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Nonviolent Tendencies between Groups of Students in Catholic Schools

Updated: Apr 4

By: Dave Rojeck, PhD

Catholic Educational Leadership/Policy Studies

White dove in blue sky
The dove symbolizes the peace of the Holy Spirit descending on whomever it will

According to Abraham Maslow (1954) and his hierarchy of needs, self-actualization of the individual is not possible without prior needs having been met. The first of these needs is physiological. Humans must have food and water to survive. Second on the needs hierarchy of Maslow are safety needs. People must feel safe if they are to advance upward to the higher needs of belonging, esteem, and ultimately to self-actualization. It follows then, in a school context, that students must be in a safe environment to learn well. Pupils should not be scared to go to school. The classroom should not be a frightening experience. Students need to feel welcome and that they belong; that they can engage with other students at school calmly and peacefully. By these means, according to Maslow’s theory and logical determination, students are better able to learn and reach greater heights of achievement. What teacher, principal, or parent does not want their students and children to attend a school that is not a safe place for learning?

The system of government of the United States of America is that of a liberal democratic republic. Within this form of government are societal aims which affect philosophies of education, with respect to state and local jurisdictions. Government schools were established, according to Greene (2000), to assist a tripartite of societal aims: (a) reaching civic goals, (b) increasing academic achievement, and (c) to aid the economy. A commitment to nonviolence is a vital link to free individuals and a democratic society. Thomas Lickona, a pioneer of character education (1991), quoted eminent sociologist Robert Bellah: ‘It was the deep belief of the founders that the republic could succeed only with virtuous citizens. Only if there was a moral law within would citizens be able to maintain a free government’. Lickona also quoted Theodore Roosevelt as declaring, ‘To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society’ (prelude). Martin Luther King, Jr. declared in his treatise The Purpose of Education in 1947, “Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.” Holistic education is not only about academic learning, but also the development of affect. Today's term is -- social and emotional learning. The development of character and virtue is essential to advance the cause of both self-actualization and civil society.


In a review of relevant literature, data is given on societal trends of (a) violent crime and (b) religious participation for the last sixty years. Then, a case is made that religion and the practice of nonviolence go hand in hand. Next, the discussion moves to Catholic school effects on the topics of functional community and relationships with others.

Violence Then and Now

Lickona (1991) cited disturbing trends in youth violence. In the 1970s and 1980s, the FBI reported a 53% rise in violent crime for youth under the age of seventeen, often followed by a lack of remorse by the teen perpetrators. The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators by William Bennett (1994) measured changes in society between 1960 and the early 1990s. Nearly all moral and social indicators grew more negative. Violent crime increased 1500%. Teen suicide increased 300%. The divorce rate increased 200% (highest in world in total). Forty percent of children don’t live with fathers, and most paid no child support (p. 12). Fatherless children had been shown by Blankenship in Fatherless America to be a primary impactor of childhood pathologies (p. 13). Unmarried births increased more than 400% until reaching 1 in 3 babies, as compared to 1 in 20 in 1960. Childhood poverty increased 40%. More than 20% of children lived in poverty in 1994. Television watching rose for teens to 20 hours a week compared with two hours a week of reading. SAT test score averages dropped 73 points.

Clearly, learning cannot be optimized in environments when students are hungry for food and thirsty for drink whilst in an unsafe environment. Gottfredson and Gottfredson (2001) noted a Gallup News Service poll at the end of the twentieth century that reported almost half (47%) of parents feared for their children’s safety, an increase from 24% in a similar poll done a quarter century previously.

The national violent crime rate in 1960 was 160.9 including the total number of reported homicides, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults per 100,000 people. It continued to increase six-fold to 757.2 in 1992, followed by a steady decline, with some fluctuation to 386.3 in 2016. So, over the course of almost six decades, the VCR has more than doubled, with more than a quadrupling up to the early 1990s (James, 2018).

Indeed, the second half of the twentieth century shook loose the shackles of previous thinking about teaching values. In a pluralistic society, the argument went that values were diverse, therefore, one’s values were not the same as another. The public arena seemed to take a stance of neutrality when it came to the subject of values. However, with moral problems on the rise such as greed, dishonesty, violent crime, drug abuse and suicide, the teaching of values in school had become a more controversial topic.

Religion Then and Now

The prominence of the Catholic religion in the USA today is not as strong as it was 50 years ago. The number of Catholic schools in the USA from 1970-2018 diminished by about half, as has students attending Catholic schools, in some cases more than half. Weekly Mass attendance has dropped from 54.9% to 21.1%. The number of priests, religious brothers, and sisters have also decreased significantly. In the case of vowed religious sisters, who were tasked with running Catholic schools, their numbers declined from 160,000 down to 44,000 in the last five decades (CARA, 2018).

According to Saad (2018) of Gallup Polling, less than 40% of Catholics participate in church services any given week, a drop of an additional six percent from the previous decade. The rate of church attendance of Protestants is like that of Catholics. Although holding steadier since 1955, their weekly attendance at services is still lower than 50%, like Catholics. Those identifying themselves as Protestants or Christians has declined from 71% in 1955 to 47% in 2015. The steepest drops are those in the 21-29 age group, for both Protestants and Catholics.

The PEW Research Center (2015) found that Americans who identify themselves as Christian is shrinking and those who do not identify with any organized religion was expanding across all age groups, gender, and ethnicities from 36% to 55%. The Millennial generation have the largest share of non-affiliations and non-church attendance. However, the historically Black Protestant congregations have remained stable. Evangelical protestant congregations have seen an increase. American Christianity per capita percentages are still more robust than in other countries, but the declines over the last decade and over the last sixty years have not gone unnoticed.

While the decline in religious identification and participation was pronounced in the in 1960s and 1970s, The Religion News Service described that period as “paling in comparison” to the drop in religiosity in the USA since the turn of the 21st century, terming this current period as the real “great decline” (Grant, 2014).

Religion and Nonviolence

The practice of nonviolence goes back thousands of years in many cultures. Nonviolence also has roots in major religions of the world such as Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism (Bloom, 2000). In both Akers’ 2000 book, The Lost Religion of Jesus: Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity and Kosek’s 2009 Acts of Conscience: Christian Nonviolence and Modern American Democracy, they both affirm the radical, nonviolent aims at the foundation of Christianity. The commitment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to freedom for the oppressed was founded on the pillars of Jesus’ commandment to love and Gandhi’s method of nonviolent opposition.

Lickona (1991) suggested the rise of a new personalism in the later 1960s led to values clarification curricula in schools. It didn’t teach specific values, but how students could reflect and arrive at their own value systems. About a generation later, a 1980s Psychology Today survey found troubling ethics in educated young adult respondents. The analysis found that the more religious people were, the less likely they were to demonstrate low ethics (1991, pp. 7-15). The research of Feagin (1968) after riots in New York’s Bedford Stuyvesent ghetto in 1964 found that longer-term residents, those with higher education, higher income groups, and more frequent churchgoers were less apt to engage in violent acts. In 2012 Pardini et al. found that low religious observance was a risk factor for violence for age 13-14 year-olds. A logical case can be made that greater religious participation and the peaceful precepts contained therein can deepen the commitment to nonviolence.

Baldoli (2018) argues that in today’s post-secular society, religion can still be the flag bearer of peace and nonviolence through secular terms of liberation, openness, resiliency, self-rule, self-restraint, personal responsibility. “Religions can be turned into the engines of a very different post-secular society” (p. 10). The argument that “religion is the cause of all the wars in history” is rebutted by history; it is an erroneous argument, and simply wrong. How that specious argument ever took a foothold in everyday parlance is ludicrous. More credit should be given to religion as peacemaker, and that philosophies and teachings on committing to nonviolence are profound adhesives that bind together civil society.

Catholic Schools and Affect

In Sergiovanni's excellent non-academic book (1994) about schools Building Community in Schools, he emphasized, “We need to make a commitment to the ethic of caring…. It means doing everything possible to enhance the learning, developmental and social needs of students as persons. The heart of caring in schools is relationships with others” (p. 145). New kinds of relationships with new ties and new commitments to an ethic of caring is what is needed, a new meaning of professionalism. It’s not just about relationships, but about authentic relationships (p. 155). The author emphasized that “in communally oriented schools, an attitude of warmth and acceptance of members replaces the bureaucratic, impersonal character of many public schools” (p. 12). Sergiovanni was speaking about schools in general, without concern for school types.

The Catholic Church for its part, and by extension her schools, have always placed emphasis on values education. A moral education is integral to the mission of Catholic schools, through both religious education curricula and other school experiences, caught and taught, rather than just caught. Bezzina’s (2006) study of school improvement in a Catholic school over the course of a year found positive changes in the levels of teamwork, collaboration, people-centeredness, ownership by stakeholders and high ethical aspirations when consideration is given to relationships as part of the curriculum. Lawton (2006) advanced the notion that focusing on community should not be a deterrent to academic achievement. Critical components for school reform at the middle school level, according to Becker and Luthar (2002) were academic and school attachment as related to relationships with teacher support, peer values, and mental health. A sense of community has been found to be crucial in schools with the most disadvantaged of students and their psycho-social competence. This community sense was related to academic measures and motivation (p. 201). Research has suggested "a major reason for differential achievement outcomes between public and private, religious-based schools is the unique ability of the latter to formulate and sustain a functional community ethos. The differential achievement has affected ethnic and cultural minority students more profoundly” (p. 20-21).

According to Hunt, Joseph and Nuzzi, there is a clear sense of mission that stems from the educational philosophy of Catholic schools, one that affirms reason, moral knowledge, respect, and shared values. “These comprehensive ideals encourage students to advance beyond relativism and material self-interest, and search for ways to foster the interior lives of students” (2004, p. 293). The Catholic Church stands for a philosophy of Catholic Education for -- the whole person -- as given in the 1929 encyclical of Pope Pius XI on The Christian Education of Youth, titled Divini Illius Magistri. The papal document opposed a utilitarian, materialistic philosophy which government schools tend to espouse, whereby the Holy Father stated: “There can be no true education which is not wholly directed to man’s last end.” Bryk et al. (1993) suggested, “Catholic schools offer alternatives to the hardcore individualism, sole reliance on self, and indifference to society.” In Effective Catholic Schools: An Exploration, Bryk’s findings included the emphasis on caring by teachers and a concern for social justice (1984). Families of lower social classes tended to select Catholic schools for safety, discipline, moral, and religious reasons rather than just academic.

In Catholic High School: A National Portrait by Yeager, Benson, Guerra, and Manno (1985), Catholic schools were originally given the three-fold purpose of academic excellence, faith development, as well as the development of community. These religious-based schools were found to have climates characterized by discipline combined with caring, good teacher-student morale, and high parent participation. In the 1992 NCEA study by Benson and Guerra, Sharing the Faith: Belief and Values of Catholic High School Teachers, lay teachers tended to define their role of religious formation with an emphasis on nurturing the affective outcomes of compassion and tolerance. The National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 by the National Center for Education Statistics found that a higher percentage of Catholic over public school students had good relationships with their teachers, responded that their teachers were interested in them, praised their efforts and listened to them, and that their schools had better discipline and fewer problems with disruptive behavior, threats to personal safety, and drugs. Guerra, Donahue and Benson (1990) offered The Heart of the Matter: Effects of Catholic High Schools on Student Values, Beliefs, and Behaviors, a comparison of Catholic seniors in Catholic high school with Catholic seniors in public high schools and found that Catholic school Catholics did more volunteer work and had higher participation in community affairs, contributed more to charity, were less self-centered and more concerned about others, were more pro-marriage, had higher levels of college aspirations, were less likely to support militarism, were less likely to cut classes, and were less likely to express pessimistic attitudes. Bryk, Lee, and Holland (1993) listed the overwhelming majority of Catholic school faculties finding these specific affective outcomes as important for students: intellectual curiosity (81%), healthy self-concept (89%), development of compassion (79%), tolerance (69%), and commitment to justice (68%).

Empirical research on Catholic schools since the late 1960s has given evidence into student growth in the affective domain. According to Neuwien (1966) in Catholic Schools in Action, there was a clear relationship between the religiousness of the family, student attitudes, and affect. Catholic schools also more nearly approximated the “common school” ideal of American education that emphasized character education. In Glenn's The Myth of the Common School (1988), the author related Horace Mann's insistence that education include character and civic virtue as well as intellectual development. In other words, Mann envisioned universal education for all taking place both in both the heads and the hearts of every American citizen (preface, xi).

In the study of Inner-City Private Elementary Schools by Cibulka et al., designed by Virgil Blum of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights (1982), a safe school environment was found to be an important predictor of school effectiveness. In Catholic Inner-City Schools: The Future (Vitullo-Martin, 1977), Catholic schools were found to be more effective community organizations than public schools in engaging the support and involvement of parents, more effective at reinforcing family values and its view of the importance of education, and more effective at creating a sense of pride in the students and parents. Insights to these private schools’ success included the egalitarian nature of these schools, the community that existed among faculty, students and parents, and the responsiveness of parents. Warren, Young, and Hanifin (2003) recognized as such in their research on Parent Partnerships within Catholic School Communities that building community in the Catholic school was an essential ingredient.

The Catholic school system has not been insignificant by number. In the United States, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, about 2.1 million students were educated in more than 6,600 Catholic schools in cities, suburbs, small towns and rural communities around the country (2013a). An estimated 99 percent of students graduate from high school and 85 percent of Catholic school graduates attend college (2013b). Internationally, there are about 120,000 Catholic schools, serving almost 50 million students in the early stages of the third millennium. The National Center for Educational Statistics in 2008 reported that Catholic schools encompass 39.1% of students in all private schools, more than any other type of private school, sectarian or not.

The United States has been the largest source of data and scholarly research on Catholic education yet is one of a small, undistinguished group of countries that does not fund religious schools (Grace, 2003, pp. 151-52). Catholic and other religious-based schools have stood for more than just academic outcomes of students: "It can be argued that faith-based schools are one of the countervailing institutions against the global hegemony of market materialism, individual competitiveness and commodity worship” (p. 157).

According to Bryk, Lee, and Holland (1993), effective Catholic high schools function based on four foundational characteristics: a delimited academic core curriculum for all – otherwise known as a focused curriculum, a communal organization, decentralized governance, and an inspirational ideology. When these factors meld together, an effective school is the result (p. 145). Three critical components of effective Catholic schools were found to be: shared values, shared activities, and social relations (p. 277). If all men are to be given equality of opportunity, it is hardly fair for students in private and religious schools, which have been shown to add to the welfare of the nation at least as well as students from public schools, to receive such an inequitable distribution of funds. Then again, many private schools prefer not to receive state aid and all the regulatory strings that are attached. But, for voucher receiving private schools in low-income, urban areas, state aid in the form of voucher scholarships is essential for their existence, though they continue to struggle considering the stark differences in state financial aid between themselves and the government schools.

In Walberg’s qualitative research, Catholic schools had fewer centrally determined policies, strong site level leadership, a demanding curriculum that is followed by all students, frequent communication with parents and a higher student retention based on student and parent satisfaction (2007, p. 69). The emphasis of Bryk et al. on communal organization, shared values, activities and social relations would seem to enhance students’ sense of belonging, relating to others, and their commitment to community. Walberg’s finding that Catholic schools are known for their frequent communication with parents and attention to student needs by measures of satisfaction suggests that Maslow’s (1954) hierarchy of needs are integral to the mission of Catholic schools.

The research by Coleman, Hoffer, and Kilgore (1982) found that Catholic school students had higher rates of attendance, did more homework, and took more rigorous academic courses than those in public schools. Coleman attributed the better performance of Catholic schools to strong discipline, high expectations, and a structured curriculum. Critics of their research were upset with the findings that Catholic schools were more effective than public schools, with Catholic schools more nearly approximating the “common school” ideal of American education, and Catholic schools were more beneficial not only to students from advantaged backgrounds, but also to those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The antagonists fired back with arguments that (a) Catholic schools had the advantage of selectivity bias and reliance on cross-sectional data, to name just a few. In Coleman and Hoffer’s follow-up study, Public and Private High Schools: The Impact of Communities (1987), their findings confirmed the results of their earlier study in 1982. The critics became quieter as the use of longitudinal data lessened the doubt which came as a result of previous results.

The National Center for Education Statistics High School and Beyond study (1995) reported finding a Catholic school effect over public schools in teacher efficacy, enjoyment of work, staff morale, teacher absenteeism, class cutting, incidences of classroom disorder, interest in academics, student absenteeism. and dropping out. A large Catholic school effect was found over public schools for shared values, shared activities and social relations, teacher consensus on beliefs and values, teacher beliefs that students can learn, teacher and administrator agreement on standards and discipline, student consensus about the role of a teacher, teacher cooperation with colleagues, participation in faculty social events, teacher time in an extended role, and student perceptions of teachers.

In Catholic Schools and the Common Good (1993), the major findings of Catholic schools by Bryk. Lee and Holland included being communal organizations that hold inspirational ideologies. The book demonstrated that Catholic high schools supported the common good of American culture by educating responsible citizens. The authors asserted that collegiality among teachers impacted the communal organization, as well as the voluntary community between families and schools. Principals viewed themselves as agents of change committed to communal aims. Coleman (1987) complimented the communal aspect of Catholic schools:

The community that is created by and existing within the church, a community that connects families to one another and to the school through the Church, is an important resource today – and a particularly important resource for children and young people today, as they move toward adulthood. This is not a common kind of conclusion to come from a secular scholar; it is, however, the conclusion that one is driven to by results of the research that I have carried out.

For Coleman and Hoffer, the most important contribution of Catholic schools was their capacity as functional communities – schools that valued consistency over working to produce results, along with social capital – the empowerment that exists in relationships between individuals (p. 9). According to the authors, “There is confirmation of the effect of integration into a functional community on achievement (p. 137). The authors asserted that value consistency and value communities did not necessarily equate to functional community (p. 9). “Functional community and social capital, which exists in the relations between persons, go together, and…. only arises in networks with a high degree of closure” (p. 222). Breakage in the circle by open networks can dismantle the functional community that has been built, as well as the shrinking of the extended family (p. 15). In functional communities as demonstrated by Catholic schools, sophomores with academic or social problems would more likely be discussed among and responded to by staff members than in other schools (p. 98). Coleman and Hoffer (1987) stated:

Structural consistency… between generations creates what can be described as a functional community, a community in which social norms and sanctions including those that cross generations, arise out of the social structure itself and both reinforce and perpetuate that structure. Functional community… augments the resources available to parents in the interaction with school, in their supervision of their children’s behavior, and in their supervision of their child’s associations, both with others their own age and with adults (p. 7).

Coleman and Hoffer (1987) describe a functional community as one “that not only has values consistency but also operate to affect a particular outcome" (p. 9). When students are encircled by adults and peers who are looking out for their very best interests and who are in relationship with each other, the students are living in functional community. This community does not seek to limit the individual potential of the student but fully encourages his or her development. It is not a case of the individual versus the community, but individual-in-community as Sergiovanni (1993) attested. James Coleman suggested the functional community found in the Church and connected schools to be a valuable resource for young people. The authors also reported that religious communities were one of the few remaining strong bases of functional community in modern society (p. 215).

Youniss and Convey (2000) offered that values education and community building between those in the school community to be successful aspects of the everyday world found in many Catholic schools serving African American majorities. The authors all agreed that social capital and functional communities have been positive and distinguishing characteristics between Catholic and public schools. Coleman, Hoffer, and Kilgore (1982) also found Catholic schools and their emphasis on community to be beneficial not only to students from advantaged, but also to those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In the 1982 book by Greeley, Catholic High Schools and Minority Students, black and Hispanic students in Catholic high schools were found to have better achievement than those in public high schools. Catholic schools were particularly effective for multi-disadvantaged students such as minority students from home backgrounds of low educational achievement. Important variables were the quality of discipline, the Catholic school environment, and the sense of community.

The educational voucher model gives researchers an extended opportunity to study the impact of a Catholic education for disadvantaged students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford tuition at these schools. In Mixed Messages: What Bishops and Priests say about Catholic Schools by O’Brien in 1987, bishops and priests rated the quality of Catholic schools better than public schools mostly in urban and inner-city areas, where many disadvantaged students reside. In the National Catholic Educational Association book in 1986 entitled Catholic High Schools: Their Impact on Low Income Students, Catholic High Schools Impact on Low-Income Students, Catholic schools with more than 10% of families having incomes below $10,000 did not differ from other, more affluent Catholic high schools on the dimensions of faith community and morale, school climate, and were only slightly lower on academic emphasis and discipline. These schools were as effective for low-income students as they were for students of higher incomes. Vernon Polite, African American scholar, discussed inner-city/urban Catholic schools known to be effective in the book Catholic Schools at the Crossroads. He found that values education and community building among staff and students, among other things… are everyday aspects in most Catholic schools that serve majority African Americans (Youniss and Convey, 2000). Polite insisted:

African American students and parents must realize that Catholic schools are more than havens for students who otherwise would attend less desirable neighborhood schools. They are institutions in which well-defined values and morals are taught explicitly through the curriculum and implicitly through the daily routines and co-curricular activities. An essential part (of such schools) is evangelization and the teaching of Christian traditions and values. (p. 154).

The functional community in Catholic schools has also been shown to reduce risky behavior as found by Figlio and Ludwig such as damaging property, robbery, burglary, participating in a gang fight, running away from home, selling drugs, stealing something worth more than $50, drug use (marijuana, cocaine, hard drugs), sexual behavior, and suicide attempts. Mocan et al. (2002) found evidence of religious schools reducing risky behavior via religious instruction, stricter discipline, as well as self-selection. Countering the argument of self-selection, the authors claimed that parents may be more likely to send children with risky behaviors to a Catholic school in order to address the problem properly in schools having a rich history of inculcating spiritual and moral development and good behavior.


Using the philosophy of Mohandas K. Gandhi, the champion of nonviolence and civil disobedience in South Africa and India, Mayton, Weedman, Sonnen, Grubb, and Hirose (1999) developed the Teenage Nonviolence Test. Gandhi’s nonviolent principles of satyagraha (1914) or truth force, can be taken in his own words:

I have also called it love-force or soul-force. In the application of satyagraha, I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and compassion. For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So, the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on oneself. (1920, p. 206)

In many respects, Maslow (1954) was trying to get at love too, declaring, “Our duty is clear here. We must understand love; we must be able to teach it, to create it, to predict it, or else the world is lost to hostility and to suspicion” (p. 181); for neurosis can be traced to a lack of love, but be cured by affection and love, especially for children (p. 275).

The purpose of the Teenage Nonviolence Test is to “asses the need for intervention and the impact of intervention.” Mayton et al designed the instrument to be used by schools “to determine the impact of violence prevention programs within their school buildings or districts” (1999, p. 12). Subscales for the TNT include physical nonviolence (14 items), psychological nonviolence (16 items), active value orientation (4 items), helping/empathy (5 items), satyagraha (search for wisdom, 10 items) and tapasya (self-denial, 4 items). For the purposes of this research, the active value orientation subscale was not used, as it did not adequately demonstrate valid and reliable properties. The subscale of physical nonviolence is described as “the conscious rejection of behaviors or the threat of behaviors intended to inflict bodily injury on another person in an attempt to coerce, curtail, or eliminate their behavior in favor of alternate forms of conflict resolution” (pp. 7-8). The subscale of psychological nonviolence is “the conscious rejection of behaviors or the threat of behaviors intended to humiliate, intimidate, or in other ways demean the human dignity of another person or group in an attempt to coerce, curtail, or eliminate their behavior in favor of alternate forms of conflict resolution” (p. 8).

A second instrument is the Social Outcomes Survey. The Performance Measurement Review Branch of the Queensland, Australia Ministry of Education (2002) believes that “learning in school leads not only to academic achievement but also to social outcomes for students. A greater understanding of the social outcomes being achieved will lead to an improvement in the quality of education in schools. Schools, in partnership with parents, have a social role that comes from the pursuit of the public interest, equity, and their responsibility for the welfare of students” (p. 2). Schools exist for other reasons than just academic learning. Hence, the PMRB created the Social Outcomes Survey. The SOS measures how students perceive themselves in seven areas, all with five (5) items: self-confidence, interest in learning, relating to others, commitment to community well-being, work readiness, understanding social order, and optimism for the future. The work readiness subscale is not used here because of its emphasis on the utilitarian world of work.

A third scale of the student survey was taken from the Assessment of Catechesis/Religious Education (National Catholic Educational Association, 2001). According to Convey (2010), the Assessment of Catechesis/Religious Education measures the faith knowledge and the “beliefs, attitudes, practices and perceptions of elementary and secondary students in Catholic schools and parish religious education programs” (p. 1). ACRE is not meant to be a test for students, but rather an indicator of their faith knowledge and practice so that catechetical leaders can compare their students’ scores with criteria set at the local level (Convey and Thompson, 1999). The purpose of ACRE is to be a tool for schools and parishes to evaluate their own religious program. Just the subscales of morality and relationships with others are used because of their emphasis on the affective domain rather than questions pertaining specifically to religious education. Each contains six (6) items.

Over 850 students attending 18 Catholic schools in the Cleveland scholarship and Tutoring Program (voucher program) took the overall survey instrument. Student participants, male and female, spanned grades 7-12. They included both voucher and non-voucher students. The Hollis (2009) dissertation of a voucher receiving Catholic school in Cleveland recommended that “within-Catholic-school research” should be performed where samples are by nature of their common environment more homogeneous. “The comparing of radically different school populations, environments, and philosophic backgrounds is fraught with constant accusations of sampling differences and biases. While there is no perfect answer, within-Catholic school research… offers a unique educational laboratory” (p. 233).


Upon completion of the computerized survey of non-academic outcomes, inferential statistics were created by means of analysis of variance (ANOVA) and regression analyses between voucher and non-voucher students and between grade clusters (7th-8th, 9th-10th, 11th-12th). The analysis also considers student longevity by means of percentage of Catholic education (PCE) and years-per-school (YPS).

The analysis for main effects of Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program (CSTP) voucher status on the Teenage Nonviolence Test resulted in three significantly different subscales for voucher (Yes) and non-voucher students (No) and is shown in Table 1. Lower numbers are considered deeper commitments to the definitions of each subscale. Non-voucher students demonstrated greater commitments to physical nonviolence (p < .05). psychological nonviolence, and self-denial were both highly significant at (p < .01).

With respect to grade clusters in Table 2, commitment to physical nonviolence was found to increase across grade levels (p < .05). Wisdom and helping/empathy were highly significant (p < .001). Lower numbers in the table equate to higher levels of commitment.

The analysis for main effects of students’ percentage of Catholic education (PCE) for the Teenage Nonviolent Test is shown in Table 3. There were three PCE clusters: those attending Christian-Catholic schools their entire school history were part of the 100% or 1.00 cluster. Those attending said schools for half or more of their overall schooling but less than 100% were part of the 0.50+ cluster. Finally, those attending Christian-Catholic schools less than 50% of their schooling career were part of the 0.49- cluster. The analysis showed the commitment to physical nonviolence to be significantly greater (p < .05) for students with higher percentages of Catholic education. Lower numbers in the table equate to more nonviolent tendencies.

Years Per School (YPS) is a calculation of school stability/mobility and was determined by taking the number of overall school years and dividing by the number of schools attended. The categories were placed in three clusters: 5.0-9.0, 3.1-4.9, and 1.0-3.0. Shown in Table 4, the 5-9 YPS cluster demonstrated a higher commitment to physical nonviolence (p < .05). Self-denial was also found to be significantly in favor of students with more years-per-school. Greater commitments are found for lower scores.

The literature review on Catholic schools as functional communities showed the importance of relationships with others. According to the results of the Social Outcomes Survey, students’ commitment to community well-being (p <.001) and relating to others (p < .01) were found to be significant, with increasing commitments found for students in grades 11-12. Note that commitment to community well being drops in grades 9-10 from grad school students. This may be the result that students have moved on from their smaller grade schools and are now underclassmen at their larger high schools. Lower numbers equate to greater commitments. Understanding social order was also found to be significant via increasing grade levels.

Using the Assessment of Catechesis-Religious Education, a different subscale for relationships with others was found to be significant (p < .01) in Table 6. Students in grades 11-12 demonstrated higher levels of relationships with others and morality than students in grades 9-10. It shall be noted that higher levels of commitment in relationships and morality are found for grades 7-8 over grades 9-10. Like Table 5, a confounding factor may be that students in grades 7-8 attend smaller grade schools while grades 9-10 attend high schools with larger populations.

Linear regression was performed through the independent, ordinal variables of percentage of Catholic-Christian education (PCE) and years-per-school (YPS) on the ordinal subscale scores, thus producing results around a line of regression. Relevant results are found in Table 7. Because PCE and YPS were coded with larger numbers, and the 18 dependent variables were coded with the best response as the lowest number, all the negative β are positive relationships. If there was a positive β, then the relationship between variables was negative. A sense of belonging was found to be significantly greater as a whole and specifically for PCE. Commitment to community well-being was significant, though neither the PCE nor YPS predictor variables were. Physical nonviolence was highly significant together and for PCE. Self-denial and morality were highly significant when combined, but not for the predictor variables individually.

In each of the main effect ANOVA analyses, physical nonviolence was found to be significant for: (a) non-voucher students, (b) grade 11-12 students, (c) students with higher PCE, and (d) students with higher YPS. Physical nonviolence was also found to be significant in the regression analysis for PCE and overall. In summary, every analysis found commitments to physical nonviolence as a significant non-academic outcome. Moreover, psychological nonviolence was significantly in favor of non-voucher students. Self-denial was significantly in favor of non-voucher students, students with more years-per-school, and the PCE/YPS regression.

Regarding community and relationships, the commitment to helping/empathy, community well-being, relationships with others (two different scales), understanding social order, and morality was significantly greater for upperclassmen (gr. 11-12). Not that in several analyses greater commitment to non-academic outcomes were higher for 7-8th grade students than for 9th-10th grade students. Therefore, it cannot be taken for granted that students' commitment to such outcomes automatically improve with each level of schooling. With regard to student longevity, belonging, commitment to community well-being, and morality were significant according to the PCE and YPS regressions.


The results showed that nonviolent tendencies favored non-voucher students. Typically, voucher students transfer from other schools as a result of receiving an educational voucher, whereas non-voucher students have not. Non-voucher students in Catholic schools are more likely to be Catholic. It is obvious that Catholic families are more inclined to send their children to Catholic schools than non-Catholics and are willing to pay tuition for a Catholic education. Voucher students from urban Cleveland are often from non-Catholic families but have decided to exercise school choice options for their children to attend Catholic schools in part because of Catholic education’s traditional commitment to morals and discipline.

A leading criterion to receive vouchers in the Cleveland program are families’ low-income status. Research has shown that those of low SES are more embedded into a culture of violence than high SES groups, through the witnessing of crime, parenting practices, aggressive peers, and thus experience greater associations with violence (Heimer, 1997; Jones-Smith, 2011; Buka, Stichick, Birdthistle, and Felton, 2001). It also could be that voucher students coming from inner-city public schools are simply less well socialized in the Catholic Christian worldview of peace and nonviolence. It is no surprise then, that according to Glenn, “Urban parents, in particular, often seek out private schools as a safe place for their children, with little regard for reading scores—and who can blame them?” (2004, pp. 94-95) For Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs, one must first be safe in order to learn.

Stability in Catholic Schools as Pathway to Peace

When combining the variables of grade clusters, percentage of Catholic education, and years-per-school, a number of peace enhancing variables surface with significance for upperclassmen, also those with greater PCE, and those with more YPS: a commitment to nonviolence, sense of belonging, community well-being, relationships with others, morality, and self-denial. Although it has been said the absence of violence does not constitute peace, a commitment to physical nonviolence is at least a building block of peace. Taken together, it seems a greater commitment to nonviolence, community well-being, and relationships with others occur with greater stability in a Catholic school. In a large sense, this research confirms the importance of community and relationships in Catholic schools found by previous researchers. Students with a lower percentage of Catholic education have spent the greater complement of their educational careers in public schools which may tend to promote a more student-centered, individual success model of education, not a communal one, as is a priority in religious schools. Stability in Catholic schools seems to advance the cause of peace.

Two students giving the peace sign
Catholic schools seek the peace of the Holy Spirit

The Case for Universal Vouchers

If all persons are to be given equality of opportunity, it is hardly fair for students in private and religious schools, which have been shown to add to the welfare of the nation at least as well as students from public schools, to receive such an inequitable distribution of funds. Then again, many private schools prefer not to receive state aid with all the regulatory strings that are attached. But, for voucher receiving private schools in low-income, urban areas, state aid in the form of voucher scholarships is essential for their existence, though they continue to struggle considering the stark differences in state aid between voucher amounts and funds paid to government schools.

Educational vouchers have, by and large, shown to be effective for increasing academic achievement in urban schools for low SES families (, many of which are Catholic schools. Catholic schools have also shown to be effective in building functional communities and enhancing relationships with others, standing for peace and nonviolence in an often-violent culture. If that is the case, why are Catholic schools marginalized when it comes to per-pupil funding as compared to government schools? Are students attending religious schools less important to the welfare of the state than those attending public schools? Perhaps the time has come to level the playing field and award all students vouchers rather than the disproportionate funding mechanism that favors public schools. A universal voucher system would be the most fair and equitable system of school funding.


Schools are just one context in the struggle against the influences of environment, culture, in society and in relationships with others. Moreover, Catholic schools are not monolithic in their ability to influence attitudes, beliefs, values, and perceptions of students. Additionally, the development of character and virtue is influenced by other contexts such as family, socioeconomic status, friends and peers, religion, extra-curricular activities, culture, and of course, the self.

This research on nonviolent tendencies and commitment to community and relationships does not presume that Catholic schools are the sole means (although it is a sure way) for building a culture of functional community, nonviolence and a culture of peace, and authentic relationships which support Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (1954) and the self-actualization of individuals-in-community as Sergiovanni (1994) termed it. Catholic schools certainly do provide a template for other school types whereby community to community well-being and relationships with others are to be held in high esteem, at least as important as academic achievement, if not more. If schools truly put authentic relationships and functional community first, they may be pleasantly surprised at the overall effects.

Last, this was a cross-sectional snapshot in time and not a longitudinal study.


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