Do you want your children to succeed in school? Send them to church first

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For most of this year, my wife and I have been debating whether to send our firstborn, who is almost four years old, to a public school or an independent religious school. He is an energetic child, with a strong appetite for learning and social interaction. He thinks he has the attributes of a superhero, when we think he has the attributes that will make him a prime candidate for clown and class leader infamy. We love it in pieces.

So which one will be best suited? And which school will best represent our personal values ​​as parents?

This is a question that many Australians wrestle with, although for some it is not the issue at all. Circumstances or beliefs automatically exclude one or the other immediately. Then for still others, the question of homeschooling arises. We are seemingly stronger and better equipped than ever for home schooling after many were forced to ‘try it out’ through the lockdowns of an unimaginable period of human history.

There’s been one area of ​​study that has had my ears perking up over the past few weeks…

The blessing and burden of choice weighs heavily on all of us, and we all want the best for our children so they can thrive. Although I am not personally linked in any significant way to the education sector, it seems to be a gold mine of data, analysis, opinions and policy recommendations for social scientists and theorists of education. It’s a huge area of ​​study, and rightly so, as it determines how well the next generation will be equipped to meet the challenges of its time. And we all have a vested interest in making decisions that will help our children thrive, engage, and best prepare for adult and civic life.

There are, of course, a myriad of factors that influence these outcomes: socioeconomic background, family upbringing, peer influence, parental involvement, access to resources, and so on. I’m not going to pretend to be in all of these important areas. study and analysis, but there is one area of ​​study that has made me prick up my ears over the past few weeks.

A secular case for the religious community

I have a fondness for sociology and, having studied it at university, I like to keep an eye out for interesting books and articles that come out. Unsurprisingly, a great place to follow these conversations is on the New books in sociology podcast. In an interview with Dr. Ilana M. Horwitz, she talks about the findings of her recent book God, Grades, and Graduation: The Surprising Impact of Religion on Academic Achievement and, as the title suggests, religious devotion plays a role in this conversation.

Horwitz herself comes from a Jewish immigrant background and after moving to America she was surprised at how religious she remained compared to other Western countries, especially Europe. She therefore sought to investigate what sort of difference religion makes in an educational context, in terms of academic outcomes and outcomes. For this, she thought of studying the largest block of religion in the United States, which of course is Christianity.

Rather than simply studying Evangelicalism or Catholicism as a monolithic group, she relied on studies that represented a mixture of denominational and ethnic differences. Thus, his study included not only the two largest religious traditions, but also smaller (but not insignificant) groups, such as Black Protestants, major denominations, Pentecostalism, Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and more. .

They were evenly spread geographically, covering students from the Southern States, the Midwest, the East Coast, and all over the United States. And what she discovered was a consistent pattern: that religious devotion and connection to a local church had positive effects on student grades – across all regions and socioeconomic conditions.

The permanent advantage

Horwitz speaks of “enduring advantage” where membership in Christian communities and belief in Christian ideas predisposes students to behave in ways that conform to a school environment. And there are two main benefits that the “faithful” derive from their Christian upbringing.

The first is the “social capital” of participation in religious services and programs. Being grounded in a church community helps students connect with a diverse group of people that spans multiple generations, races, and industries. Not only is this a benefit for developing the social skills that make school a natural choice, but it also helps provide students with connections and resources that otherwise would not be available to them. This is especially true for people growing up in poor, working-class, and even some middle-class communities where finances can be tight and access to public facilities, positive role models, and wholesome extracurricular activities is not always available.

But the second benefit is much more specific to a Christian context: “religious restraint”. Students who indicated that their faith was important in their lives were more likely to engage in beneficial spiritual practices and disciplines in a learning context. Things like a regular life of prayer and meditation can help prepare them for a disciplined approach to study. Coming from a philosophical base – where questions about God, suffering, evil, morality, hope, goodness, beauty, gratitude, etc. – can prepare children for exercises that require contemplation, critical thinking and understanding.

Christians are more likely to be “good students”…

Then there are matters of conscience, where belief in the omniscience of God creeps into the daily life of a Christian. Examples include understanding that God cares about how others are treated, whether elders and teachers are respected, how the vulnerable are cared for, how hard one works for the glory of God, and how situations can be avoided so that its values ​​are respected. not compromised.

All this to say that Christians are more likely to be “good students” who do their homework, participate in class activities, show respect to teachers (perhaps inadvertently bumping that B to a B+) and are less likely to get caught up in risky behaviors. – parties, alcohol, drugs, and relationships that could impact their relationship with God, not to mention their academic performance. This is not to say that Christians are necessarily smarter or smarter, but rather that they are more likely to be rule-followers and students who more easily adopt the current educational models that characterize our school systems.

Diminishing returns?

It doesn’t last forever though. The lasting advantage peaks in high school, then seems to stabilize around college. By the time Christians reach college, they are just as likely to graduate with their desired degree, but are less likely to walk away from the most prestigious schools, choosing instead to remain attached to their religious communities (family and church) .

Those who move for their studies face a plethora of changes that can impact their continued existence as a Christian. Newfound independence, increased hours and expectations from part-time employers, and feelings of disillusionment/disconnection from local churches are equally likely to reduce his faith. The university itself may have a significant impact for some but does not appear to be the secular bogeyman it is often portrayed as in some circles. And thanks to the abundance of Christian groups on campuses, there are also many people who become Christians in college.

Undoubtedly, being connected with Christianity and Church communities has concrete benefits for young people. And while this educational advantage fades around the college years, there are other lasting advantages that emerge later in life.

A second lasting benefit

According to a 2017 Harvard study, regular religious involvement correlates with an assortment of positive outcomes. Having a religious community can result in a longer lifespan (seven years), lower levels of drug and alcohol abuse, better mental health outcomes, stronger social relationships (including including more friendships, healthier marriages, and better social support), increased life satisfaction, greater meaning in life, lower crime rates, and higher rates of civic duty.

So that means, don’t just think about sending your child to church, but think about taking yourself too! Permanent advantage is not just a phenomenon for academics to ruminate on, but something that can be freely grasped and experienced by anyone.

Jesus himself calls all men to “abide in him” (in John 15). Stay in him. To lay spiritual roots. He talks about it in the context of a vine and its branches, calling himself the “true vine”, where a fruitful life only occurs when we are intimately connected with it. It’s a breathtaking section of the Bible, where laying down your life for your friends becomes an open offer of friendship with God. A friendship with immense benefits, although the cost is worth considering.

We all want the best for us and especially for our children. And we will willingly sacrifice secondary things to get the things we need for those we love. Joining a religious community will require you to sacrifice things for the greater good. A greater good that flows to those in need and, in turn, gives you something you also need: new motives, new desires, new character, new priorities, and new values ​​that are forged and redone by the one who made it all, and who makes life a little more interesting.

Perhaps being part of such a community will bring this novelty to your family. Maybe your kids’ grades will reflect that. Perhaps they will experience the benefit of respect far beyond their school life. And maybe you will also find something valuable that goes far beyond your life.

Aaron joined City Bible Forum in 2018 and has coordinated local events in Hobart. Recently, he has spent more time writing and creating digital content for Third Space, where this article first appeared. It is republished here with permission.

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