Liberty: The Crown Jewel of Education

The 4th quarter 2020 Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide was dedicated to education. Over the course of the thirteen weeks the studies covered a wide range of educational topics, almost all of which, given their context, appropriately centered around church and spirituality. In this essay, I wish to cast the education net a bit wider to highlight its most important role: liberty. Indira Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India, expands on the notion that education is a precursor to freedom. She argues that “Education is a liberating force, and in our age it is also a democratizing force, cutting across the barriers of caste and class, smoothing out inequalities imposed by birth and other circumstances.”

This liberating force manifests, by necessity, as the unlocking of dormant potential within an individual, a reckoning arrived at mainly through the educational process. The individual thus liberated can turn his or her attention outward to the freedom needs of their community. This is a predictable sequence that has frequently been validated in oppressed communities throughout history. The case of colonial Africa is a poignant reminder of education’s liberating role.

Formal European colonial rule in Africa commenced after the signing of the 1885 Berlin Treaty, which ushered in the infamous Scramble for Africa (1884-1914). Colonial rule, intended to regulate European colonization and African trade, lasted “only” about 80 years, but the ill effects of this coordinated European grab are still with us. The treaty laid down, in a matter-of-fact way, that no European claims to any parts of Africa would be recognized if the claimant did not physically occupy the area. Before this treaty, which was signed by all the major colonial behemoths – Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Portugal – a European nation could claim “ownership” to an African land mass by merely building a small fort or castle on a strip of coastal area.

After the treaty, European nations would, in short order, militarize their invasions as proof of conquest. They would not content themselves with occupying small coastal areas, as was their previous practice, but would push deeper into the continent to claim their spoil. At the height of this pillage, every African country, Ethiopia and Liberia excepted, came under one European rule or another. And in every one of the occupied countries, the native economies, politics, culture, and later, education, would be restructured to serve the interests of their “mother countries.”

In the end, when a privileged few lord over the many, they make “mistakes.” And a key mistake made in the colonial African situation was the decision by administrators and overlords to extend education, patterned after the colonizing powers’ practices at home, to the locals. Soon a promising few from the emerging educated class would be groomed to “assist” the colonialists in the day-to-day management of the colonies. And as is concomitant with education, many, when given a little draught, yearned for more. And thus confirms Alexander Pope’s maxim: “A little learning is a dangerous thing. Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring. There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.” So, many would stream to Britain, France, Belgium and other European capitals and the United States, to further their education.

Out of this crop emerged Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Obafemi Awolowo, Hastings Banda, Jomo Kenyatta and many others. They would champion the independence, first of their individual countries – Ghana, Tanzania, Nigeria, Malawi and Kenya – and later assist other African countries to break their colonial shackles. This produced the African independence tsunami of the late 1950s and 1960s. And ultimately the total ridding of European colonial hegemony on the continent. While there were other contributing factors to decolonization in Africa, it is unimaginable that such speedy progress would have materialized without educated leadership.

The transformative power of education is hardly a matter of dispute. And yet, in certain religious circles, primarily among fundamentalists and ardent conservatives, there is an unhealthy suspicion, if not denigration, of higher learning. I recall one of my college professors who never tired of pointing out that Ellen White (EGW) had only a third-grade education, but God used her more powerfully than a hundred Ph. D holders. Translation? God does not need educated people to accomplish his goals. This same teacher frequently referenced an early EGW statement which suggested that it is a mistake to evangelize the “higher classes” (a euphemism for the highly educated). The full quote: “Our success will be in reaching common minds. Those who have talent and position are so exalted above the simplicity of the work, and so well satisfied with themselves, that they feel no need of the truth” – Testimonies 3:39 [1872].

Years later, when I had no opportunity to brandish it in my professor’s face and seek a rebuttal, I came across another more nuanced EGW pronouncement written almost 20 years after the one quoted above: Mistakes have been made in not seeking to reach ministers and the higher classes with the truth. ... We have had altogether too much talk about coming down to the common mind. God wants men of talent and good minds, who can weigh arguments, men who will dig for the truth as for hid treasures. These men will be able to reach, not only the common, but the better classes. Such men will ever be students of the Bible, fully alive to the sacredness of the responsibilities resting upon them” – Testimonies 5:580-81 [1889].

It is as though we committed to a certain kind of education in our beginnings. A little learning. Just enough to get by. But then the enterprise took off. Too well, some argue, because now the church operates fine accredited colleges and universities across the globe, each committed to varying degrees of academic excellence, making it difficult to perpetuate parochialism. That might explain why a frustrated General Conference President would anoint Weimar Institute as possessing the blueprint for Adventist education.  Not Andrews or Loma Linda University but a small unaccredited college owned and operated by conservative Adventists, unaffiliated with the church. Liberal Arts Adventist college and university campuses are sometimes viewed by ardent conservatives as infused with the devil himself, since these institutions teach unorthodox material and don’t allow unverifiable proprietary knowledge to go unchallenged.

Some of our church leaders seem to simultaneously espouse two irreconcilable positions. First, a tepid but necessary pro-education stance in which they profess an amorphous belief in education. This is the stance by which our vast educational enterprise is predicated. But there is a second strand: an equally forceful anti-intellectual bias by some leaders who, ironically having availed themselves of the same academic training, cast aspersions on, or even repudiate the necessity of higher education.

But why? A simple reason some religious leaders are weary of higher education is the fear that educated believers tend to think more critically and then question received dogma when things don’t add up. Otherwise why attempt to disparage that which one has seen fit to attain? We have data spanning centuries in human history that affirm this reality, in both secular and religious realms, that the benefits of education far outweigh being without.

For those who remain suspicious of and question the value of advanced education in the faith community, I offer Paul’s example. He was not one of the twelve and lacked the privilege of Jesus’ companionship during his three and a half years of ministry. Paul didn’t even know Jesus. But after his Damascus encounter, Paul would become the chief expositor of what it means to be a Christian. The New Testament would be hollow indeed without Paul. Thirteen of its 27 books were written by or attributed to him. Paul was the first to write about the Jesus story, well before the gospel writings credited to Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.

Without Paul, Christianity might have remained a largely Jewish sect, and likely would have withered on the vine in much the same way many Jewish sects of the era died. His notion of “justification by faith alone” stands as probably the most significant contribution to Christian thought of all time. It is not a stretch to wonder if there would even be a Christian Church, at least in the form we have now, without Paul. He not only expanded Christianity to include the marginalized gentiles, but also held his own among the elite philosophers at Mars Hill. Stack up the collective influence on Christianity of all 12 apostles, and they will still not measure up to Paul.

And what’s the difference?

Education.

Paul had more. The other apostles?  Hardly any.

 

Matthew Quartey is a transplanted Ghanaian who now lives in and calls the Adventist ghetto of Berrien Springs, Michigan, home. 

Previous Spectrum columns by Matthew Quartey can be found at: http://spectrummagazine.org/author/matthew-quartey.

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

 

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11077
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Very well said. A Christianity that does not give the authentic letters of Paul their due is a misguided Christianity.

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Because the willful ignorance of Seventh-day Adventists has historically been so aggressive and all-encompassing, we can list large swaths of knowledge that most SDAs have refused to encounter, as follows:

  1. History of thought between Bible times and Protestant Reformation–SDAs have historically believed and promoted the Great Apostasy Myth, which holds that between Bible times and the Protestant Reformation the church went bust. Accordingly, for most SDAs, this stretch of roughly 1500 years is a complete blank. No one during this period of time is deemed worthy of study, such as Athanasius for example, who was a greater exponent of the Trinity than White Ellen.
  2. The Classics–The foundation of Western Civilization has been deemed inappropriate for SDA study, because these ancient Greek and Roman thinkers were pagan. Very few SDAs have ever read anything in The Classics.
  3. Books written by non-SDA authors–Bill Knott, editor of Adventist Review, wrote an editorial several years ago decrying the widespread and stubborn belief of SDAs that only books written by SDA authors should be read.
  4. Fiction–SDAs have demonized fiction because it’s “not true.” What they don’t understand is that with respect to truth, fiction and history are the same thing. These are just literary devices that one can use in order to make a point. Fiction, i.e., a made-up story, can be and is often just as true as history. And history, which is not the past but an author’s representation of the past, can be and often is just as much a construction as a work of fiction.
  5. Hermeneutics–There is a great deal of SDA talk about hermeneutics, but only a handful of SDAs have read the standard literature in hermeneutics and have a grasp of the subject matter. Hermeneutics is not taught in the SDA Church or its colleges and universities. (The Seminary at Andrews University has a short course on hermeneutics/inspiration, but that class really doesn’t cover this subject matter. Trust me, I have reviewed all of the syllabi). Most SDAs are apprehensive and fearful of this subject matter, because they are worried that it might challenge and refute their religious beliefs.
  6. Evolution science–Similar to the reading of fiction, the study of evolution science has been highly discouraged because it’s “not true.” During the last decade, a civil war erupted as a result of bitter complaints about science teachers teaching mainstream science in science class.
  7. Opera–Many SDAs believe that opera is a sin. Imagine the pitiful savage who has never listened to Parsifal.

We can be thankful that there has been a lot of progress over the years; some notable SDAs today model what an intelligent Christian should be. But many highly-influential SDAs remain persistent in opposing that model.

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Important points and all true. Good article as well!

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Freedom of information is danger even today with high tech trying to control what we hear, read, and see; as do those who run our universities, and even public schools. There is a real fear of discourse.

Religious enclaves fear free exchange of ideas, of course. It reminds me of my favourite the Lenard Cohen’s song with the refrain-

There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.

Tried to post the song but could not. It’s worth a search.

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Sirje, I actually have an article in the works about this particular Cohen poem. Now I’m busted and have to shelve it. But what an insightful thought.

…:worried: Sorry.

We would still be interested in your take on the thought.

The “educational” level worldwide is just on decay. by globalisation and respects to Pisa and Bologna. Only skills, but not knowledges or insights are the issue of “education” - Of course one in a tiny village on Southern hemisphere is better off when just learning how to make a correct balance for his little enterprise, this having learned per email , rewarded with some B.A. . But read the latest “Adventist World” : Two of our scholars wrestling , yea, stumbling around with the problem of the verbs “telew” and “oida” : (For the latter : Our scholar obviously never has heard of Sokrates : “oida me ouden eidenai” or read Sophokles Antigone , verse 2 : " - ar’ oisth’ o ti Zeus twn ap ’ Oidipou kakwn - - "…

Sorry to say I am old enough to look back , also sharing the experience of my grandfather, a minister ordained 1907 who studied and studied and studied privately , coping with the poor training he had gotten at Neandertal / Germany. I remember Ferdinand Pieringer, of Viennese origin, the first principal of “our” Union academy Bogenhofen, him always saying : "Study, study, study - - ". He himself was a top scholar - - -once upon a time - - - After his retirement the curriculum was shortened and the “new” alumni receive their “skills” on the level globalisation has brought to us - - - we now easily meet the Level the world and Mrs Beardsley cherish.

"A lttle learning, just enough to get by - "

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Thank you, Matthew, for this wonderful article. For years, as an educational administrator, I watched as the Adventist church spent more on public evangelism than it did on the educational system it created. And that remains the case. I believe in Adventist education at all levels, but it is becoming unaffordable to an increasing number of Adventists - especially newer converts.

Already we see Adventist academies and grade schools in North America closing. Newbold College in England has been significantly diminished in scope - and it was the only English language higher education the church offered in all of Europe and Great Britain. AUC has closed - but it will only be the first. Other Adventist higher education institutions are at risk and will have to be closed or significantly be redefined.

Why does the administration of the church not seem to care?

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@AECW

Yes, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

The “insightful thought,” Sirje, is Cohen’s, not mine. And yours, for recognizing it. Here’s the refrain, each line so pregnant and busting at the seams with ideas:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

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Not to appear as one - sided : I just check the Adventist Higher Educaton Level and the one in the “World”. Professor Jo Ann Davidson of “Andrews” writes in the March 2019 issue of “Adventist World” about vinegar, quoting an Atheist Professor, Mrs Philipps, , dietitian / nutrition teacher / scholar ( ! ) from Purdue University :Well, such a nonsense about the poison “vinegar” ! - - And both are not aware of this. - - This within a Nation which had the first man on the moons surfce, which in its hospitals had the devices of radiation treatments decades before the rest of the world even knew what this should be good for ! Who gave us the Nun Studies on Alzheimer; who pays ( ! ) a Viennese Municipial Hospital (SMZ OST) for a longtime prospective study on developing Alzheimer ! - -

And just checking my / our sources : 2015 or so a “Spectrumite” from Australia informed us about the wrong citation out of Socrates scholasticus on Sabbath, so to be found in the SS Qaurterly. Well, I, just being interested in Sabbath history easily found access to the Latin original - the quotation presented to us is a clear deception. And poor religious journalism. And poor scholarship. - Once upon a time I never would have dared to present such in a paper written for my college - worldly Institution ! - here in Vienna.

But we keep up with lowering our standards in school education - since about 1980.

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No, I did understand that, but as you say, to catch the meaning and apply it is another thing. Let’s see where you find the cracks; and how you identify the light.

There is an impressive list of christian apologists who are able to articulate the “good news” in skillful, cogent terms with gentleness and kindness. The list that has captured my attention are all with very advanced degrees in many diverse disciplines I refer to the following list, which by no means is exhaustive, includes Dr James Tour- chemistry and nanotechnology , Dr John Lennox - Oxford mathematician, Abul Murray a lawyer who converted from Islam to Christianity, Dr Hugh Ross astro-physicist, Dr Fuz Rana- biochemist Dr Tim Jennings SDA psychiatrist Dr N.T. Wright- NT theologian .I’m sure many have their own list of scholars who they can cite.
The crisis in education both at the elementary and collegiate level is the dominance of left wing infiltration. Just look at what’s being taught as “liberal education” No reference to God is permitted, gender is being redefined socialism( marxism) is sprinkled through out all levels. social justice is major theme Compared to public education, almost any christian education is better than what’s been offered as liberal education (. indoctrination). I offer this link to Dr Jennings sabbath school lesson #6 -playing God. What ever you might think of Jennings ,he does offer a reasonable way to interpret these “last days” in describing the role of " Babylon " according to Rev 18

Dave Okamura

Yes, Matthew; I’m surprised at the interest in Cohen on this post.

Spot on, Matthew, you keep multiplying insights.

You put some thought in that response Phillip. I especially liked your analysis of the SDA attitude toward fiction. To put it in an irreverent way: “Sometimes you can only teach the truth though falsehood.” Concerning hermeneutics, it was briefly a part of the curriculum in the '70s in the AU Religion Dept. I think Steve Vitrano, Chair, started it. When he left for the Seminary I inherited it under the new Chair, Carl Coffman. The class lasted one or two quarters, then was cut. The argument was that each teacher should have the freedom to teach hermeneutics the way he/she chose. Kudos on opera. The propaganda against science has been so influential for so long I feel it has changed the structure of so many brains that it will take major deprograming to correct negative attitudes. Concerning Matthew’s reference to E.G. W. and working for more elite classes, I think she had the same attitude as J. Bates: find me a man who is “rational” and believes the Bible, and I will make a convert of him. As long as the first fundamental belief concerns the infallibility of Scripture, which is the word of God, science will have a hard time competing.

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I have fond memories of time spent in a class you taught. You were a great teacher.

My observation that hermeneutics is not taught in our SDA colleges and universities is not intended to be a slight. Ideally, one should have a terminal degree in one of the human sciences before studying hermeneutics. To do otherwise is like studying the Bartok violin concerto before learning the Bach concerti. There is no harm in a watered down out-of-sequence study, I guess, but the full flowering of the subject matter will in all likelihood not be explored.

Thanks for the memories! You have widened the scope of hermeneutics considerably from that presumed to be necessary for biblical interpretation which, expect for fundamentalist approaches, has been dominated by the influence of literary and historical criticism. What you observe about Bartok and Bach is beyond me, but I presume the observation would also be pertinent to studies of other musical genres: jazz, country music, Texas swing, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and the rise of southeast country which, as Nelson commented, “I’m not sure its country!” Maybe I am misunderstanding your point. However, similar conditions eventually drove me the study of the nature of metaphor, largely due to George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh, where they argue that all language is basically metaphoric, arising from conscious experience, expressed by gestures, sounds, directional expression, later grammar and syntax. Metaphors are neither true or false, rather they are evocative. One basically cannot get away from metaphor. Something similar turned up from studying the metaphorical and analogical nature of the way science progresses. However effective a hypothesis is that is inspired by a metaphor, what it evokes is only acceptable by scientific testing and utility. However, the metaphoric nature of scientific progress remains. Lots of guess work and accidental confirmation. I have applied this idea to religion as basically metaphorical. The same understanding of metaphors being neither true or false, rather they evoke, remains a primary element of hermeneutics. Reason, basically operates among evocations of metaphors and are responsible for ethical development. But here we depart from historical verification and move to art, the immediate impact, an epiphany, or conversion, from the art itself. No laws or rules of logic are the moving force but the nature of art itself, creativity, confronting the beautiful. I am continually developing these ideas on my website: adventistalumni.com. My webmaster does this for free, and my latest approach to the Sabbath has not yet been posted.

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