Who Sends Their Kids to Adventist Schools?

Aimee Leukert, education professor at La Sierra University, explains her research about the relationship between parents who choose Adventist education and Adventist culture ahead of her talk at the Adventist Forum Conference February 21-23 in Orlando, Florida.

Question: Your research on what kinds of Adventist parents send their kids to Adventist schools was the focus of your doctoral dissertation for Claremont Graduate University. So, who is investing in Adventist education for their kids and who isn’t?

Answer: In order to answer this question, I need to provide you with the context of my study. My research focused on Adventist culture — not doctrine or how many times you attend church — but the stuff of our denomination that is made up of Rook and banquets and ingathering. I wanted to see if there was a relationship between parents’ identity with the Adventist church — their culture — and where they chose to put their children in school.

After collecting over 1,000 responses from Adventist parents across America, I was able to stratify Adventist culture into roughly three divisions: high culture, medium culture, and low culture. Respondents who fell into the “high culture” category would have generally answered strongly in the survey questions dealing with Adventist culture. Examples of those questions included rating how they felt about statements such as:

"I make it a priority to keep the Sabbath day holy, both in activity and in worship."

"I live healthfully, which includes not eating or drinking harmful things."

My findings demonstrated that there is indeed a correlation between culture and school choice. Respondents who score low in Adventist culture tend to put their children in a non-Adventist school. Adventists who are “in the middle of the road” tend to put their children in Adventist school and those who have high Adventist culture scores tend to homeschool their children.

Declining enrollment figures at Adventist schools of all levels is not news. But I did not know the impact of homeschooling was so significant. Give me an idea of the numbers of Adventist parents electing to homeschool their children. And how does that compare to 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago?

Ugh — I wish I had an answer for this, but I don’t. I do know that, based on my findings, the Adventist community has a much higher percentage of homeschoolers than America in general. I think the percentage of homeschoolers in America is about 3-4% of school-aged children, while in my study, there were some unions that had over 20% of their respondents attest to homeschooling their children.

What reasons do Adventist parents give for electing to homeschool?

I have lots of anecdotal evidence — but nothing empirical. I’ve heard that our Adventist schools have become too watered down and that they’re “not Adventist enough.” I’ve heard that they’re too expensive or lacking in quality academics and teaching. I’ve heard that homeschooling provides more flexibility — both in time as well as curriculum.

Do Adventist parents who don’t send their kids to Adventist schools tend to choose other private schools, or public schools?

That’s a great question! That’s something I could tease out of my data, but I don’t have that information offhand. When we did the analysis, we lumped “other private school” in with “public schools.”

What reasons do those parents give for their choices?

I conducted another smaller study in which I did ask parents why they chose the school that they did for their child. Reasons they cited included school safety, proximity of school to home, teacher quality, curriculum, and technology.

Do you believe the quality of Adventist education has fallen?

Absolutely not. In fact, I wholeheartedly believe the converse is true. There has been so much research done in education over the decades — there is so much knowledge now about issues such as neuroscience and brain-based learning, learning styles, grit and resilience, pedagogical techniques. All educators — Adventist or otherwise — are exposed to more data and information about teaching than ever before. School leaders have a better understanding of learning now than we ever used to — and as a result of this, we have stronger curriculum, more effective approaches to classroom management and motivation, and a wealth of resources to use in the classroom.

But the benefit that our teachers have — our trump card, so to speak — is that our Adventist education system gets to use all that knowledge, all that research, and integrate it with our holistic approach to education. We have always believed in educating the whole person and when you combine that with our growing body of knowledge, it really is an unbeatable package. The quality of Adventist education has not fallen — it continues to rise.

How many people did you survey for your study? How were the respondents chosen?

I distributed the survey instrument through a variety of ways: social media, church bulletins, NAD briefs to pastors, union communiqués, etc. There were two main criteria: respondents had to identify as a member of an Adventist church and they had to be parents of K-12 school-aged children.

I ended up with over 1,000 respondents: 1,113, I think.

How did you decide what questions to ask, and how to categorize respondents?

The survey instrument covered three different domains: general religiosity, doctrinal commitment, and Adventist culture. The questions that pertained to the first two categories were drawn from previously published, validated instruments. In other words, I “cut and pasted” for those. The culture questions were developed through the extensive research I did in the first stage of my study. I followed a methodology called “cultural consensus analysis” to determine first that there is a cohesive culture in Adventism (in America) and second, the items that are indicative of that culture.

What recommendations do you have for Adventist administrators and educators when they look to the future?

Boy, this is such a loaded question! A couple of things come to mind:

1. Stay the course. We do what we do well. Our system is full of brilliant, compassionate, committed educators who teach because it is a calling and a gift. We need to continue our legacy of offering high-quality education in a Christ-centered environment. We need to own and be proud of our commitment to education as a ministry and believe that there is no greater, more honorable job than the one we haven sharing Jesus to children.

2. Be open. One word that surfaced in my research on Adventist culture is that we are insular. Insular. I think in some ways, that is what makes our community so strong and closely networked. We have all experienced walking into an Adventist church in another city or state or even country and recognizing someone from our elementary or academy days! There’s something so heartening about all things familiar in our culture. However, “insular” certainly has negative connotations as well — and I think our schools should be encouraged to continue being the hands and feet of Jesus by reaching out into the community at large and opening their doors to all children.

What advice would you give to parents who are choosing where to send their child to school?

All I can speak from is my own experience and decision-making process and that is… I want my kids to be in an environment that mirrors what my husband and I teach and value at home. I want my kids to fall in love with Jesus and I feel it’s my responsibility to provide them with every opportunity possible to be introduced to Him. I want them to see adults who have real, genuine relationships with Christ and to have that modeled every single. day. I want my kids to have teachers — these committed, loving individuals they see for sometimes more than I see them every day — who love them, who pray for them, who share examples about how Jesus has worked in their lives. And for me — that’s Adventist education. That’s why I have chosen Adventist schools for my kids.

Parents need to decide what they ultimately want for their kids. What do they want from a place that is home to their children for at least 35 hours a week? At the end of the day, what do you want your children to walk away with? Define that clearly for yourself… and then choose accordingly.

Tell us more about your connection with Adventist education.

My parents were introduced to the Seventh-day Adventist church in their mid-20s and so when my brothers and I came along, they were committed to putting us through Adventist education. We all attended Adventist schools from kindergarten through college. My brothers graduated from Pacific Union College and I did both my undergraduate and master’s at La Sierra University. I was blessed with amazing teachers every step of the way. I still keep in touch, in fact, with many of them.

You will be speaking at the Adventist Forum Conference in Orlando in February. What will you talk about?

Whatever Bonnie [Dwyer] wants me to talk about! But seriously, we are still working out the details. I’ll be able to share my research on Adventist culture and facilitate a panel that includes young adults — which I think could be a fascinating conversation.

You are an associate professor in the education department at La Sierra University. What are you teaching future teachers?

The classes that I teach range from undergraduate students to doctoral candidates. Depending on the class, we look at curricular alternatives, lesson plan design, research methods, and service learning opportunities.

Read more about Aimee Leukert’s research in this previously published article.

Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.

Photo courtesy of Aimee Leukert.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10199
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Thank you to Ms. Leukert for this important research.

The numbers of homeschoolers in the denomination is an important part of today’s SDA educational environment. Many local church’s put a significant portion of their budget toward schooling, yet the homeschool children are not included in this financial outreach. In my area at least 50% of potential SDA schoolchildren were being homeschooled 10 years ago. And I wholeheartedly agree that the homeschooled children were from “high culture” families as defined by this article.

This move toward homeschooling has led to an exacerbation of exactly what homeschool families assert—that SDA schools are no longer “Adventist” enough because the families and children that added to the “Adventistness” are gone. Sometimes this can mean that the school is not even Adventist enough for the “moderates”. It’s a vicious circle. Teachers and curriculum can not replace the influence of the cohort.

The advice given here to parents is good and entirely appropriate. My only caveat is that parents must check out the SDA school available to them to be sure that it actually represents what they are seeking for their children. All SDA schools are not the same and parents will have to carefully tease out whether their local school can supply what their children need. In my experience Adventist schools are all about the teachers. Be sure that the teachers are what you are looking for. Unfortunately teachers often do not stay long, so it can be difficult to be sure of what you are “signing up for”.

The assertion that Adventist education has improved because of increased knowledge in the general field of education is unfortunately a non sequitur. If current knowledge was actually being applied, what was asserted would perhaps be true. Of course all education should be improving, and it is—in general. As noted private school teachers are unconstrained in their teaching in the way that public school teachers are. However, my experience has been that teachers in private, but not Adventist schools, have been far superior to any other teachers. (And the public school teachers I encountered were quite good, too, but had to work within very tight parameters.) Due to a lack of accountability in the Adventist educational system the teachers I’ve observed were not required update their skills in the classroom. They may have attended conferences and used new curriculum, but they had “ears that would not hear”. Those who personally desired to be excellent were excellent, but many were either resistant to encouragement from administrators or were not asked to “modernize”, I cannot be sure of which. Unfortunately for children, spending a year or sometimes two (many SDA schools still have combined classrooms with two or more grades together) with an inadequate teacher leaves the student with a deficit which may never be corrected.

Parents should not listen to the hype and the boosterism. They need to pay attention and evaluate the situation to know what is best for their children. This can be very difficult. In a culture which prizes k-12+ SDA education, and with grandparents putting pressure on parents. Deciding to go elsewhere can have negative consequences on a family’s social life and family relations.

Edit: Until we encountered the Adventist culture where we now live my husband and I would have rightly considered ourselves “high culture” Adventists. We had always lived a traditional SDA lifestyle without any forays into what would be considered “liberal” practices. But we were and are unlike the group in which we now live. In other words, I’m not entirely sure that how “conservative” or “moderate” SDAs are perceived is the same across the NAD.

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I would have considered my household / family “ high culture “ in being extremely supportive of Adventist health values and attendance not at only at weekly sabbath worship hours but at many other church events.

When our family moved to Southern California, many decades ago, with four school age children, it was our intention to place all four in the local SDA twelve grade school.

We interviewed the principal, who informed us, correctly, that his school faced some educational difficulty in that the student body had two disparate groups.—- children from high income professional families, who from birth onwards had parents who fostered their emotional and educational development. There were indeed, in that community a plethora of Adventist doctors, dentists, attorneys, MBAs. engineers. architects. and CPAs.

The other group of children, were the offspring of recently converted from Catholicism, Mexican migrant workers, who had minimal cultural input in their pre school years.

We were a very liberal, non racist couple, but that information gave us pause— our real estate agent showing us prospective homes, was a Stanford graduate and we asked her advice.

She informed us of two prestigious private, expensive, single sex schools in our neighborhood and that is what we chose. They had academic excellence because they could screen their incoming students, and the affluent parents had given their children every cultural advantage before pre school!

We were extremely happy with these choices — especially the girls school for our three daughters, since girls do especially well in a single sex school, without the dominance of males! Our fourth grade son entered a classroom of only eleven boys, taught by a PhD teacher!

Our children, through all their growing up, though not in SDA schools, were very active in the Adventist Church youth group, and we remained a very “ high culture “ Adventist family.

My later regret, was that I had not sent my four children to Adventist colleges, with their supportive, dedicated faculties, smaller class sizes, and wholesome student bodies.

My wife and I had met at the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania and later had Harvard faculty appointments, so we gravitated to sending our children to elitist colleges, to which our children’s private schools, gave them easy admission access.

So two of my four children have Ivy League degrees, and a third, although admitted, chose to attend a small Lutheran College.

As a result, none of my four children are currently Adventist — my regret!

However, I make the pertinent, potent observation, that my other church families who throughout, sent their children to SDA academies, colleges, and even those who have Adventist graduate degrees —- many of those are no longer Adventist either !!

I have a very right wing, fundamentalist family member, who refused to send her daughters to those “ worldly” Adventist academics — she consistently home schooled.

However, home schooling fails when children with special needs, are not adequately helped. One of the daughters is extremely dyslexic and with other problems. A good public school,would have diagnosed the problem early on, and given expert remedial help.

This stubborn mother, has refused all outside “ worldly “ help and so the poor girl, now in her late teens, is illiterate and neither able to read nor write! I find that unless the parents themselves are very educated and talented, they fall short of giving their home schooled kids an adequate, broad, well rounded education — ill equipping them for future career opportunities.

Also home schooled kids lack social inter action with other children

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It would be interesting to see a breakdown of the respondents to the survey and specifics on some of the answers. What was the percentage of urban, mid-sized, small-town respondents? What percentage of parents in each category are generational Adventists as opposed to newer converts and how did this status impact those responses? What is the percentage of parents who made their decisions according to each category (financial, ideological, curriculum, quality of teacher, size of school available, etc.). What is the regional breakdown for respondents and how did the answers vary per region?

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Why do you regret that your children are not Adventist? I’m genuinely interested in your thoughts on this. Thanks.

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Question: Are they Practicing Christians?
Since one went to a Lutheran College, there should have been some
compulsory Christian Education at some time.
I was a part-time day student for 2 years at a local Non-Denom. College.
They had required Chapel for full time. Many guest Christian speakers.
Promoted the Christian Athlete programs.
I enjoyed the Religion classes I was required to take.
Do they practice/promote “The Law” as described in Exodus 21,22,23 and
Leviticus 19? [These are HOW the 10 Commandments are lived.]
Carol – would be interesting for these to be “Yes”. Would show the continued
effect of SDA upbringing and copying parent influence.

PS-- I would add such Scriptures as Psalm 112 and Isaiah 58:1-11 which are
COMMENTARY on Exodus and Leviticus. And I would add Micah 6:8.

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Parental choice of schools for their children is more a function of their social class than religiosity. Socioeconomic status and ethnicity are major determinants. This is borne out by research.

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Could you link to some study, etc., on this topic, please? Thanks.

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My experience over the years with the “high culture” Adventist home schoolers is they have the unappealing habit of looking down their noses at those families where the children are not also home schooled. They also seem to have a disdain for the local Adventist educational institutions as well.

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CFOWLER
You ask an Interesting question:

WHY DO I REGRET THAT MY CHILDREN ARE NO LONGER ADVENTISTS ??

A very interesting question indeed— because I myself at age 84,
am gravitating away from Adventism — more particularly since I have
found other non SDA congregations whose truly sublime, inspirational
worship hours are more fulfilling to me, than my local SDA congregations, with their disorganized worship hours and too long sermons!

I am itinerant in my retirement, and the two Sunday churches I now attend
— in different states / cities , both have senior women pastors.

Quite truly, I have become despondent over the GLACIAL pace of women’s ordination and the lack of inclusivity of our LGBT members,
in our world wide church — although I concede that some rare individual churches are more enlightened.

As to my children — my YALE daughter, now a practicing MD dermatologist, is not a Loma Linda graduate —- if she were would she now still be a Christian and not an atheist ?? She and her husband were both raised Adventist by very conservative parents, but are now non believers.

However, they are upright, moral, ethical individuals, highly regarded in their social circle and in the community.

My Columbia graduate daughter has lived in London for many years and just happened to attend a local UNITARIAN church with a largely expatriate American congregation . She teaches Sunday School there and also preaches the sermon on occasion . However UNITARIANS do not regard themselves as Christian, and neither do my two London grandchildren.

So one set of grandchildren are atheists and the other consider themselves non Christian, although the UNITARIANS do worship the same God we do— also of all the multiple denominations, the Unitarians are the most accepting of their LGBT offspring.

My other two adult children, if asked, would call themselves nominal Christians,
but have not attended any church for decades.

Some of this would make me guilt ridden in that none of the four ever had one year of Adventist education and some would condemn me for this and not be surprised at the end result / outcome.

However, I am more consoled when I know that close Adventist family friends, also have non Adventist adult children, despite the fact that they were heavily committed to Adventist education all the way from kindergarten through Loma Linda / ANDREWS graduate school.

We can never tell our adult children what to do— only set a good example!

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As a previous commenter already mentioned, it would be very interesting to get a demographic breakdown of the respondents, including geography, especially proximity to SDA schools. Publishing the geographic data would greatly increase my faith in the validity if the research. Otherwise, we are could be getting a heap of ghettoized respondents skewing the results.

Our kids are in public school because there are no SDA schools within 2 hrs and the conference academy is not a place I want my kids.

Which brings me to the issue of Quality. First, if the quality of SDA education is going up, why is enrollment going down? If something is really great, then people will use it. So, either the quality isn’t as great as the researcher thinks, or there are insurmountable barriers to access that need to be broken down. Second, whan the interviewee describes her positive estimate of SDA education, she talks about research, wholistic application, and resources, but can we name a school where these being applied? Third, it seems that a person must live near an SDA institution to have access to this Quality education, something that prevents a family like ours from having sending our kids (and I reckon that I am not alone). And finally, the financial burden of sending a child to SDA school, even if it is high quality, makes attending for our kids impossible, even if we could overcome the logistics and doubts about quality.

One more thing . . . I suspect that SDA education quality seems high in research only because the public alternatives are so low. SDA Ed should hardly be cheered for hopping a low bar.

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School choice and equality of opportunity: an international systematic review Deborah Wilson*, University of Bristol Gary Bridge, Cardiff University Report for the Nuffield Foundation Project reference: EDU/42625 April2019

The report has several key findings:
(1) School choice is associated with higher levels of segregation of pupils from different
socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds between schools. This finding is consistent
across all types of choice mechanism, in different countries, and across choice
systems that have been in place for different lengths of time

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Here in Macon, GA we have several public elementary schools
that are questionable. Passing rate for the State Tests each year
is between 50 to 70% for students. Most of whom are black.
Which means if they maintain that, they will be dropping out when
finishing 10th grade because they can’t keep up.

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Thank-you…I would have assumed the findings. Will take a look at the study later.

New Mexico schools are the worst in the nation. There are a variety of reasons for this- culture, poverty, history of the state, etc. Recently, the local news was celebrating the highest rate of High Schoolers ever at 73.9 percent which is a great surge but still behind the national average of 85%.

Thanks for your response, Robin.

Your children sound like wonderful people! I can appreciate, what I perceived, as your concern for the children and grandchildren who don’t identify as Christians. As a Christian (former SDA), I would have those concerns too. But, we never know where the Spirit will lead, or is leading in a person’s life. This may sound simplistic or naive to some people, and that’s okay.

I wouldn’t feel guilty about your children not attending SDA schools. So many people have left the SDA church, many of them multi-generational, totally steeped in the culture, and in the schools from elementary to post, post graduate. I know of people who are still attending the SDA church and they don’t identify as Christians. It’s just a cultural thing where they go because of family and friends. One that I know goes because he enjoys the music, plus the friends too, I’m guessing. Much more could be said on that topic, but I’ll leave it at that.

So true about adult children. Setting a good example, planting good seeds, then seeing what the HS does. Although, as an older person myself, we may not be around to see it. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Should Christians practice and promote the law as described in Ex 21, 22, 23 and Lev. 19? I’ve not seen Christians do this (even SDA’s), except for people who are part of the Hebrew Roots movement. There are others, who even though they say they are Christians, are living by the Torah, but don’t specifically identify with the Hebrew Roots movement per se.

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There have been some Christian preachers who say “the law” has
been abolished on the cross.
It is TRUE in SDA churches the 10 Commandments are quoted and
Pathfinders and Church School kids do memorize them.
But I don’t hear about HOW to put them into practice as in these
chapters.
SDAs refute “the law abolished group” by Bible Study on the 10,
but no time do we refute the “group” by asking what they think of
these chapters.

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Because public education varies depending on the state, it is very difficult to compare the SDA product to the public school product. Adventist schools vary as widely in quality as state schools. Essentially every conference operates as its own school system and even within a conference there are schools that are considered “mission” schools which do not follow the educational guidelines.

In my state, which ranks in the top 5 in the nation, SDA education has no hope of catching up to public schools. My observation is that Adventists choose SDA education because they wish their children to be Adventist—no more, no less. Some realize that the education is substandard and some do not, but all are basically willing to accept what the school has to offer because their top priority is passing on denominational affiliation.

The idea of “high culture” presented in this article is problematic to me as it doesn’t fully describe the group that chooses homeschooling vs. standard schooling as noted by Robin and myself. I would definitely agree that those who homeschool tend to be culturally conservative, but to a degree beyond what is within the norm. To borrow from recent articles reporting on Ron Lawson’s work I would characterize homeschooling parents as highly sectarian in addition to being “high culture”. This seems to me to add the element to describe the group which is missing.

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"My observation is that Adventists choose SDA education because they wish their children to be Adventist—no more, no less."

Yes…this has was been the primary reason through the years. This was particularly true (back in the day) when parents desired that their children marry fellow SDAs which made Adventist Colleges imperative to attend. I can’t imagine that this isn’t still true today for many SDA parents.

I still remember when future Pastors, Doctors, and Dentists, were big catches for those desiring a MRS degree. This may have changed to a MR degree for some now. :laughing:

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