A BRIEF HISTORY
God’s original plan for the education of His children was established in Eden and centered around the family unit. God was the teacher, and it was from Him that instruction was received (Genesis 1-3). In the Old Testament, we read about the School of Prophets which was initiated by the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 19:18-24). It is clear in these writings that Samuel was instructing and teaching. Also, in 2 Kings 2 and 4:38-44, we read about groups of men who were leaders of schools and communities and who were devoted to God and served Him. These community leaders followed the teachings of Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha, and were known as their “students.”
The New Testament shines a bright light on Jesus, the Master Teacher. From the life of Jesus, we discover that no one can be a great teacher if they don’t love, know, teach, and live by the sacred truth of God. Jesus was the Master Teacher because truth originated with him; thus he could speak with authority (Matthew 28:18-20). Moreover, He was the Master Teacher because of the subject matter of which He taught—God, God’s will, the results of obedience and disobedience in our earthly life. In addition, He had perfect knowledge of the people whom He taught (John 2:25). Also, He was the Master Teacher using a methodology of clarity and concreteness. He taught to the needs of the person using illustrations such as the pursuit of farming, fishing, building, cooking, buying land, and many others, along with the overall purpose of His mission on earth, which was “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10; Matthew 1:21; 1 Timothy 1:15). He had a desire for His children to know God and His truth (John 17:3 and John 8:32). Finally, Jesus was the Master Teacher because of the scope of His vision, with the clarion call to go and preach [teach] the gospel to every person in the entire world (Matthew 28:18; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:45-49; Acts 1:6-8), no matter their race, nationality, or gender.
It is from the lessons and examples of Jesus, the Master Teacher, that Adventist education had its beginning. There is no educator in the history of the world whoever had a broader vision of his audience. No person ever had as clear an insight into the most crucial needs of humankind as did Jesus. The basic needs of His children are to know God, to be strong enough to reject the deceitfulness of sin, to develop a relationship with Him, to become a child of His, to live a life of hope and wholeness, to love all (including one’s enemies), to gain peace of mind, and to live daily in the hope of something better—the promise of eternal life (Titus 1:2; 2:13; 3:7).
In numerous books, including The Adventist Home, there is an interesting statement that reads, “Our church schools are ordained [authorized] by God to prepare the children for this great work. Here children are to be instructed in the special truths for this time and in practical missionary work. They are to enlist in the army of workers to help the sick and the suffering. Children can take part in the medical missionary work and by their jots and tittles can help to carry it forward. . . . By them God’s message will be made known and His saving health to all nations. Then let the church carry a burden for the lambs of the flock. Let the children be educated and trained to do service for God” (p. 489).
Ellen White recognized that, as times were changing, public education did not share many core values or beliefs of Adventist families and many families did not have the ability to educate their children at home. Our churches, families, and schools were to partner in Adventist education in a shared responsibility. She also noted that the Lord had instructed her to speak on this topic. From the book Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, she penned, “Our schools have been established by the Lord; and if they are conducted in harmony with His purpose, the youth sent to them will quickly be prepared to engage in various branches of missionary work. Some will be trained to enter the field as missionary nurses, some as canvassers, some as evangelists, some as teachers, and some as gospel ministers. . . . This is a very important work, demanding high ability and careful study” (p. 493).
WHY IS ADVENTIST EDUCATION RELEVANT TODAY?
We recognize that Adventist education has come a long way since 1853 when Martha Byington opened the first known church school for Sabbatarian Adventists in Buck’s Bridge, New York, and in 1872 when the first sponsored church school opened in Battle Creek, Michigan. Today, in the North American Division (NAD), there are 918 schools, from early childhood centers and programs to elementary and secondary schools, and 13 colleges and universities, all providing an Adventist education to just over 74,000 students (adventisteducation.org/stat.html). Furthermore, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has associations with a total of 8,515 educational institutions operating in more than 100 countries around the world, with over 1.95 million students worldwide. Adventist education remains the largest Protestant education system globally.
In an interview with Dennis Plubell, North Pacific Union Conference vice president for education, he stated that “in the mid-1990s, a focus on improving Adventist secondary education in the 21st century was articulated in the publication called FACT-21. Five years later, this led to the publication of Journey to Excellence in 2002, which covered kindergarten through grade 12 in scope. The underlying construct from the beginning has been to affirm and secure that which is core to Adventist education. With this knowledge of our central purpose clearly understood—the Why— then we, as Adventist educators, are urged to engage in innovation and improvement in all other areas, to be on a journey to excellence. The excellence we ascribe to our Creator and Redeemer should elicit nothing less than the best.”
A lot has happened in education in the past 20 years. The world has changed and is rapidly changing. but Adventist core values and their purpose have not changed. Our goal is to update and adapt our methodology to better reach a new generation of learners and to prepare them for service in 2022 and beyond. In February 2021, during a virtual conference, the Association of Seventh-day Adventist School Administrators (ASDASA) provided its education leaders with the framework of Journey to Excellence 2.0 (J2E 2.0), challenging all educators to a commitment to growth and excellence (journeytoexcellence.com). The three main areas outlined in J2E 2.0 as adapted from Betty Bayer, director of education for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada:
Why: Clear Purpose
The clear purpose of Adventist education is to lead students to encounter Jesus, accept His gift of salvation, and follow Him. Optimal student learning can only be achieved with excellence when there is an unwavering focus on the sacred purpose and the divine partnership in Adventist education. The clear purpose must be visible in all curricula, instruction, assessment, and support practices.
How: Core Elements of Learning, Collaborative Culture, Capacity Collaborative Culture, Capacity Building
The Core Elements (coherence, authenticity, competencies, metacognition, Adventist worldview, structured lessons, purposeful assessment, equity) capture the importance of assessing, planning, implementing, and reflecting in a cycle of continual improvement.
In a Collaborative Culture, educators work together at all levels to assess, plan, implement, and reflect. The involvement of everyone leads to smarter decision-making while reinforcing the value of each individual.
Capacity Building is an investment in people—educating, equipping, encouraging, and empowering educators so that they can engage and prepare their students for lifelong learning and service.
What: Commitment To Growth
Commitment to growth compels educators to a recurring cycle of improvement, a journey to excellence. Adventist educators must commit to reflective learning from God’s Word, school data, instructional research, and professional practice to improve learning for themselves, their colleagues, and their students.
Adventist education has been serving the World Church for almost 170 years. In 1903, Ellen G. White wrote the book Education, which sets forth the unique and challenging idea that “the work of education and the work of redemption are one” (p. 246). The ultimate goal of all learning should be to understand more about our Creator-Redeemer and reflect that understanding in our personal lives and our students.
Arne Nielsen is the North American Division vice president for education.