September 7, 2011

The Best and Brightest

My first-grade year was unremarkable—as far as academics were concerned. I did not like reading. I didn’t think the teacher really cared if I learned or not. And I definitely didn’t care. Starting in second grade, I attended the local Seventh-day Adventist church school. At that place I developed a great love for reading and other school subjects. What made the difference?

For one thing, I wasn’t scared that the teacher would slap my hands with a ruler for misbehaving—or thinking about misbehaving. I also didn’t have to worry about figuring out rituals that were beyond my own religious experience.

The most important difference, however, was that in elementary church school God blessed me with dedicated Adventist teachers, a good curriculum, and a supportive church. At the school’s largest, we had three full-time teachers in three classes: grades 1-4, 5-6, and 7-8; at its smallest, one full-time teacher, part-time aide, and one class. Regardless of teacher or size of class, I got the attention I needed to excel. I learned about my faith, our world, and grew to love Jesus as my friend. I’m sure I wasn’t the only student with a similar story.
2011 1525 page6It bothers me when people “trash talk” about Adventist schools. When they say that it isn’t worth the cost, that other school systems are better, that children have more advantage in other places, that parents shouldn’t rely on shoddy education just to inculcate their offspring in the ways of the church because they are too lazy to do it themselves . . .
Our educational system isn’t perfect. I saw that growing up as a student, being a teacher’s kid, and now as my own children start a new year at an Adventist school. But just as I don’t believe I’m handicapping my kids, I didn’t feel disadvantaged, or that I couldn’t hold my own with some of the best and brightest outside our system. In fact, spending my senior year in public high school showed me that while I wasn’t as pop-culturally sophisticated as some of my peers, I was more advanced in most academic subjects—and I tended to be more responsible. And my attending and graduating from a Johns Hopkins University master’s program—after obtaining my bachelor’s degrees from an Adventist university—proved I could “hang” with the best and brightest. I could do it with a mind and character shaped, in part, by dedicated Adventist educators.
It is true that the interest shown by my parents and church helped. My parents expected a certain level of commitment from me—and sometimes they had to prick my conscience in decision-making. Decades before I stepped in class, the congregation, so committed to Adventist education, decided to build their school first—complete with a gymnasium. Problems arose, however, and, unable to build the church, they converted the new gym into a sanctuary where members still meet—still committed to the attached school.
Maybe I didn’t get all the perks other schools offered. But in addition to many other things, I did learn about gardening and canning foods, I learned about church pioneers and why their faith mattered to them, and I discovered the Bible’s treasure trove of stories and sensible advice. Academics were important, of course, but so was character-building—something I’ve not experienced to the same degree I have in the Adventist school system.
It’s written in Proverbs 4:7 that “the beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.” And in Proverbs 15:2: “The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly” (NKJV).*
In regard to this, Ellen White writes: “True education imparts this wisdom. It teaches the best use not only of one but of all our powers and acquirements. Thus it covers the whole circle of obligation—to ourselves, to the world, and to God” (Education, p. 225).
To be the best and the brightest, we all need this type of education. Despite a few minor impediments (insincere administrators, insensitive educators, etc.) that I’d likely have encountered with more severity, perhaps, in other environments, I found my education in Adventist schools. I’m hoping my children will too.
* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Kimberly Luste Maran is an assistant editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published September 8, 2011.