A COMPARISON OF TWO DENOMINATIONAL SCHOOLS
Analyses of Newfoundland's denominational educational system have usually focused on such issues as the cost and efficiency of the system, the political circumstances surrounding its establishment and continuation, the nature of Church-state relations, and the relationship of the system to civil rights (McKim, 1988). Although little research is available on the effects of the denominational education system on students, defenders of the system typically argue that the denominational system is of value because it ensures that religiously-based social values are promoted among young people (Baksh, 1977). Roman Catholic school administrators, in particular, have argued that this does not simply involve the inculcation of a particular set of beliefs in formal religion classes, but also involves the promotion of Christian (or Catholic) values in all aspects of school life. Thus, the assumption appears to be that the existence of separate denominational systems is justified because of the distinctive values which children will learn from their particular school system.
To what extent do children attending different denominational systems actually adopt different values and attitudes? It can be hypothesized that the differential effects of the denominational education system will be most evident among graduating high school students who have had the longest exposure to the system. Subsequent to high school graduation, most young adults will tend to be exposed to the more diverse set of influences of post-secondary education or work. And, although some controversy exists about the extent to which childhood socialization has long-lasting effects, high school graduates do generally possess a fairly comprehensive set of attitudes and values that have social and political implications as they undertake the responsibilities of adult citizenship.
It is not entirely clear what attitudinal and value differences might be expected between the graduates of Catholic and Integrated school systems. Discussions of the denominational school system seem to be conducted in the absence of all but the vaguest comments about the values each of the two systems promote. To facilitate analysis, I have hypothesized that Catholic students will be less materialistic and less oriented to a competitive economy than Integrated students, more favourable to assistance to the poor, less libertarian in matters of morality and sexuality, more favourable to "traditional" family arrangements in which most women are expected to stay at home to raise children, and more favourable to the maintenance of hierarchical authority relationships. As well, given the heavier emphasis on religion in the Catholic school system (Melchert, 1976), Catholic students might be expected to be more religious than their Integrated counterparts.
A written questionnaire was administered to Level III (grade 12) students at the two major high schools serving the Corner Brook area during a class period. Telephone interviews were subsequently conducted with the mothers and fathers of students who completed questionnaires.
As the questionnaire was designed for a broader study of political socialization (Mintz, 1990), questions were not designed specifically to test the effects of the denominational system. Rather, in addition to questions designed to tap the basic attitudes of students towards the political system and to determine the extent to which young adults gave priority to "postmaterialist" rather than "materialist" values (Inglehart, 1977), most questions concerned contemporary issues which would likely be of interest or concern to young adults. To analyze the substantial number of questions asked, responses on related topics have been combined in simple additive scales.
Note: Higher scores indicate greater support for index values.
As Table 1 indicates, differences between students at the two schools were small. Only the greater level of political trust exhibited by students at the Catholic school could be considered significant. Similarly, on most of the eighty specific questions, differences in the distribution of responses between students at the two schools were small.
Focusing on issues of morality and sexuality, it was only on the abortion question that expected differences were evident: 38% of students at the Catholic school compared to 55% of students at the Integrated school felt that abortion "should be available to a woman if she chooses to have one" (44% of Catholic school students and 38% of Integrated students felt that abortion should be "legal only in some exceptional circumstances"; 19% and 6% respectively feeling it should be illegal). There was little difference between students at the two schools on the question of whether birth control information should be presented in school with only 3% of Roman Catholic school students (R.C.) and 1% of the Integrated school students (I.) feeling such information should not be presented. Students at the Catholic school were slightly more likely to agree that "movies showing explicit sexual acts should be allowed" (73% R.C., 60% 1.), while 44% of students at each school agreed that "homosexual activity should be made illegal".
In terms of questions concerning the role of women and the nature of the family, students at the R.C. (84%) and Integrated (91%) schools were overwhelmingly inclined to disagree with the statement that "women should be encouraged to stay at home to raise their children" with the majority of R.C. students strongly disagreeing. R.C. students were slightly more likely than Integrated students to be in agreement that "governments should pay most of the costs of child care for working mothers (64% R.C., 54% 1.). Extremely few at either school agreed that unmarried women who have children should not receive welfare payments from government (6% R.C., 5% 1.). Majorities at each school supported affirmative action programs for women in the workplace (70% R.C.; 75% 1.) and in admissions to university programs (59% R.C.; 59% 1.).
Although R.C. students tended to have a higher level of trust in political authority, they were slightly less likely than Integrated students to agree that "Teachers should be able to discipline students as they see fit to maintain order in the classroom" (24% R.C.; 38% 1.).
The findings were mixed concerning helping to improve the economic position of the poor. A larger majority of students at the R.C. school than at the Integrated school agreed that "the Canadian government should be generous in providing aid to the poorer countries of the world" (77% R.C.; 60% 1.). Students at the Integrated school, however, were slightly more likely to agree that "those with high incomes should be heavily taxed so as to reduce the differences between rich and poor (31% R.C.; 40% 1.).
Finally, students at the R.C. school were not much more religious than their Integrated counterparts. Only 4% of students at the R.C. school and 3% of those at the Integrated school considered themselves "very religious" with an additional 48% of R.C. students considering themselves "somewhat religious" compared to 41% of Integrated students. Despite this limited difference in religiosity, students at the R.C. school (58%) were more likely than students at the Integrated school (35%) to favour the retention of a denominational school system.
It might be argued that the interdenominational differences were
greater among those who grew up in an earlier era when religion generally
played a greater social role, interdenominational contact was less frequent,
and secularizing influences such as television were less important.
However, the parents of Level III students at the two Corner Brook schools
generally differed little in their attitudes. Of the scales presented
in Table 1 above, only the political trust scale significantly differentiated
the parents of students attending the two schools with the parents of the
R.C. school students resembling their offspring in being more trusting
of government than parents of the Integrated school students. Parents
of those in the R.C. school were more likely to feel that abortion should
be illegal (24%) than parents of those in the Integrated school (8%), more
likely to support the retention of the denominational school system (46%
vs. 26%), and more likely to identify with the PC party (37% vs. 14% in
Newfoundland politics and 30% vs. 13% in Canadian politics). Other
differences between the two sets of parents were minimal.
Students at the Roman Catholic high school were not significantly less materialist, less oriented to a competitive economy, more favourable to assisting the poor and disadvantaged, less libertarian (except on the highly charged issue of abortion), more traditional regarding the family and the role of women, or more religious than students at the Integrated school. Only in terms of a greater acceptance of authority (as measured by higher levels of political trust but not in terms of teachers' disciplinary authority) were hypothesized differences found.
Without further evidence, we cannot be certain that the results
of this study of attitudes of high school students in Corner Brook are
representative of the province as a whole. In particular, it may
well be that the attitudes of those attending Pentecostal or Seventh Day
Adventist school differ from those attending the more "mainstream" school
systems. As well, it is possible that there are attitudes and values
not measured in this study that do differentiate students in different
denominations. In particular, this study focused on attitudes and
values likely to affect the social and political behaviour of young adults
rather than focusing on their intrinsic religious orientations (Melchert,
1976). Nevertheless, it is striking that in a province where religious
differences have deep roots which could potentially be reinforced by a
denominationally-based education system, little evidence of differences
among young adults could be uncovered over a wide range of questions.
The research reported in this paper was funded by a Challenge '90 SEED grant. Research assistance was provided by Kevin Walker and Michael Walker. The assistance of the teachers and principals of the two Corner Brook schools in arranging class time is greatly appreciated.
Baksh, I.J. "The Defence of Denominational Education," The Morning Watch, Vol. 4, No. 2, 1977, pp. 3-5.
Cooper, G.A. "Some Effects of Denominational Schooling," The Morning Watch, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1975, pp. 4-5.
Cooper, G.A. "Some Effects of Denominational Schooling (Con't.)", The Morning Watch, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1976, pp. 11-16.
Inglehart, R. The Silent Revolution. Changing Values and Political Styles among Western Publics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977.
McKim, W.A., ed. The Vexed Question. Denominational Education in a Secular Age. St. John's: Breakwater Books, 1988. Melchert, C.F. "Response to Cooper's 'Some Effects of Denominational Schooling," The Morning Watch, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1976, pp. 1-4.
Mintz, E. "Political Socialization in Newfoundland. The Political Attitudes of High School Students and Their Parents," paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the Atlantic Provinces Political Studies Association, St. John's, October 20, 1990.
APPENDIX: QUESTIONS USED IN INDEX CONSTRUCTION
1. Offshore oil developments, such as Hibernia, should not proceed if there is a risk to the marine environment.
*2. Large economic projects that could create employment opportunities should be allowed to proceed even if they might endanger some rare plants or animals.
3. People should be encouraged to have fewer children so that there is room for all types of plant and animal life on earth.
*4. The paper mill in Corner Brook should not be forced to reduce
its pollution because the mill is the backbone of this area's economy.
*1. The police should be able to wiretap the telephones of persons holding extremist ideas.
*2. Homosexual activity should be made illegal.
*3. Persons holding communist beliefs should not be permitted to teach in our schools.
4. Do you think that the use of marijuana should be legal or illegal?
1. Employers should be required to hire more women for good jobs.
*2. Women should be encouraged to stay at home to raise their children.
3. Universities should be required to reserve one-half of the places for women in programs such as engineering and science to ensure that there will be more women in such professions in the future.
*4. If a business has to lay off some workers, the first to be laid off should be women whose husbands have jobs.
Postmateralism [Second options scored as postmaterialist]
1. Over the next ten years, do you think that it is more important for our society to have a high rate of economic growth or to clean up our natural environment?
2. ....to ensure that order is maintained in our society or to encourage all people to have a say on controversial issues?
3. ....to create an economy that is internationally competitive or to ensure that all persons in our society are treated equally?
4. ....to fight crime or to develop our culture?
1. Our economy should be made more efficient even if this means laying off some workers.
2. Do you think that government should try to assist businesses that are facing difficulties or do you think that government should not assist uncompetitive businesses?
3. Because of the problems in the Newfoundland fishery, do you think
that the government should encourage fisherman to find other types of employment
or do you think that the government should help fishermen to keep their
Government Provision of Welfare
*1. Young persons who are able to work should not receive welfare payments from government.
2. Governments should pay most of the costs of child care for working mothers.
*3. Unmarried women who have children should not receive welfare
payments from government.
1. All students across Canada should learn both English and French.
2. French-Canadian children should be able to receive an education in French anywhere in Canada if at all possible.
*3. The Canadian government should operate primarily in English.
4. Special efforts should be made to protect the French language in
*1. There's not much that ordinary citizens can do to affect what governments are doing.
*2. Generally, those elected to Parliament soon lose touch with the people.
*3. Sometimes politics and government seems so complicated that a person like me can't really understand what's going on.
*4. Governments do not seem to care what ordinary citizens think.
*1. Many people in government are dishonest.
2. Most of the people running government are smart people who usually know what they are doing.
3. Generally speaking, would you say that you have a great deal of confidence, some confidence, or almost no confidence in the ability of the Canadian government to do what's right?
4. ....the Newfoundland government ... ?
Imagine that the Canadian government was doing something that you strongly disagreed with. Do you think that you would engage in any of the following activities?
1. Sign a petition.
2. Call your member of parliament.
3. Participate in a protest march.
4. Organize others to vote against the government in the next election.
5. Join with others in occupying government offices.
6. Join with others in refusing to pay taxes.
*1. Governments should be able to make major decisions without having to have widespread public discussion of the issue.
2. All citizens should involve themselves in the discussion of political issues.
3. When developing its policies, do you think that governments should
pay the most attention to the opinions of average citizens or to the opinions
For position statements, "strongly agree" scored 4: "agree", 3; 'disagree", 2; "strongly disagree", 1; starred items scored in reverse order. Those responding "don't know" or not giving a response to any item were excluded from the calculation of that scale.
1. This point was made in several briefs and comments by Roman Catholic school administrators to the (Newfoundland) Royal Commission of Inquiry on Education, 1990-91.
2. Questionnaires were administered in all Level III classes at the Integrated school on May 15 and 16, 1990 (N=162) and in four of the five Level III classes at the Roman Catholic school on June 1 and June 4, 1990 (N=89). According to the Principal of the latter school, the five classes did not differ in their academic or social characteristics. No attempt was made to administer questionnaires to students absent from class. In all, approximately 65% of all Level III students at the two schools filled out questionnaires. In terms of parental occupations, the social characteristics of the two groups of students were almost identical. However, the Roman Catholic sample contains a higher proportion of males (59%) than the Integrated sample (45%). 91% of those attending the R.C. school stated that their religious affiliation was Catholic (6% Protestant; 3% no affiliation). 82% of those attending the Integrated school stated their affiliation as one of the integrated faiths (Anglican, United Church, or Salvation Army), 6% were Pentecostal, 4% Catholic, and 8% other or none.
3. Technically, a test of significance is not appropriate when comparing what are basically populations rather than samples. It could, however, be stated that the degree of association between school and indexes is so weak as to be trivial or meaningless except in the case of the modest relationship for political trust.
4. Those responding "don't know" and those not answering the question (in this case, 5 of the 251 respondents) have been excluded from the calculation of percentages.
5. The following results should be treated with caution as no question specifically identified the schools attended by the parental group. However, given a fairly low of migration to the Corner Brook area from those raised out of the province, it is reasonable to assume that most parents were educated in the same denominational system as their children.
6. The findings are consistent with a study which found that Anglican university students who had attended Anglican schools in Newfoundland did not differ significantly in religious attitudes from Anglican students who had attended Amalgamated or United Church schools (Cooper, 1975; Cooper, 1976).