fter a dozen or more years as a student and three decades as a teacher in our Seventh-day Adventist schools, I have had ample opportunity to witness strengths and weaknesses in the system—and to contribute to them as well. I have remained convinced that Seventh-day Adventist education is something to be desired by anyone seeking a wholistic education, one that challenges the mental, physical, and spiritual faculties. Each of these developed, bedrock components is necessary to prepare our students to be servants of the gospel in the world as they render the highest level of competence in their professional and vocational fields.
Throughout the history of our educational system we have continued to be committed to this threefold mission in varying degrees. The zeal with which we educators approach these components has often waned or waxed in direct proportion to the degree of interest they have received in secular education. While many of our educational objectives are the same as those in the secular realm, particularly in the mental or academic component, all of them are not. More important, none of our objectives in the mental, physical, and spiritual components are meant to stand on their own; they are meant to complement each other and, as a result, render individuals who are not only productive citizens of the world but also servants to humanity and ministers of the gospel. We realize that productivity, service, and ministry are not exclusive functions; they are integral to each other and, therefore, must be studied and practiced simultaneously to be most effective. Considering that all of our objectives are not aligned with secular education, it’s not in our best interest to use them to gauge the effectiveness of our wholistic education as we have often done.
I used to feel that our curriculum was reaffirmed when a student from another system of education transferred into one of our
schools and found it to be more academically challenging. These types of incidents served for engaging topics in faculty meetings and breakout sessions during in-service meetings and teacher conventions as we discussed them with a touch of pride in our voices. After all, our schools have lacked many of the resources available through government funding to nonparochial school systems, and yet we had the academic rigor to challenge transfer students from these schools. But what about the times the incident has repeated itself with the exception that the student is not being academically challenged in our school because their previous curriculum was more rigorous than our curriculum? What should we conclude then? Neither of these incidents should be used to determine the validity of our curriculum, because it is one component of the whole. It should, however, serve to inform us of areas in our curriculum that we need to continue to evaluate and improve.
Our curriculum is threefold, and we need to excel in all three components. All of our constituents—students, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, pastors (what takes place in our classrooms should work in concert with what takes place in their churches)—readily accept the priority of academics in our schools; however, what this should translate into has not always been clear or agreed upon. I’ve sat on school boards in the past that have argued that it was our responsibility to educate our elementary and secondary students to succeed in our colleges and universities, and that we are not responsible for preparing them to compete in the Ivy League universities of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and the like. This suggested that some of our constituents’ expectations for academic excellence were not as excellent
as the expectations of other school systems that produced students who could succeed in Ivy League universities. While there is certainly merit in having our students attend Seventh-day Adventist colleges and universities, this is not always possible, or desirable, based on an individual’s particular divine calling. Paul was called to minister to the gentiles; consequently, his constituents were not to be found in the synagogues. Global community and thinking, however, have changed this type of thinking, as evidenced by the Common Core Standards for Education that are being developed and adopted by many of the states—and by many of our conferences. It’s clear that excellence should not be a hit-or-miss endeavor, that it should not have many brands. It should prepare our students for any work they are called to do. I believe North American Division educators are now on board with that line of thinking.
When it comes to the physical and spiritual components of Seventh-day Adventist education, we breathe and think differently than other school systems—or at least our founding mothers and fathers did. The major objective—why we have a physical component—was to teach our students preventive health care so that they could play, work, and serve with a body and mind that would serve them excellently and with longevity. Excelling and competing in sports was never meant to be the driving force
behind the physical education component in our curriculum. In the past 20 years, however, competitive sports have become increasingly popular—and pivotal—in some of our schools’ public relations images. This is threatening to undermine the emphasis on healthful living and principles that are taught in our health classes and modeled by many of our faculty. As students stay out late on school nights competing in varsity and junior varsity games, they are often not able to get enough sleep so that they can be successful in school the next day.
The good news on this front is that there has always been uneasiness among our teachers and administrators about these conflicting interests, and a desire to reconcile them. Again, global thinking may also serve to bring about change in this area as it gives the emphasis and priority to healthful living practices that they deserve. While I commend such health initiatives as those of our first lady, Michelle Obama, Seventh-day Adventist education should have been in the forefront as the model and the initiator in healthful living practices for our students and, consequently, the world.
The spiritual component in Seventh-day Adventist education is one that has always had our full attention and focus. We have always prioritized it at times, even to the detriment of the academic and physical components of our curriculum. As all things of spirit, it is difficult to grasp and understand fully its far-reaching influence in all aspects of education. Maybe that is the point: it is prioritized best when we realize that it is inextricably woven into the viability of our entire curriculum. To prioritize it as a separate component in our curriculum weakens its effectiveness as well as the effectiveness of academic and spiritual components of the curriculum. The prophet Daniel understood that mind, body, and spirit worked together, and therefore none of them could be left unattended. If the spirit is separated from the mind and body, what is left is a corpse. That is why, when God breathed spirit into the inert body of Adam, he became a living being.
The spiritual education that is offered to the students in our schools is what characterizes the quality of work and service they render in our schools and in the world at large. Sometimes students are struggling academically or physically, but they have the spiritual awareness and understanding that they too are called to serve. They are then able to persevere through remediation, counseling, self-discipline, medications, prayer, or whatever forms the needed help takes.
As Christian educators and administrators, we too must be educated spiritually, physically, and mentally to be part of this viable system of education. And we are: every day as we stand before our students to instruct, we too are educated as a body of witnesses to the power of Seventh-day Adventist education. This is why, despite our weaknesses, we persevere toward excellence in Seventh-day Adventist education.
* Esther Ramos is a pseudonym. This article was published July 26, 2012.