by Cindy Tutsch
by Cindy Tutsch, April 28, 2014
In recent decades most North American educational institutions have closed their school farms and associated industries. Hence, it is becoming difficult for administrators to justify retaining ownership of the unused acreage that characterizes many older denominational schools. This has led to an increased interest in selling off “excess” institutional property to fund current fiscal challenges.
Is the short-term gain achieved by land liquidation the best solution?
In seeking an answer, we must first determine what makes Adventist education unique. What is the foundational philosophy that sets Adventist education apart from secular as well as other parochial educational systems? The core difference for SDA education is a holistic concern for all aspects of learning, including the development and nurture of body, mind and soul.
A challenge for today’s denominational educators is to attempt development of meaningful, practical and holistic curriculum models to improve learning, interest, and relevancy while still remaining true to our educational heritage. “Institutional land use” illustrates this dilemma. Ellen G. White, the denomination’s most significant educational philosopher, encouraged an education in a natural environment.[i] She stated “It would be a great aid in educational work could every school be so situated as to afford the pupils…access to the fields and woods.”[ii]
Ellen White also states, “Study in agricultural lines should be the A, B, and C of the education given in our schools.”[iii] In our Information Age, that uncontextualized citation might make us want to relegate her to the church’s attic of oddities. However, in overlooking the underlying principles that made this quotation relevant to its time and also to ours, we might unnecessarily find ourselves minimizing the cultural heritage and ideals that made Adventist education meaningful. If we establish the value of our “unused” lands based upon an old-school industrial model that only sees fiscal worth through the lens of resource extraction, then of course the conspicuous option is to sell the lands to the highest bidder.
Today, educational value is increasingly determined through the experiences that are gained from individual real-world interaction with our environment. In today’s fast-paced world, curriculum designers are challenged to plan meaningful learning experiences that can effectively compete with the cacophony of divergent stimuli distracting a “wired” generation. A campus, even one in close proximity to the city, can provide a type of haven through thoughtful use of its buffer lands. Gardens, forests, and open visual spaces can play an important role in maintaining a higher quality of life in a world of constant change. A holistic lifestyle, modeled and encouraged by teachers, can be combined with experiential education techniques to provide an education that is distinguished in its scope.
In recent years there has been a proliferation of research showing the moral development potential of the natural world. Yet Ellen White talked about the moral development potential in nature over a hundred years ago! She believed that nature provided opportunities to learn and deepen spiritual values if we are intentional in pointing to God as nature’s Creator.[iv] At a time when many educators are emphasizing the importance of school climate and environment to learning, it seems as if the trend in Adventism is toward a more urban environment that no longer sees the importance of land preservation.
How could ‘buffer lands” be utilized? Adventure, outdoor education and field studies can be incorporated into the formal curriculum to broaden the learning environment. Increasingly, researchers provide rationale for educating students through a broad variety of environment-based methods that foster higher level thinking, including sensitivity to ecological and aesthetic concerns.[v] The walking, biking, and heritage trails on school lands promote the holistic lifestyle that Seventh-day Adventists have been advocating for over a century, helping students achieve spiritual, mental, emotional and physical balance in their lives that will enhance their learning for life.
By surrounding our schools with God’s created works in which students can re-create, as well as developing innovative ways for including environmental studies into our curriculums, we demonstrate a relevant, holistic and distinctive educational system. We can be advocating Adventism’s unique lifestyle and philosophy while tangibly demonstrating that we have values that go beyond the short-term monetary benefit of quick land sales. This difference becomes increasingly important as fiscal challenges tempt students and parents to consider investing in their educational resources into non-Seventh-day Adventist schooling.
We have long proclaimed that our primary purpose is Educar Es Redimir—to restore man to the image of his Creator. Our philosophy suggests that true education is to train the youth for a life of service rather than an easy road to riches. These claims transcend the material world by prioritizing values of eternal significance. By demonstrating for our students values that cannot be bought and sold, we infuse our classes and schools with a vitality that money simply cannot buy. We must assign value to the environment, not just for its aesthetic benefit, but also from physical, philosophical and spiritual perspectives. This prioritization will stand in contrast to a materialistic perspective of natural resource exploitation. It ascribes the real value to communion with God in nature, stewardship, care for the environment, and a healthy active life in the outdoors.
For those, like myself, who consider Ellen White as a messenger of the Lord whose principles transcend societal change and economic shift, the vision she had about the purchase of Pacific Union College property is instructive for land-use decisions today. In her dream, Ellen was asked by the angel if she thought the prospective Angwin property suitable for an Adventist college. She answered that it was, but the funding for the purchase seemed out of reach. The angel answered, “Your only plan will be to purchase the entire property and keep every part of it under your control. Not one foot of the land should be allowed to come under the control of those who would work it on the Sabbath day.”[vi]
I don’t believe that God has changed His mind in the last 106 years about the sale of PUC property. Throw in the fact that not only would the property “be worked on the Sabbath day” but it would be clear cut for vineyards to produce alcohol, and I’m pretty sure God’s message to His people would still be, “Keep every part of it under your control.”
This blog is partially adapted from papers written by Kevin D. Grams, PhD. Used with permission.