If We Are Trailing, Why Don’t We Follow?

Religiously affiliated schools significantly outperform public schools in academic achievement. Researchers suggest that this is because character formation training results in self-application and thus in higher scores. Public schools might take a lesson by instituting character formation lessons.

In his meta-study on existing research, William Jeynes, in his Religion, Education and Academic Success, finds that religious schools outperform not because they have better students, bigger budgets, or even primarily because the families are more affluent. Religious schools and religiously committed students outperform because of greater self-application. He agrees with the common researchers’ explanation that because these schools were designed to form character, they end up with higher academic performance.

Given that this is a robust and longstanding difference and explanation, why is it so unthinkable that public schools might take a lesson? Although today academic conceit denigrates religion, when our nation was young and strong, religious education was the backbone of public education. Witness, for instance, the New England Primer. This basis for our education for more than 100 years, directly aimed at forming character through teaching theology in the ABCs, prayers & hymns, and Bible memory work. While it is unlikely that public schools would soon require scripture memory work, we could certainly begin character formation lessons with an aim to shifting toward self-application and better academic performance.

Two decades ago, Leander ISD, serving outlying areas north and west of Austin, called in the wider community to develop 10 values which they have widely promoted ever since. Their list consists of: honesty, integrity, promise-keeping, law-abidingness/civic duty, respect for others, fairness, pursuit of excellence, and accountability. This diverse, fast-growing district has improved both student behavior and academic outcomes by their commitment to these values. Superintendent Dr. Brett Champion explained that he does not require a particular curriculum but allows his teachers to integrate “The 10 Ethical Principles” creatively. The plan continues to be well received.

Contrary to objections, we do have some consensus in our society. Few openly disagree with honesty, integrity, and fairness. Most of us would like to see more of this kind of character formation taught to children. Experience suggests that it might have a good effect in academic outcome. Since our public schools are trailing so far behind religious private schools, why don’t we follow their lead?

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