On the heels of what is called the greatest commandment, we are admonished to be tireless in our efforts to pass on our love for God to children and youth: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 6:6, 7).
But how does this look today? When applied, what principles rise to the top and should be components of Adventist education?
Below are 10 of what we believe are the most important—even essential—components of Adventist education. All are based on the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy.
1. Academics—Adventist academic standards must be set higher than those of even the most prestigious institutions of learning. Why? The focus of secular institutions is too narrow in its goals. They seek to train children to be successful only on this planet.
Knowledge that has eternal roots and wisdom that transcends time and space is the type of “academics” that should be offered. Where does this knowledge come from? Jesus says, “This is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Elaborating, Ellen White puts it this way:
“In a knowledge of God all true knowledge and real development have their source. . . . Whatever line of investigation we pursue, with a sincere purpose to arrive at truth, we are brought in touch with the unseen, mighty Intelligence that is working in and through all. The mind of man is brought into communion with the mind of God, the finite with the Infinite. The effect of such communion on body and mind and soul is beyond estimate. In this communion is found the highest education. It is God’s own method of development.”
Adventist schools were created to help students know Christ. When students study history, they discover the God who transcends time. When they grapple with mathematics, they learn about the God of order. When they examine nature, the God of system and creativity is revealed. The Creator who made all, made these systems as well, and when we develop programs that result in a growing knowledge and understanding of our Creator, students will be able to practically apply what they learn and become “thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men’s thought.”
2. Evangelism—Adventist pioneers developed our school system to prepare young people to reach others with the good news of salvation, and that goal must not be relegated to simply being an “add on” to the academic program. Our students should be instructed on how to witness and given opportunity to do so routinely.
“We were shown that in the education of our children a different order of things must be brought in. . . . Our work is reformatory; and it is the purpose of God that through the excellence of the work done in our educational institutions the attention of the people shall be called to the last great effort to save the perishing.”
3. Health—Copious scientific research today validates the need to teach proper health principles to students. It also confirms the instruction the Lord gave to our church:
“Without health no one can as distinctly understand or as completely fulfill his obligations to himself, to his fellow beings, or to his Creator. Therefore the health should be as faithfully guarded as the character. A knowledge of physiology and hygiene should be the basis of all educational effort.”
Just as we set high standards for other subjects, Adventist schools should teach their students God’s ideal for their health. Regardless of their popularity within society or even the church, we should proudly uphold the health laws God has given us as a people and practice them along with our students.
4. Relationships—The staff’s ability to relate well to both students and parents helps determine whether a school will be successful. Schools—as well as churches and families—must invest the time needed to connect with our youth. We will be most successful in leading them to grow strong in the Lord when we are united in this mission. Thankfully, Christ has shown us the method to use: “The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’ ”
5. Staff—The staff sets the school “climate” and determines what is acceptable in all areas of school life. Therefore, as a staff, we must be totally surrendered to God and wholly committed to Adventist education. When we live close to Christ and this is exemplified in our lives, students are drawn to Jesus and a desire to emulate begins to form in their hearts. Christ is our example.
“In His life, Christ’s words had perfect illustration and support. And more than this; what He taught, He was. His words were the expression, not only of His own life experience, but of His own character. Not only did He teach the truth, but He was the truth. It was this that gave His teaching, power.”
6. Character—If there is one goal more important than another in the work of education, it’s the development of character—Christlike character, which spans into eternity. While developing the academic, the social, and the physical natures of students, we must not neglect character development.
“The education and training of the youth is an important and solemn work. The great object to be secured should be the proper development of character, that the individual may be fitted to rightly discharge the duties of the present life, and to enter at last upon the future, immortal life.”
Elsewhere, Ellen White notes that “heart education is of far more importance than mere book learning. It is well, even essential, to have a knowledge of the world in which we live; but if we leave eternity out of our reckoning, we shall make a failure from which we can never recover.”
7. Work Education—Historically, work education has been a core of Adventist education. It benefits not only the body but the mind and the character. “Practical work encourages close observation and independent thought. Rightly performed, it tends to develop that practical wisdom which we call common sense.”
Manual labor also brings benefits for the broader situations of life. Skills such as changing a car tire or growing food in a garden can be used to enhance daily life.
While labor laws affecting children and teens have been significantly tightened, schools can still provide a work education within these laws. Many schools teach the fundamentals of work ethic by simply requiring students to perform chores. Even implementation on a small scale is an appropriate start. Students learning the value of hard work is of incalculable worth.
8. Agriculture—Working with the soil is one of the best overall methods for developing the body, mind, and spirit. Students see life principles in action, as well as the realities of the sin problem (through weeds, too much sun or water, etc.), in a tangible way. Agriculture also provides physical exercise and encourages students in source learning. Rather than just viewing photos in a textbook or on a computer monitor, students touch and hold objects, and experience them in their real-life context. “The school farm is to be regarded as a lessonbook in nature from which the teachers may draw their object lessons.”
While agriculture can play a larger role in schools that have grounds to provide for a full garden, even inner-city schools can develop programs in which students plant seeds in simple egg containers and watch them grow from apparent lifelessness to living, thriving plants.
9. Bible and Spirit of Prophecy—Recognizing the power of God’s Word for His people and His special revelations to His last-day church is a fundamental honor of Seventh-day Adventist education. In secular education there is little consensus regarding truth. For us as Adventists, understanding, believing, and acting on the eternal messages of Scripture and the enlightenment of Ellen White’s writings puts us on vantage ground.
In a practical way, seeing every academic discipline through the eyes of Scripture reveals God’s character through each field of study and draws us closer to Him. Indeed, “as a means of intellectual training, the Bible is more effective than any other book, or all other books combined.”
Prayer, Bible study, and service (PBS) are three key ingredients to living this component in Adventist schools. PBS time can be set aside daily for not only modeling but also giving specific instruction on how to pray, study the Bible, and use the gifts God has given in active service for others.
10. Leadership—The success of a school rests heavily upon the shoulders of its leaders. Organizations can succeed or fail as a direct result of leadership. As Adventist educators, we know that true success comes only from God, and we must faithfully look to Him for answers.
“No man is so high in power and authority but that Satan will assail him with temptation. And the more responsible the position a man occupies, the fiercer and more determined are the assaults of the enemy. Let God’s servants in every place study His word, looking constantly to Jesus, that they may be changed into His image.”
As much as we believe in programs that implement these components of Adventist education, each of us personally must also seek the counsel that the Lord has so bountifully given to His last-day church. Our students will then see Christ exemplified in us and be drawn to Him and the Christ-focused education that Adventist schools provide.
God longs to be the center of all that is done. He wants our schools to be places where students are nurtured and cared for; where they feel safe and loved; and where angels love to dwell and students hate to leave.
No education can be higher than this. Nothing can equal its value.