Religious, private school graduates active, engaged citizens: study

The first comprehensive Canadian survey to measure outcomes of adults who didn’t go to public school has found these graduates to be very active and engaged citizens — more likely to volunteer and donate to charity than their government-educated counterparts.

Overall, graduates from separate and independent Catholic schools, secular private schools, evangelical Protestant schools and home schools are at least as likely as their public school peers to be in society working towards the “common good,” found the Cardus Education Survey, released to the public on Wednesday.

This survey of more than 2,000 Canadians aged 24-39 helps dispel widely held beliefs about non-governmental school graduates — a sector that is often “ignored,” said Ray Pennings, a senior fellow and director of research at Cardus, a Christian think tank that measures the impact of organizations on individuals and governments.

“I think the public perception of non-government schools is that it’s for rich kids and religious kooks and that somehow the only way to deliver education for the good of society is through a monopoly public school system,” he said. “And I think what this report says is ‘OK, let’s take a look at the 8% of the population approximately that did not go to public school, and let’s evaluate that by the measures which we set for ourselves for public schools. Lo and behold…we find out that non-governmental schools do at least as good and in some cases clearly better than do graduates of public school.”

I think the public perception of non-government schools is that it’s for rich kids and religious kooks

The report surveyed 2,054 graduates, 41% of them government-educated. It did not dwell at length on academic performance.

Using the standards for educational outcomes outlined in provincial statutes, regulation and policy, the study set out to measure how students educated outside of the public realm fared as adults — in their work, family, spiritual and daily life. Controlled for family socioeconomic and religious background, the results showed a measurable impact particularly when it comes to civic engagement and citizenship, Mr. Pennings said.

Evangelical Protestant school grads were more than twice as likely to donate money to many causes —both religious and secular —than their government-educated peers, often shelling out 10% of their income in keeping with Biblical tradition. Religious homeschoolers were also around twice as likely to donate to money, though less likely to give to secular causes.

Non-government-educated graduates were as likely if not more likely to volunteer than public school educated students. Graduates of independent non-religious schools in particular were found to vote more, volunteer more and participate in a wider variety of organizations and causes.

Interestingly, evangelical Protestants and religious homeschoolers reported high levels of social engagement even though “the dominant culture is hostile to their beliefs and values,” the report read.

“You would expect that if you’re in a hostile territory, you’d tend to hide,” said Mr. Pennings. “And yet it’s not having that impact, which I think speaks to a pretty deep seated commitment [to community] that these graduates have cultivated.”