Two Faces of Adventist Education
by Chester Hitchcock, February 26, 2015: How thrilling it was to watch the PBS special called “Blueprint” that highlighted the reality of Adventist Education’s being superior to that of the public school system. As a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, I am delighted when we get such positive reviews in the public eye. What was even better was that it was not one of our own Public Relation efforts but was a result of an outside evaluation. The program was produced by Martin Doblmeier, an award-winning director of PBS documentaries, seeking only to document the facts about educating the young people of our day. Hopefully, this kind of publicity will have a positive effect on our schools as people look for better systems of education for their children.
Meanwhile, Mount Vernon Academy in the Ohio Conference is facing the difficult possibility of ceasing 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, there are unfortunately 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.” Furthermore, 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 aspect that makes the conversations difficult to have 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, such as the one in Ohio called “Ohio Ed. Choice.” 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 for such conversations are often viewed as lacking faith, or being against Adventist education. However, in the November 2007 edition of Ministry Magazine, Nikolaus Satelemajer writes in the Editorial: “Colliding spheres of church and state”: “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. Furthermore, 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.
A voice on behalf of the 70%
Pastor Chester Hitchcock