Record: Jonathan P. Hill and Kevin R. Den Dulk, “Religion, Volunteering, and Educational Setting: The Effect of Youth Schooling Type on Civic Engagement” in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 52, no. 1 (2013): 179-197 [Available Here]
Hill and Den Dulk, both professors at Calvin College, here present results drawn from the massive National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) directed by Christian Smith and Lisa Pearce. Read my summary of an excellent earlier study by Jeremy Uecker using this data set here.
In the piece before us today Hill and Den Dulk want to know whether the type of schooling a child receives goes on to have an impact on that individual’s habits of volunteering in young adulthood, and if so, why. As the NSYR was a multi-stage longitudinal study of a representative sample of the American population, it can answer this question.
The authors begin with a discussion of nation-wide trends in civic voluntarism, which they define as “a citizen’s intentional, organized efforts to address matters of public concern.” (p. 180) The two most common venues for such efforts in the lives of young people are religious institutions and schools, the aim often being to foster habits of volunteering that will stick with these students in adulthood. Does it work?
Yes. Previous studies of the question have found the effects of both religious and education-based volunteer activities to persist into adulthood, though they have yet to explain how or why this happens, nor have they compared different types of schools. In this article Hill and Den Dulk do two things. First, they provide a theory that might explain how religious and educational organizations’ volunteer experiences work to convert kids into adults who are more volunteer-minded. Second, they use the NSYR data to investigate what kinds of schools do it best.
First for the theory. Hill and Den Dulk think there are two forces at work that when combined explain how organized volunteer activity in churches and schools work to get adolescents to become more civically engaged. The first they call opportunity structures. Churches and schools are the centers of volunteer work because they are the best places for organizations to go to get recruits. The more churches and schools offer (or require) volunteer activities, the more normal it seems to be a volunteer. Out of all of this volunteering social networks form that tend to persist even after a student leaves the school or the congregation. The second force is motivation. Schools and churches foster both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation among potential volunteers. Intrinsic motivation comes from the worldview churches and schools foster among adolescents that emphasizes service to others coupled with empowerment for students to act on this motivation in tangible ways. Extrinsic motivation comes from things like graduation requirements and peer pressure, making it impossible to disentangle truly voluntary voluntarism from just doing what everyone else is doing because it’s expected. But the point is that either way these sorts of activities do seem to help kids be more engaged in their communities as adults.
But do all schools have the same impact? Hill and Den Dulk look at public, Catholic, Protestant, private nonreligious, and homeschools to see if there are differences in the level of voluntarism among graduates of each. Because the NSYR sample is representative and huge they are able to control for family background variables that normally are not controlled for in studies like this. Hill and Den Dulk conducted a sophisticated multivariate regression analysis to tease out the impact of many variables on volunteer activity. And what are the results?
First of all they found that across the board more than half of young adults surveyed no longer volunteered. So while adolescent experiences do go on to influence adult behavior, in this case it was only true for about 47% of the population.
But that 47% is not distributed evenly among the various types of schools. Children attending public school formed the baseline of their study. Children attending protestant schools were by far the most likely to persist in volunteering as young adults. Even when family background variables were controlled, protestant school graduates were about three times more likely to volunteer as young adults as were graduates of public schools. Catholic schooled young adults were a little more likely to volunteer than public schoolers, but not much. Homeschoolers were significantly less likely to volunteer, about half as likely as graduates of public schools. The least likely to be volunteers of all, however, were graduates of non-religious private schools, who were less that a quarter as likely to volunteer as public schooled graduates.
What explains these differences? Hill and Den Dulk test several possibilities:
1. It wasn’t the degree to which a school required volunteer activities nor the degree to which a student’s peer group was involved in volunteer work.
2. Several types of adult activities are associated with volunteering, including regular attendance at a house of worship and a college education (especially at an elite or religious institution) but no one type of schooling was more likely to lead to such behaviors.
3. A school’s opportunity structures leading to intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for voluntarism in school did not seem to have an impact on later adult experiences, which leads the authors to question their own earlier theoretical account.
4. A school’s socialization through repeated opportunities to volunteer also did not predict adult behavior.
So none of their hypothesized explanations can account for why some forms of schooling produce more volunteers than others. Graduates of nonreligious private schools volunteer less and graduates of protestant schools volunteer more “despite of differences in opportunities to volunteer” students may have had or not had in these schools, and irrespective of the internal or external motivators in place (p. 194). What then is going on?
Hill and Den Dulk don’t know, but they have two guesses. First, they hypothesize that students at different kinds of schools may internalize without realizing it certain “social scripts” about what it means to be a responsible adult. It has to be unconscious because the variables in the study that tested for intrinsic motivation found no differences between schools. A second guess is that certain kinds of schools may be better at building institutional bridges between adolescent volunteer activities and volunteer activities in adulthood. Protestant kids who participate in some sort of evangelical parachurch organization as teens may continue to do so as young adults, for example. For both of these guesses Hill and Den Dulk have no evidence, except for the fact that far more of the private school graduates’ volunteer activities are church-related than are the volunteer activities of public and Catholic school grads. This last fact raises the issue that is frequently raised in discussions of religious-based charitible giving–that most of it is not really charity to the community but in-house giving to sustain the narrow interests of the congregation itself. The same could be the case here with protestant volunteers.
Though the bulk of this article was not concerned with homeschooling, the data it does provide is very valuable. A decade ago Brian Ray released a study of young adults who had been homeschooled that made homeschoolers look amazing. That study and another like it currently being undertaken have been criticized ever since for their shoddy methodology. In the past few years a small but growing body of more reliable research based on randomized samples is slowly producing a picture of adults who were homeschooled that is not nearly so rosy as Ray’s work would lead one to believe. In 2008 Jeremy Uecker found that type of schooling (including homeschooling) had no measurable impact on the long-term religious commitment of young adults. In 2011 the Cardus Education Survey found that homeschooled graduates have a higher than average divorce rate, attend on average less selective colleges, were more likely to feel helpless and unclear about their life trajectory, and were less politically engaged than demographically similar graduates of public or private schools. Hill and Den Dulk’s study here seems to corroborate the Cardus results, at least for civic engagement.
It is worth noting that Ray himself has weighed in on this study. After questioning the definition of voluntarism used in the study, he rightly points out that the sample size used to make these generalizations is small (about 60 out of an overall sample of about 2600 young adults), though the randomized nature of this sample makes it actually more representative of the overall homeschooled population than his own sample of 5,254, as Ray well knows. Ray takes these authors to task for not citing some of the studies that have found more positive civic results, but he does not note that the methodology employed in most of these studies limit their generalizability. The great value of the NSYR data, as with the Cardus data, is that it is from a randomized sample of the entire population.
On one thing at least Dr. Ray and I most certainly agree. “Several more pieces of research,” he writes, “will need to be done to have a relatively firm grip on whether adults who were home educated engage in volunteer work or civic activities at the same rate or a different rate than those who attended institutional schools.” In my view the most important thing homeschooling researchers can investigate is home education’s long-term impact on the children who experience it. Longitudinal studies, both quantitative and qualitative, employing rigorous scientific methodology such as this excellent one by Hill and Den Dulk are precisely what we need.
Milton Gaither, Messiah College