Religion and education

A friend who teaches at a small, private, Christian school made the comment that he felt that Christian schools are considered to be academically inferior to nonreligious private schools. The thought was interesting so I replied at some length; my reply is below.

I haven’t made any sort of study of it, but my impression is that he is right about the relative reputation of Christian versus private schools (as a general rule – there are a few exceptions). Which me wonder – if there’s any truth to it, why is that?

It could be budget, or ways that the budget is allocated. I’d assume most schools focus their budgets and efforts on the things that their paying customers (the parents, really) most want. Parents paying for private school might be perceived as more focused on top quality education, while parents paying for religious school might prioritize religious environment more highly than academics.

It could be something about admission criteria. A school associated with a church might be inclined to take more or all students from that church, regardless of academic ability. A private school with a strong reputation has the ability to accept only the most academically fit candidates.

Or wealthy legacies… it could be that Private schools can tap into non-academic assets like successful, wealthy alumni more than Christian schools.

Or, perhaps it’s something about how the political and religious beliefs affect breadth of education. The same friend has made comments about having to consider his curriculum carefully so as to make sure it’s acceptable to the parents and administrators at your school. Which suggests that some level of restriction of content is clearly happening. As another example, Baylor College of Medicine (one of my alma maters) chose to break off its connection with the Baptist Church early on, because they found that the religious restrictions were making it impossible for them to provide a comprehensive medical education.

Or, philosophically, at a fundamental level, maybe a religious school communicates that the most important quality is faith – unquestioning belief in a higher authority. Meanwhile, the most rigorous academic settings I’ve experienced have emphasized “think for yourself and question everyone, even the authorities”. Perhaps that distinction is associated with a real difference in higher-level academic performance.

Or, y’know, maybe this country that has a large Christian majority and a very visible Christian grip on everything from electoral politics to corporate leadership… maybe it actually has a super sekrit pervasive conspiracy to systematically discriminate against active Christians. You can decide if that’s the most likely explanation…

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