Viewpoint: Adventist Education Has Two Faces

(Spectrumbot) #1

How thrilling it was to watch Martin Doblmeier's documentary aired on PBS called “Blueprint” that highlighted the superiority of Adventist Education to the public school system. As a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, I am delighted by positive reviews in the public eye. Even better was that it came not from one of our own public relations efforts, but from an outside evaluation. Martin Doblmeier, an Award winning director of PBS documentaries, sought about to document the facts about educating the young people of our day. Hopefully, this kind of publicity will have a positive affect on Adventist schools as people look for better systems of education for their children.

Meanwhile, Mount Vernon Academy in the Ohio Conference is facing the imminent cessation of its operation, as have so many other Adventist schools in the past. While the statistics may clearly demonstrate that our schools provide superior education and the graduates in turn have a better chance of entering college and being successful in the future, unfortunately, there are other statistics that we cannot rejoice in or proudly promote to the world. For instance, statistics show that only 30% of the Adventist families who have school-age children send their children to Adventist schools, and this is not something new. Sadly, many of our schools are suffering from low enrollment because only 26% of Adventist families have school age children. When only 30% of those children attend our schools, we have far less enrollment than we did when 66% of our families had school age children.

Hence we have at least two faces to Adventist Education. One is that of a superior education that even outside evaluation can discover, and the other is that of only educating 30% of our own children for generations. Could it be that the Adventist system needs to reexamine our Christian education plan if 70% of Adventist children have been missing out on it? Now there is a trend where the enrollment in many of our schools consists of more non-Adventist children than Adventist. While there are varying opinions on the pros and cons of this trend, ranging from being evangelistic to our schools being too influenced by non-Adventist children, the fact still remains that 70% of Adventist children are not getting an Adventist education, and that is the way it has always been, even in “the good ole days.” Further, while evangelism of non-Adventist children is important, we are losing the children that we have, and Adventism is an aging denomination.

These topics are difficult to discuss because our schools are so precious to the history of our church. That being said, I believe that everyone would agree that our children are more precious than anything else. It is also a difficult conversation to have because no one has come up with an answer to the problem. However, our failure to address the fact that our education system misses 70% of our children while our church has been losing the children that we have, often to churches without any school system, is troubling.

Another factor that makes the conversations difficult is that some of our church schools seem to be flourishing but depend heavily on the financial support of a retired generation, and/or government tuition assistance plans like Ohio State's “EdChoice” scholarship program. When the enrollment is good and the finances strong, no one wants to talk about what will happen when the retired generation is no longer around or the government assistance changes in a way that is not consistent with our beliefs. Unfortunately, those who urge conversation are often viewed as lacking faith or being against Adventist education. In a November, 2007 editorial for Ministry Magazine titled “Colliding spheres of church and state,” Nikolaus Satelmajer wrote:

Government has a legitimate function to perform . . . The church also has a legitimate function to perform. While the church needs to have the freedom to fulfill its mission, it should not depend on government to do this. When the church depends on the government to accomplish its mission the function of the church become compromised. If the church is faithful to God, the mission will be fulfilled.”

For the sake of Adventist education and Adventist children, I feel it necessary to express my concern and broaden my plea that churches, schools and conferences actively get engaged in conversations that address the fact that historically we have failed to educate 70% of our children. Additionally, some of our schools that are surviving have become dependent on government assistance, and the support of a retired generation. While we are blessed with the generosity of the retired generation, and while the government is cooperative with our teaching practices, it might be nice if we had conversations about how to become less dependent on the two.

Our churches have a lot of bright people who if given the chance and challenge to brainstorm ideas might, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, come up with a variety of innovations for financing Adventist education as well as ways to be involved in the education of Adventist children who remain in public schools.

For instance: Just as children receive classroom awards, incentives, and kudos for attendance, academic achievements and behavior in our schools, what if our churches instituted similar practices for all children who attend church. What if from birth to high-school graduation children could earn Adventist educational material for church attendance and participation? This would be hard to measure with statistics compared to enrollment in our schools, but if these types of things were developed that slowed the steady loss of our kids and increased their participation in church and understanding of our beliefs the results might be “out of this world”.

This is only one example, but if we entertained conversations for brainstorming without judging those who think outside the box as lacking faith, we might have much better ideas to consider.

Chester Hitchcock is pastor of the Medina, Barberton and New Philadelphia Churches in the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Steve Mga) #2

I have 2 Catholic Schools across the street from me.
A High School
An Elementary School in 2 buildings, one for younger kids, one for older kids.
It is very popular with non-Catholics. I have friends whose kids go there. A couple are teachers in the Public School System, and their kids go there.
I do know that they do hire some non-Catholic teachers.
All the students, Catholic, non-Catholic are treated the same. And this is understood.

What are we concerned about with SDA youth? Perhaps this is the main question. What is the nitty-gritty that we want the kids to learn? Just do well on their ACT scores? And begin 1st grade with that goal in mind? Or, is there something more? Is it just to understand the SDA view of the Bible. The SDA view of the Rules for Successful Living?

It seems that for Decades, maybe even back turn of last century SDAs have been too narrowly focused on what it means to have Christian Education. Actually I thought about this when I was a kid in the Junior Department as I was with so many church kids who did not attend Church School like I did. They were out of the “loop” of things and did not have Sabbath School relationships like we who attended Church School. They were nice kids, but we had no interaction outside of the Junior Class on Sabbath, and it was pretty much “no talking” in Sabbath School. So never got to barely say Hello on Sabbath. Some of them did not attend Pathfinders, so there again no opportunity to socialize outside of the “no talking” Sabbath School.
So for those kids, there was very little actual “Christian Education” available to them as far as systematic learning about the Bible, systematic learning about SDA lifestyle principles in a group setting. And I noticed that all the way through my 10th grade before I went to boarding school in 11th grade.
And it continues the same today as it did way back then.
I think talking about Christian Education for EVERY SDA child and youth in every SDA church needs to be addressed based upon a program that is discussed from scratch. Not cobbled together from Old Programs. It should be based upon What do we REALLY want to have as an End Result with each boy, each girl, in each local church at least in the North American Division.
Sorry for being so long winded. Steve.

(Rheticus) #3

Any school can be superior to average if it gets to filter its intake

(Elaine Nelson) #4

There used to be a phrase: “Adventist Education” but why not “Christian Education”? There are several large, well-established Christian schools in my city; one a Catholic high school and the others are non-denominational. If Adventists claim to be Christian, why not call them Christian schools? Or, is there something so uniquely different and very valuable and important that other Christian schools do not teach?

Why not cooperate with the Christian, non-Catholic schools in the cities and be part of the local educational system rather than separating like the old Jewish or traditional Catholics?l What is there to fear? There is such a taught fear of ecumenism that there is distaste of even meeting with other Christians to solve problems. Surely, Adventist students would be taught more Christian beliefs in Christian schools than the public schools. No wonder Adventists stand alone as being exclusive; refusing to meet the Christian educational needs of their children preferring public schools.


Perhaps we could also lament how few members are following the health message. Would that number also be 70%? If only 30% are availing themselves of a ministry or guidance that is offered by the church, does that negate the validity of that ministry? If the number 30% has been a consistent number for generations, how is this now cited as an example of failure? Poor Mt Vernon Academy. Is its legacy going to be that of a whipping post for Adventist Education’s failures? Mt Vernon Academy was technically already closed for business based on its enrollment. It just took a new President to close the doors. This would be sad except these students have other alternatives. There are many exciting things happening in Adventist Education. Distance Learning linking small schools, thriving boarding schools, home schooling combined with distance learning, improved standards across the board, students graduating going on to professional careers and participating in mission work. I have the privilege of witnessing these achievements first hand. If there is a failure of Adventist Education, it will be a failure of the parents to sacrifice financially to provide this opportunity for their children. I have not personally been able to find fault with the church in this area.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #6

Sad to say, it is not that Adventist schools are so great but that public schools are so bad. Private schools in the Augusta area are thriving.Catholic, Presbyterian, non- denominational. suburban schools are keeping pace, but inter city is a jungle. I pray for my great grandchildren who are now just entering school. ifAbraham were alive today he would praise God for being barren. Tom Z

(Elaine Nelson) #7

Tom, I only had two grandchildren, both of whom were educated at non-SdA schools and are just as fine Christians as any grandparent could wish. But they have not missed anything of value unless one finds learning all about EGW and the IJ, importance of Sabbath, and fear of the papacy. They were, and are top students: one a practicing psychologist for 10 years; the other a sophomore with top grades, having already received college credits with AP courses. This spring, checking out Berkeley and other top universities. I’m sure my two small great great grandsons will follow those examples.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #8

Ellan At the grandchild level, I am doing just fine also. one is chief purchasing agent for Gulfstream, another is assistant to the CEO of an intel company, and the third is a journeyman electrician. it is at the Great grandchild age that I have my concerns. Tom Z

(George Tichy) #9

I never understood the (i)logic of maintaining schools that are always in the red. What for?


Many issues have turned against the traditional SDA School

  1. Demographics are against us-Fewer families with school age
  2. Too expensive
  3. Inconveniently located-Transportation is an issue
  4. Many conservative SDA’s shy away from our schools because they do not teach their brand of Adventism and there are non SDA pupils found in our schools.
  5. Home schooling/Internet is an option that is not discouraged by leadership, it is cheaper and more convenient.
  6. Many SDA’s just don’t see the value in Christian Education
  7. The schools are to small and there is a lack of programs such as Sports, Music and the Arts
  8. Constituent churches cannot afford to keep subsidizing the schools. We can barley keep the lights on.
  9. The conservative reading of Ellen White on the subject. The parents are the best teachers, keep the kids home and warnings about “The Schools of the Prophets”.
  10. General apathy of church leadership and failure make youth a priority.

I may not be correct, but having gone through 16 years of SDA education and having sent my children to 12 years each, I have seen and heard all of this. Now being on the organizations education committee, I see it from another level and it appears to be deteriorating. It appears that SDA education is in a death spiral. I wish that this was not true, but it is a definitive possibility. When the Primary Schools go south, the Secondary Schools and Colleges are soon to follow. One bright spots are the Missional Schools, some seem to be thriving.

(Steve Mga) #11

You are correct. There IS a lot of Education going on among SDAs and parents among the churches are being proactive as to what style to teaching they believe is going to ensure their child[ren] success as they move up academically.
There are a variety of plans to choose from, depending on the interests and abilities of the student.
When my wife and I were on staff at a boarding high school in TN, my wife had visions of our daughters living at home for their Academy years. My oldest went to Mississippi for a year, to Moab, UT for 2 years and came back for her Sr year. My youngest went to CA for her Jr,& Sr yrs to be with her girlfriend [roommate] when her parents moved back from ADRA in Africa and the mother became girls dean out there.
As the article related, the percentage of SDA parents with children is way down. Here in Ga-Cumberland only 28% of members have a child school age [K to Sr in College]. And probably those parents have only 1-3 child on average.
The varieties of educational ways are not being coordinated and looked at in one big view by the local church, by the Conference, by the North American Division. Something that does need to be looked at is how to incorporate Jr and Sr high school students in to mission trips when they are not attending our academies. These persons need this experience also. Same with College age who are attending local college at home.
Our church is a graying church membership. Our church is a graying church among the leaders and pastors. Perhaps this is the difficulty. Older persons do not do well with radical new ideas and allow a younger generation full control with no interference from Old Minds, Old Set-in-their-Ways Minds.
THIS may be our Biggest Challenge!

(le vieux) #12

A poor excuse to avoid an Adventist school. Students in this country are behind other countries, not because of a lack of “Sports, Music, and the Arts;” they get plenty of that in the government schools. What they lack is what we used to call the 3 R’s. A good foundation in those paves the way for all other education. In an Adventist school, the 3 R’s plus a good foundation in the Bible, gives a student all they need to excel.

(Interested Friend) #13

Absolutely correct, Birder. I went to an SDA church school for 8 years and I went on to public high school and after the first six weeks of adjusting was getting very good grades. If you saw the impoverished church school, the teacher turnover and a library with fewer books than many home libraries one would nowadays predict failure.

Maybe I missed it but why do some parents who can afford SDA education send their kids to other Christian schools at the grammar and high school levels? I see it in our own church.
In The Grip of Truth

(Joe Erwin) #14

Personally, my best educational experiences as a student were (1) homeschooling; (2) public community college; and (3) graduate school in a public research university. I also had some good experiences as a student and as a teacher in SDA schools. My children and grandchildren were educated in good public schools at all levels. My best teaching experiences at the university level have been in public universities–especially top-notch public research universities (there were more really great students).

Pre-college level public schools often do not have the opportunity to be very selective regarding admission. Public schools that are in areas that are overwhelmed with poverty and crime and social problems and are required to attempt to educate all comers and handle all disciplinary problems are in a very different situation than schools where students can be expelled if they are too problematic.

Yes, I think there is a place for private schools, even adventist schools. I’m not very supportive of indoctrination and miseducation, but if students learn to read and write and get the fundamentals of science and math, within a context in which learning can occur, so be it. If they learn enough to have later access to greater breadth and diversity, fine.

Many public schools are quite good. Many are not. It is shameful when it becomes necessary for people to send their children at great expense to nonpublic schools out of concern for their safety or to protect them from dangerous scientific information.

(k_Lutz) #15

It appears that the indoctrination has worked.

Trust the Process.

(Carolyn Parsons) #16

I know a parent of an elementary school age child who has just started to send her daughter to a local public school. She had been going to the SDA day Academy but was spending too much time getting her to and from school.

The factors influencing her decision were:

  1. Distance: In the Puget Sound area housing costs are very high. This means that many people live and work at a distance from where the day academy is. Getting up at 3 in the morning to take a student to school, working a 10 hour shift and driving back to pick up a student and getting home late. This is unworkable.
  2. Attractive programs: A local school has advanced programs and after school programs that enrich the academic environment.
  3. Cost: Though the tuition is doable for one of her children, the other is getting to school age and two tuitions would be too much.

These are the real-life choices being made by parents, especially those who are tight on time and resources.

(George Tichy) #17

Why don’t you ask those parents in your church and then tell us their reasons. This may be very revealing info.

(Carolyn Parsons) #18

Sports probably, but not Music and Arts. Public schools have dramatically reduced offerings outside of the core curriculum necessary for standardized tests on which teacher pay and additional federal funding depend.

(George Tichy) #19

There are specialized schools of arts and conservatories where parents can send their talented students. Much better than some generic classes in HS or so.

(le vieux) #20

We home-schooled our kids, and then they took some of their basic college courses at the local community college and got good grades. With all the resources available today, any teacher can make a classroom successful if they work at it.