Contemporary Reflections on Adventist Education

Published:
October 2, 2019

Education is usually defined as a system of methods of teaching, instruction, and learning in the setting of a school or university. When we start evaluating education we usually speak about philosophy of education. Harvey Siegel mentions that the philosophy of education is Janus-faced, looking both inward to the parent discipline of philosophy and outward to educational practice. (In this respect it is like other areas of “applied” philosophy.)[1] I will not discuss here details of philosophy of education except that I want to emphasize that Adventist Christian philosophy of education follows the same principle explained by Siegel. It is looking at both philosophical framework and real day-to-day educational practices. It has a theoretical foundation which has to inspire and drive practices and policies.

It seems we are facing a gap between ideals and practice like in every branch of human endeavor. My goal in this essay is an attempt at reducing this gap by presenting an innovative understanding of the meaning of Adventist–Christian education and reevaluating its practice. I will provide some of the experiences in the Adventist educational system which will be incorporated into the main body of the text. I want to start then with what I believe are some of the basic tenets of Adventist education philosophical framework.

Adventist Education is Redemptive/Salvific but also Academically Competitive

Adventist Christian education on all levels has for its foundation the fundamental principle of the sinfulness of human beings and need for redemption/salvation which includes transformation into the image of Christ and implications of this transformation, namely living by the high moral standards of Christian faith.

From Pathfinders and local parish schools to Colleges and Universities, Adventist education stresses the salvific principle of education. Education has a redemptive purpose, and it is not just accumulation of information and knowledge. Faith and learning integration is based on this important principle. However, looking at this magic formula of integration we must not undermine the learning/teaching or academic part of this formula.

I believe that Adventist education should substantially strengthen academics even more. In this competitive world in which we live it is not enough to have a distinctive redemptive element of education. Education has to remain what it is: rigorous and intellectual scientific inquiry of the existing world, including a high level of scholarship and a research component both for faculty/teachers and undergraduate and graduate students. It is well known that except for a few Catholic universities there is no Christian university at the top U.S. level of ranking for research and academic performance. There are specific historical reasons for that, and I agree it is not just about academic quality. Adventist schools should strive to become competitive academically. High school GPA has to become an important requirement again. Only then might parents contemplate investing their finances into our educational system. Every school and university can do this gradually over time and transform itself into academically competitive environments.

Adventist education, therefore, is first education, and it has to grow toward the competitive Christian school system.

Education, as we stressed, can be redemptive only if it remains first what it is: education — academic training with high standards and rigorous academic policies. Redemption does not exclude reason and scientific exploration. On the contrary, redemptive principles include holistic views of human being.

Adventist Education is Holistic

This is one of the hallmarks of Adventist education, if not the primary philosophical foundation. Body, soul, and spirit (in holistic sense) have to be developed simultaneously. “Harmonious development” of all human faculties stressed by Ellen White has its origin in Greek philosophy with its anthropological principle (philosophy) and later on a healthy Christian biblical approach to this principle. Both stressed that the goal of education is holistic well-being or flourishing of human being. Overstressed, overloaded teachers, students, and administrators cannot participate in flourishing. Every aspect of Adventist Christian education follows the principle of an exciting learning journey based on the well-being principle. Flourishing is impossible without the balanced use of intellectual, mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical faculties — all under the umbrella of the Lordship of Christ.[2]

Adventist Education is Existential — not only Theoretical/Biblical/Theological

Adventist Christian Education, because it is education, cannot involve only God’s supernatural revelation or theoretical framework of how the world functions according to Christian worldview. It has to include the principle of searching, seeking, and exploring the Unknown in interaction or dialogue with other worldviews, religions, and philosophies. In this sense, it has to ask some basic philosophical questions and continue to ask them: Who are we, where are we coming from, where are we going? Yes, these existential questions are dealt with within Christian tradition but every new generation, in the completely new context, has to ask same questions in dialogue with other philosophies and contemporary cultural elements. Adventist education is existential; it asks basic meaning questions though it is Christian. Students themselves have to seek for answers in the comfortable atmosphere of dialogue and seeking for these replies with teachers.

If Adventist education remains only a finalized and fixed theoretical system of understanding God’s revelation, it cannot fulfill its prophetic and polemical purpose. We have to enter into dialogue/polemics with other religious and philosophical systems, and this can be done only on the existential philosophical level because all human beings struggle with the same basic questions on the meaning of life. Isolation of Adventist Christian education is detrimental to its purpose and missional goals.

Adventist Education is Interactive and Engaging

Adventist Education, by its very nature of being Adventist, is interactive and engaging. The social activism of Adventist intellectuals, students, and administrators is not a luxury; it is a mandatory calling from God of communicating the Gospel in the complex intellectual or cultural world. This communication is not just theoretical or even prophetic; it is practical and applied. Adventist education has to have passion for political activism, social justice, community needs, hearing of people’s voices, etc. When it first started, Adventist education had a great impetus for this kind of holy work in this world. By the time Adventist education had become distinctively institutionalized it had lost its fervor and enthusiasm for the sacred work of interacting and engaging. It might become fearful of different political and cultural influences and unfortunately isolated our administrators, professors, and students from the possibility and huge potential of engagement. Adventist education is at the forefront of every cultural, philosophical, ethical, and political debate because it is engaging.

A few more observations follow based on my experience.

Some Additional Observations

To attain all these sacred goals, Adventist Christian education has to become affordable. Price should always match the quality. If we wish to reduce the price, the top administrative levels of the Church administration should invest much more into education as a redemptive and missional effort of the Church. Percentage of subsidy at all levels has to be much higher because when we invest in education we invest in redemption of souls and the future of the Kingdom of God.

Finally, our educational institutions traditionally should support the concept and practice of transformational leadership. Neither purely charismatic nor servant leadership (with its obvious weaknesses) will fulfill the mission of our Universities. Our schools need visionary, transformative leaders, leaders who will use their strengths for the benefit of the academic community and for the purpose of building up and recognizing the strengths of every community member. CEOs, CAOs, or CFOs who are detached from the needs and purposes of the community and its members, even in secular education, are losing the perspective of what education is about. We are in desperate need of visionary transformational leaders who will listen, lead, and implement policies that benefit the learning community. This is the demonstration of the integrity principle, so much debated in the contemporary 21st century of higher education. We can produce the next generation of knowledge explorers and makers only if we seriously commit ourselves to values of integrity in transformational academic leadership. The renewed sense of integrity, competence, competitiveness, and strategic vision will revitalize Adventist Christian academic institutions and send a strong message to the world that Adventist Christian education still matters.

 

Notes & References:

[1] Harvey Siegel, “Philosophy of Education,” Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/philosophy-of-education

[2]See my peer reviewed article on intersection of psychology and Christianity discussing how each faculty of human nature should be subject to the Lordship of Christ https://indieskriflig.org.za/index.php/skriflig/article/view/1908/3672

 

Aleksandar S. Santrac, D.Phil. (Belgrade University, Serbia), Ph.D. (North-West University, South Africa), is lead pastor of the Chesapeake Conference, Columbia, MD. He is also extraordinary researcher and professor of dogmatics and dogma and church history at the Unit for Reformation Theology and Advancement of South African Society, North - West University, South Africa; online tutor for graduate studies in dogmatics, philosophy, and ethics at the Greenwich School of Theology, UK; member representative of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Observer) to the Faith and Order Commission, National Council of Churches and member of the Ethics Committee at Washington Adventist Hospital.

Photo by Baim Hanif on Unsplash

 

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