Religious Children Make Better Students. But Are They Also Less Ambitious?

July 27 2022

In the first part of her book God, Grades, and Graduation, Ilana Horwitz puts forward a simple argument: religious children do better at school than their nonreligious peers. Michal Leibowitz praises Horwitz’s “uncommonly good” research, which manages to disentangle religion from socioeconomic factors, and combines quantitative analysis with the qualitative data that come from numerous interviews. But Leibowitz is less convinced by Horwitz’s other conclusions:

In the less impressive second half of her book, Horwitz discusses her other, “paradoxical” finding: that the same intense religiosity that boosts educational achievement across all socioeconomic groups also lowers academic ambition among some, making more affluent religious teens likely to attend less-selective colleges.

Religious girls, she tells us, “yearn for the comfort of the familiar.” They are “happy doing what is expected” and content to follow “the path laid out for girls” in their families and communities. But girls raised by at least one Jewish parent, [another cohort the book examines], couldn’t be further from this, she tells us. They are ambitious, career-driven, and free-thinking and display an early focus on attending a highly selective university. Consider teenager Stacy, who wants to attend “a good college—like an Ivy League kind of college” and then law school. How adventurous! How bold! Surely this ambition of Stacy’s arose spontaneously, was freely chosen and pursued? No, of course not.

Throughout the book, Horwitz operates within a paradigm in which education is always good, more education is always better, and education at a selective institution is always best. (Horwitz herself holds four degrees, including a masters from Columbia and a doctorate from Stanford). This leads to some unforced errors. . . . The backdrop of intellectual and cultural assumptions that Horwitz clearly shares with most of her peers blinds her to what should have been obvious without any statistical study: not every American high-school student is a rational prestige maximizer when it comes to education.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Education, Religion

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy