Video Series Unveils the Surprising History of Adventist Education

Turning Point features six episodes that delve into its early development.

Christelle Agboka, North American Division News
Video Series Unveils the Surprising History of Adventist Education
Turning Points, a six-part video series jointly produced by the North American Division Office of Education and the Department of Archives, Statistics, and Research, is now available for viewing. [Photo: Screenshot]

The 2023 North American Division (NAD) Educators’ Convention in Phoenix, Arizona, United States, was a time of spiritual rejuvenation, learning, and fellowship. It was also a celebration of an education system offering “something better” — preparation for a life of mission and service on earth and an eternity with Jesus.

From its humble beginnings in the mid-19th century, the Seventh-day Adventist school system has evolved into the largest Protestant education system in the world. Today, it encompasses 7,500 schools in nearly 150 countries, where 85,000 teachers have roughly 1.5 million students in their care. Moreover, while once viewed as a distraction from Christ’s imminent return, education is now considered a pillar of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, essential to advancing its mission.

Reflecting on the rich, yet somewhat turbulent history of Adventist education, the educators’ convention introduced Turning Points, a six-part video series jointly produced by the NAD Office of Education and the Department of Archives, Statistics, and Research. The NAD retained Humble Beacon, a media development company run by Adventists Jefferson Rodrigues and Andrew Hansen, to facilitate the filming and editing of the series. It’s one of the first efforts to produce a film series specifically highlighting the origins of Adventist education.

H. Stephen Bralley, NAD director of secondary education, shared the aim of these videos as “helping people recognize the amazing impact of Adventist education and allowing [educators] to fully embrace [their] role in evangelism and ministry.”

“These videos were not only a fun cooperative venture,” Michael W. Campbell, NAD director of Archives, Statistics, and Special Collections, said, reminding Adventist educators that 2024 will mark 150 years since the formal organization of Adventist education. “These videos provide a window into what makes Adventist education unique and valuable. It was a delight to see educators’ faces as each film made its debut at the NAD educators’ convention.”

With an engaging narrator, authentic photos, artifacts, and texts, the series highlights pivotal moments in the trajectory of Adventism’s unique school system. A summary of each episode appears below.

Turning Points #1: “Time”

The first Turning Points episode explains how “this earnest group of believers [went] from vehemently denouncing education to building one of the world’s largest private educational systems.” It highlights the vital role of 19-year-old Martha Byington, who recognized that education would strengthen Adventist children’s ability to be light in the world, in establishing the first classroom.

Turning Points #2: “School”

Formal Adventist education traces back to a chance encounter between gifted educator Goodloe Harper Bell and young men with a thirst for knowledge. This video highlights Bell’s significant but oft-overlooked contributions as the first Adventist educator and founder of Battle Creek College.

Turning Points #3: “Vision”

Seventh-day Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White’s education was cut short due to an unfortunate accident at age nine. Still, she became an unexpected proponent of Adventist education. God’s vision for a holistic curriculum — physical, moral, mental, and spiritual education — drove her passion for, and influence on, all spheres of Adventist education.

Turning Points #4: “Conflict”

With exponential growth came rising tensions. The Adventist education system reached a crisis point precipitated by intense disagreements between Battle Creek College leaders Goodloe Harper Bell and Alexander McLearn. This video illustrates that what seemed like the end was a new beginning.

Turning Points #5: “Light”

A decade after the crisis, apathy threatened to undercut the principles of Adventist education. By now, except for a worship service or religion class, Adventist schools were barely distinguishable from their secular counterparts. Responding to Ellen White’s stirring challenge to the church, pastor and educational administrator William Warren Prescott called for the first educators’ convention in July 1891, spearheading a bold new course for the languishing school system.

Turning Points #6: “Future”

This final video offers an overview of continued gains in Adventist education after Ellen White’s passing, such as accreditation, standardized curriculum, and teacher training. After decades of hard work, the Adventist school system is fulfilling its vision of balancing academic excellence with a ministry mindset.

In her book Education, Ellen White stated, “In the highest sense, the work of education and the work of redemption are one” (p. 30). Turning Points challenges viewers to participate in this critical work.

The original version of this story was posted on the North American Division news site.

Christelle Agboka, North American Division News