choice commenced. Educational vouchers came on the scene. The Milwaukee Parental School Choice Program gave low-income families public funds in order to have their children educated in private and religious schools. Other states began their own similar programs. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded the Cleveland (Ohio) Scholarship and Tutoring (voucher) Program to be constitutional on the grounds that these programs do not violate the establishment clause because parents can use these vouchers in the public, private or religious schools of their choice.

Since 1990, the onset of educational vouchers has allowed researchers to make comparisons between voucher and non-voucher students of similar socio-academic backgrounds. It became a simpler task to compare student academic achievement in public and private schools. To date, overwhelming positive effects of voucher students in private and charter schools have been shown over their counterparts attending traditional public schools.

Yet, for those of us concerned with the holistic development of children, success in academics is not the only criteria. We ascribe importance not only to mental growth, but also to the physical, social, and emotional. Many schools offer character education programs. Emotional Intelligence (EI) is gaining in momentum as an educational term. The ancient philosopher Aristotle said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed, “Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.” Until now, there has been little research performed within the school choice debate about character and student virtue, of which Catholic schools traditionally have considered primary aims. Thus, more than 850 students attending Catholic schools in the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring (voucher) Program took a survey on various aspects of student virtue that revealed some interesting findings with regard to stability and mobility.

School stability is important to the discussion of educational vouchers as the school choice movement has wrought the unintended consequence of increasing student mobility across different types of schools, from charter and magnet public schools to private and religious schools. It may be assumed that school stability leads to greater student achievement, though this may not be so in all cases. For example, numerous successful and productive citizens grew up as military children both at home and abroad having changed schools frequently in the course of their K-12 education. However, more times than not, school mobility for individual students has created gaps in learning, not to mention frequent upheavals in teachers, classmates, and environments that make it difficult for youngsters to progress through school on a trajectory conductive to optimal, holistic growth. Typically, studies have shown that frequent school mobility harms students’ academic progress and behavior, such as in the 2002 study by Student Mobility and Academic Achievement by Rumberger.

In the Cleveland voucher program study on non-academic outcomes, several significant peace enhancing virtues for students with greater stability in Catholic schools were found in the analyzed responses to an 18 subscale student survey. Each subscale of the Social Outcomes Survey, Teenage Nonviolence Test, PISA Measure of Student Engagement, and two non-religiously stated subscales from The Assessment of Catechesis and Religious Education included statements for students to rate their own attitudes, values, and beliefs.

Main effect findings for the percentage of Catholic-Christian education are found in Table 1. Significant differences favoring students with higher PCE are:

  • Physical Nonviolence (p = .022)

  • Participation (arriving late to school, skipping or missing classes) (p < .001)

The overall commitment to physical nonviolence favored those with a greater percentage of Catholic education in their educational careers over those with less Catholic schooling. The absence of violence does not constitute authentic peace, but certainly is a building block thereof.

Note: B/I denotes Belonging or Individual emphasis

Main effect findings for years-per-school are found in Table 2. Significant differences in favor of students with a greater number of YPS are:

  • Self-Denial (p = .025)

  • Physical Nonviolence (p = .035)

  • Participation (p = .004)

  • Interest in Learning (p = .040)

A greater commitment to physical nonviolence was found for students with greater years-per-school. Self-denial and a commitment to non-violence are specific teachings of the Catholic Church. Moreover, traditional Catholic teaching religious (nuns) considered punctuality foundational to learning, which still seems to hold today with regard to participation in this study, although many more lay teachers exist in Catholic schools today. Interestingly, interest in learning was also found to be significant but favored students with less years-per-school. This could be a result of students newer to schools being more intrigued and interested in their new learning environments over those who have had more years to adjust to their schools.

In Table 3 can be found the regression analysis for Percentage of Catholic Education, Years-Per-School, and the overall combination of both. Significant findings suggesting that a higher PCE or greater YPS or overall for both include:

  • Belonging (PCE: p = .006**; PCE/YPS mix: p = .016)

  • Commitment to Community Well-Being (PCE/YPS mix: p = .016)

  • Morality (PCE/YPS mix: p = .009**)

  • Participation (YPS: p = .014: PCE/YPS mix: p < .001**)

  • Late for School* (YPS: p = .050; PCE/YPS mix: p = .028)

  • Skip Classes* (YPS: p = .028; PCE/YPS mix: p = .003**)

  • Physical Nonviolence (PCE: p = .024; PCE/YPS mix: p = .005**)

  • Self-Denial (YPS: p = .008**; PCE/YPS mix: p = .005**)

*part of Participation (late for school, skip classes, miss school)

**highly significant

Interest in Learning and Self-Confidence are also significant, but tend towards students with less YPS or overall.

Taking the three analyses together, physical nonviolence and participation were found to be significant for students with a greater percentage-of-Catholic-education and higher years-per-school. This is intriguing since common sense tells us that participation (not skipping classes, not missing school, not being late for school) should enhance student academic learning; if students are in their seats their learning should escalate over those who skip class, miss school, or are tardy. This study suggests that participating fully in school may increase students' commitment to physical nonviolence.

Interest in learning and and self-denial were significant in two of the analyses, the main effects and regressions for years-per-school. As stated, interest in learning was higher for those with less PCE and YPS and may be the result of newer students excitation about their new learning environments. With regard to self-denial and sense of belonging, in an often me-first culture it is comforting to know Catholic schools are holding fast to the words of Jesus: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me (Matthew, 16:24). Students with a lesser amount of Catholic education have spent the greater complement of their educational careers in public schools that do not necessarily promote a Christ-centered, communal (belonging) orientation as do Catholic schools.

A commitment to community and even a sense of morality (basic sense of right and wrong) in the Catholic tradition were found to be greater for students with more Catholic education and school stability. With a sense of belonging and commitment to community, students in Catholic schools are less apt to fall through the cracks, or chasms as some would say, of loneliness and despair. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (27), “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.” Government schools simply cannot offer an holistic education in that the spiritual dimension is avoided. This often leads to emptiness and tragedy.

Summarizing, those with more Catholic education coupled with more years-per-school display a greater amount of student virtue with regard to important building blocks of peace: commitment to physical nonviolence, self-denial, sense of belonging, commitment to community, morality, and participation. This is comforting since the very first words of Jesus to his disciples after the Resurrection were: “Peace be with you” (John, 20:19). It would seem that the virtue of a peaceful spirit is held in higher regard by Our Lord and Savior than academic achievement. It would be well for Catholic schools to market themselves as safe places for learning as families consider safety as foundational (see Maslow's hierarchy) to success.

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