Disruptive Behaviour in Religious and Secular High Schools: Teachers' and Students' Attitudes

Article excerpt

Discipline and adolescent behaviour, in and out of school, is highly relevant to examining research regarding expressions of violence, on the one hand, and building a just, civil society on the other. A survey of the research (Romi and Fruend, 1999) on attitudes to problems of student behaviour ('discipline problems') pointed at differences in attitudes between teachers and students. In most of the areas surveyed (e.g. expressions of aggression towards property or expressions of interpersonal aggression) teachers perceived the problems as being more severe than did the students.

Despite the crucial role that religion plays in the lives of many people, religious beliefs are perhaps the least addressed when studying the issue of disruptive behaviour (Haque, 2001). According to Frank and Kendall (2001), only a few studies have examined how adolescents' religious beliefs directly impact other important areas of their lives.

In Israel the Ministry of Education operates two parallel public school systems - a secular system and a religious one - in which curricula are dictated by the Ministry. Parents are free to choose between the two, and may also move the child from one system to the other, their satisfaction with the school being the only relevant criterion.

This study is an attempt to examine and compare the attitudes of teachers and students to students' disruptive behaviour in religious junior high schools in Israel. After a review of relevant literature, the data from a case study of one such school will be presented. Furthermore, in order to explore differences between religious and secular settings, these data will then be compared with data from a sample of teachers and students from a secular high school of similar socio-economic level.

Review of relevant literature

Fisherman (1990) examined identity categories relevant to this study. In his study of ego and religious identity during adolescence Fisherman found that subjects with a high religious identity scored higher on elements of meaningfulness, alienation and self-control than did students with a low religious identity score.

Such findings lead to the question whether the positive effects of religious identity may also extend to a person's general well-being. Studies have shown a positive correlation between religious beliefs and personal adjustment in areas of physical and mental health, suicide, substance abuse, marital satisfaction, anxiety and depression (Gärtner, 1996).

The large body of work addressing religion and ageing shows favourable effects of religion on older people (Hood, 1995; Koeing, 1997). Payne et al. (1992) have shown that spiritual resources can benefit even those of a nonreligious orientation, while Pargament and Sullivan (1996) found that people who used religious coping methods fared better in dealing with serious negative life events than those who used non-religious ones. Similar results are reported for high-school students with a religious background: their transition to college is better than that of their non-religious peers (Maton, 1989). Other studies have also demonstrated the high frequency of religious coping employed by people in various types of stressful situation (e.g. Leyser, 1994; Thompson et al., 1993).

Young et al. (1995) demonstrated the significant contribution of religious education to the rehabilitation of delinquents. They studied long-term recidivism among a group of US federal inmates who were trained in a seminary to be volunteer prison ministers. Recidivism data for these inmates were compared with data drawn from a matched control group over a follow-up period of eight to fourteen years. Analysis revealed that the seminar group had a significantly lower rate of recidivism than did the control group. Seminars had been most effective with lower-risk subjects, whites and especially women. The findings suggest that religious programming may contribute to the long-term rehabilitation of certain kinds of offender. …