Christian Faith Gets High Marks for Academic Achievement | National Catholic Registry

Catholics who believe their faith offers both eternal and temporal benefits might not be surprised to learn that teenagers who take their religion seriously do better in school, but it was a revelation for Ilana Horwitz, holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University in Education and Jewish Religion. studies.

Growing up in a family that didn’t openly practice their Jewish faith, the Tulane University sociologist knew few people like the people she decided to study and write about in her book, God, Grades, and Graduation: The Surprising Impact of Religion on Academic Achievement.

However, when she learned through a 2014 Pew “Religious Landscape” study that found a quarter of all Americans still organize their lives around religion, she was intrigued and wanted to know if religious upbringing influenced school performance. Using data from “National study of youth and religionand linking it to National Student Information ClearinghouseHorwitz followed 3,290 teenagers from 2003 to 2012, examining the influence of religion on college grades, choice and completion.

What she found was that there was indeed a positive relationship between a conservative Christian upbringing and college grades and performance. Horwitz described teens for whom this was true as “intensely religious,” meaning they attended church weekly or more often, felt close to God, prayed alone regularly, and emphasized the role of faith in their daily lives and decision-making. .

She told the Register that by recognizing a personal relationship with God, “Catholics and Evangelicals [Protestant] children didn’t seem so different to me in terms of the part of their lives that was organized around God and religion and doing things that pleased God. Of those she talks about, 50% were conservative Protestants and 14% Catholics. Another 15% were black Protestants, 12% were traditional Protestants, and 6% were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All were public school students.


Horwitz also refers to these teenagers as “residents,” a term she borrowed from sociologists Lisa Pearce and Melinda Denton, authors of A faith of their own: stability and change in the religiosity of American adolescents. “These devotees,” she writes in her book, “seek to please God, which affects how they perceive themselves, how they behave, and how they imagine their future.” They follow rules and respect authorities, qualities appreciated by both churches and schools. So, by seeking to please God, Horwitz found, worshipers develop the attributes that help them get good grades.

Jacob, a Catholic teenager whose God-centered way of looking at himself translated into conscientious and cooperative behavior inside and outside of school, is one such observer who has captured her interest. . In interviews with scholars, Jacob said he looks to the Bible and Christian teaching to guide his day-to-day behavior and decisions. For example, he decided early on not to use drugs because he considered it a sin and harmful to his body. He also received all the Aces in college and especially the Aces in high school.

Although he came from a working-class background, Jacob went on to attend a private liberal arts college, then medical school, before becoming a surgeon.

Her story mirrors one of Horwitz’s findings that the influence of religion on academic achievement is greatest among less affluent adolescents. Indeed, in addition to instilling in them the qualities that lead to success in the classroom, it provides them with the kind of “social capital” that more affluent teens get from their neighborhood, their parents, and their social networks. For teens who are not well off, membership in a church, for example, provides access to types of adult connections that can be sources of opportunity, resources, and information. These in turn could lead to a summer job, a recommendation for acceptance into a program, or even help with a car repair or computer problem.

Where religious belief and belonging works well for teenagers like Jacob, Horwitz found that it doesn’t necessarily lead to as high a degree of success for worshipers, especially girls, from affluent middle-class families. and professional. Teenagers in these families, she found, often choose less prestigious colleges closer to home because, although they may qualify academically to enter better schools, they are motivated by other considerations. religious beliefs such as selflessness, raising a family and serving God. “They do better in school, but lag behind in college,” Horwitz said. Likewise, they consider that a prestigious career can be in contradiction with a life consecrated to God.

Horwitz said she’s also found that teens who grow up in intensely religious homes aren’t particularly open to new experiences, including having their religious beliefs questioned in college. They may have heard, for example, that universities are filled with liberal professors and fear that their views will be challenged by their peers and professors, she said. “It encourages them to stay closer to home, maybe to live at home, and they yearn for social homogeneity. While other children have what we call the desire for diversity, these children want a lot of sameness. As a result, Horwitz said, they will sometimes choose a religious school or a school in their home town or state.

Catholic corroboration

Mark Hart, director of innovation for Life Teen, a Catholic youth ministry with a presence in 2,000 parishes, said Horwitz’s findings confirm what he saw among his three teenage children and their friends. All, he said, take their faith seriously, are involved in either a Life Teen group for high schoolers or the Edge group for middle schoolers, and are straight students and honor roll students. Speaking of his own children, he said, “There is a rhythm and a structure for our children that stems from their life of faith and that absolutely translates into their academic success.”

Hart said it makes sense to him that religious teens do well academically because they enjoy some freedom knowing their lives are God-oriented, which leaves them less pressured to create their own. reality, getting into the right college or choosing the right major. . “When you come into contact with the fact that God is the author of your life and created you and has a plan for you, there is peace with that.”

Hart’s eldest daughter exemplifies Horwitz’s discovery of religious teenagers who choose to go to college close to home. “My eldest could have gone anywhere she wanted,” Hart said. Instead, she asked if she could live at home, attend the local college, and continue to serve her parish as a volunteer. “She said, ‘I have a community here, my family here, and that’s what I want to do.’ In addition to her college education, Hart’s daughter serves her parish between 5 and 10 hours a week. “She’s thriving, she’s happy and she has no regrets,” Hart said.

Ray Guarendi, a Catholic psychologist and author, said Horwitz’s findings corroborate his own work and experience. “I’ll make it simple: if there is a God, he knows the best way to live. Insofar as we live according to God’s ways, we will not only be more satisfied here, but we will be more successful. Guarendi said it was the premise of his latest book, Jesus the master psychologist. “If Jesus is God, he knows the human psyche.”

Faithful families

Horwitz’s findings, Guarendi said, also echo another of his books, Back to family, which was based on interviews with 100 families who had been nominated by “Teachers of the Year” and cited as having responsible, kind, moral and well-adjusted children who excelled academically and in interactions with their peers class and adults. When Guarendi asked parents what they were doing to raise such children, he replied, “The No. 1 theme that emerged very prominently was spiritual faith. …We didn’t even ask about faith, but it came out so prominently that we had to explore it.

He said more than 90% of the families in the study practiced some kind of faith in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Of their 387 children, none had ever had a serious run-in with the law, none had been suspended from school, and none had had a problem with alcohol or drugs.

Indeed, Horwitz uses the word “compliant” to describe the respectful teenagers she studied. This often caused them to behave in a kind way, she said.

Being compliant, Horwitz added, also made observers content with the existing social order. “These are the types of kids who grew up with traditional gender norms and social hierarchies. They don’t grow up to be the kind of people who think outside the box a lot or think about changing norms around different social structures. of our country.

She pointed out, “They were kids who felt it was really important to follow the rules, to listen to adults, to follow God’s plan.”

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