When one thinks of Adventist Education, one usually envisions buildings, desks, and denominational employees. Rarely does the casual observer consider Adventist homeschoolers in this equation. Why is this? Why do homeschooling families receive pressure to send their kids to formal Adventist schools—and are not considered a valid Adventist education alternative?
Questioning denominational education practices is often as dangerous as questioning the value of any other church institution. Because so many sacrificed so much to create one of the largest parochial educational systems in the world, it is considered sacrilegious and unfaithful to question the current practices, vision, or performance. However, no matter how you look at it, our primary and secondary schools are in trouble. But does that mean Adventist education is in trouble?
A few years ago, I fell into the opportunity to pastor a church with an attached elementary school. It didn’t take me long to discern that the school was the highest priority for the local church. Using my previous management and consulting experience, I began my relationship with the church school board by asking questions. It was my desire to see them succeed and thrive.
Interestingly, my questions were perceived to be threatening and disheartening. This confused me. Questions, for the sake of clarity, could be useful in determining the past, present, and future of this small, 45-student school. I’ve since learned that questions in general are not well accepted within the Church.
As the school board struggled to balance the budget, increase enrollment, and improve parent satisfaction, we wrestled with many issues. The first issue on the table was that of academic excellence. The education superintendent (a conference VP) and the principal gave an impressive presentation showing the outstanding scores of students educated locally and nationally in Adventist schools.
Two other issues were discussed over the course of the next year. One was the number of non-Adventist students attending our local school. The majority of students, almost 90%, came from non-Adventist homes in the community. The other major topic was how we could get more church members to support the school by enrolling their children and by increasing the subsidy from the local churches.
Missing from these discussions were three big topics, which I addressed in three questions:
- What are the vision, mission, and values of the school?
- How well are we discipling the kids attending our school?
- Why don’t other parents with school-age children send their kids to this school?
To the first question, I was met with blank stares. It was almost as if I’d asked them if the earth is round or flat? My opinion of their silence is that Adventist schools exist because they do. It is almost as if no one ever sat down and thought about what the vision is—or should be. I believe Adventists schools exist to protect our children from the evils of the world and to shape them into good church members.
Of course this vision does not align with Ellen White’s original counsel to be evangelistic and service centers, designed to train (disciple) our children to be workers. Though one will hear this from well-credentialed education officials, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Most curricula are designed around academic and regulatory requirements.
This is not to say that a good many educators, and some schools, do not have a vision that is inspired and biblical. I have many friends who are professional Adventist educators, and I know where their hearts and desires lie.
My second question was met with confusion. Discipleship is a word and concept that is gaining traction in local churches, but it does not seem to have much meaning within the education branch of the denomination. In fact, I had to explain what I meant: “How are we teaching our kids to walk with Jesus, be like Jesus, and to make more disciples?”
When that question still drew blank stares, I made this bold statement: “I don’t care if my children grow up to be trash haulers or c-store clerks, what concerns me most is that they are in the Kingdom of God for eternity.” In other words, academic standards will not inspire me to send my kids to a formal Adventist school—but teachers who will disciple my kids will.
My third question was the one most frustrating to everyone. No one seems to know why Adventist parents aren’t sending their kids to formal Adventist schools. There are many opinions out there, but most of the opinions appeared to be defensive and designed to prove that Adventist schools are better than any other alternative.
Most of the stories revolve around people not being willing to spend the money; that people are unaware of the quality of education; or that parents don’t really care that much about their children’s spiritual welfare. All of these are far from the real truth.
Most of the anecdotes shared are designed to discredit those who don’t send their kids to the local church school. I wonder, what would solid market testing reveal? What if we did exit interviews, anonymous surveys, or even deeper research?
Interestingly, we are not the only pastoral family with young kids who have chosen to provide Adventist education within our home, instead of in an institution. Several of our friends, who are also pastors with young kids, are also homeschooling. Here are some of the reasons:
- We want to raise our own children and not outsource that responsibility.
- We believe we can better disciple our kids and prevent them from becoming merely cultural Adventist Christians.
- It isn’t about the money. Everyone can find a way to pay for what they value.
- We are concerned that bullying, negative influences, and otherwise harmful activities are common in public and church schools.
- We dare to shelter our kids from people and environments until they are old enough to make wise choices on their own.
- It is not about the academics.
I challenge professional Adventist educators to stop telling me I’m wrong, and how right they are, and start asking more questions.