According to their critics, private Christian schools foster an attitude of isolation and withdrawal from society. And according to their boosters, public schools provide a unique and essential preparation for citizenship in a diverse nation. For the past five years, my colleagues and I at Cardus have been studying these claims, and last week, we released a new study that shows just how little data exists to support them.
Do private schools (whether religious or not) foster social isolation? Do public schools uniquely help to create the “social capital” that comes from diverse friendships and working relationships? Based on the data we released last week, the answer seems to be no on both counts. Adult graduates of Evangelical Protestant, Catholic, non-religious private, and public schools were all as likely to have a close friend who was an atheist or of a different race. The only statistically significant difference we found was that Evangelical Protestants were marginally less likely to have a close gay or lesbian friend—about 57 percent of evangelical Protestant graduates, compared to 69 percent of public school graduates, report a friend or relative who is gay or lesbian.
The Cardus survey, collected in March 2014 and analyzed by the team at the Cardus Religious Schools Initiative at the University of Notre Dame, was designed to give a comprehensive account of how different kinds of high schools contribute to the academic achievement, cultural engagement, and spiritual formation of their graduates.
The results of this survey were mostly consistent with a similar survey we conducted in 2011. While it’s inevitably most interesting to look at the differences among graduates of these different ...1
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