What is ‘social capital,’ and how do we measure it?
By Gerald F. Lordan, O.P., Ph.D., Social Studies Teacher and Faculty Mentor
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, was a novelist and Free French Army aviator lost missing in action in 1944 during World War II. He is paraphrased to have said, “The most important things in life are invisible and impossible to measure.”
For many years this statement applied to the benefits of Catholic education. A recent book, Lost Classroom, Lost Community by Margaret Brining and Nicole Stelle Garnett, helps to quantify the value of Catholic education to the community. The authors, both of whom are Notre Dame University Law School professors, studied demographic, educational and criminal statistics in Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. They found a close connection between the presence of a Catholic school and community social capital. This connection can have a positive impact not only on the life of the community as a whole but also on the lives of the individuals within that community.
Social capital can be defined as the social networks and norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness shared by members of a community with one another. Brining and Garnett found high levels of social capital among the administrators, teachers, parents and students of Catholic schools. Social capital can be considered a factor of production similar to physical, financial and human capital. According to Brining and Garnett, social capital can be viewed as something that helps to produce a better society, less crime, less disorder and more trust. When Catholic schools are closed in a community, the community suffers. Many people who support Catholic education sense these findings intuitively. Saint-Exupery to the contrary, notwithstanding, Brining and Garnett help to quantify those intuitions. Continue reading “Found Classroom, Found Community”