Most Protestant pastors see school as 'negative influence' on spiritual formation

Students seen in a high school classroom.
Students seen in a high school classroom. | (Photo: Reuters/Stephane Mahe)

A majority of Protestant pastors and half of Catholic priests believe school is a negative influence on a child’s spiritual development, according to a new report by the Barna Group.

Barna partnered with a religious think tank named Cardus to interview 650 Protestant and Catholic church leaders last year about spiritual development among youth.

Respondents were asked to rank certain entities regarding whether they had a positive or negative influence on a child's spiritual development. The categories were “parents/family,” “church,” “school,” “peers/friends,” “Christian community,” and “culture/society.”

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According to their findings released Tuesday, 65 percent of Protestant respondents and 50 percent of Catholic respondents viewed school as a negative influence on a child's spiritual development.

“In fact, schools are ranked alongside a child’s friends and peers as primarily negative influences — a view held by 61 percent of Protestant leaders and 65 percent of Catholic leaders,” said Barna.

“In some cases, the perceived negative influence of a child’s school or friend group outweighs a perceived positive influence by double.”

Barna noted that Catholic priests were more likely than Protestant pastors to view school as having a positive influence on a child's spiritual development.

“This denominational gap could be explained by the prevalence of Catholic school education and the possibility that Catholic priests are assessing the influence of a religious school education,” explained Barna.

While school ranked high on the negative influence side, culture/society was ranked the worst, with 94 percent of surveyed Protestant pastors and 92 percent of surveyed Catholic priests saying that culture/society had a negative influence on a child's spiritual development.

Ray Pennings, Cardus executive vice president, said in a statement released Tuesday that schools, especially Christian academic institutions, must play an important role in the spiritual development of children.

“Church and family life are important in the spiritual formation of young adults, but our research reinforces that schools play an important role too,” said Pennings.

“Church leaders, parents, and educators must understand the positive influence of Christian schooling on spiritual formation and work together to ensure that these schooling options are genuinely available for as many families as possible.”

In research released in January 2018, Cardus found that Generation X and millennial-aged adults who attended evangelical Protestant schools were more likely to read the Bible, attend worship, and pray than their peers who attended public schools.

The 2018 report drew from the 2011 and 2014 Cardus Education Surveys for the United States and the CES for Canada taken in 2012 and 2016.

"Our findings show strong effects of EP schooling on various religious and spiritual outcomes in young adulthood, and these effects hold up after controlling for family-background and demographic variables, including religion of parents," noted the study from last year.

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