by Dean Waterman | 28 January 2020 |
Not much has been written about why many parents in the Adventist denomination commit to sending their children to a Seventh-day Adventist school. In a recent article published on Adventist Today, “Why Our Children Aren’t Attending an Adventist School Anymore,” the anonymous author (who chose anonymity to graciously protect the school they wrote about) shares why they and their spouse chose not to send their children to their local Adventist school: inadequate facilities, funding, and teachers that used the school as a stepping stone to something better.
With understanding for that parent, I offer here my personal perspective as to why my wife Jody and I have made the decision to place our children in Adventist schools, and why we fully support Adventist education as a whole. We are not blinded to the various faults some of our Adventist schools have, many we have experienced first-hand; however we believe the blessings found in the Adventist educational system far outweigh the negatives we, and others, have personally experienced. From my vantage point, Adventist education is the ministry with the most potential within the Seventh-day Adventist Church, from elementary schools to higher education institutions.
Perhaps our decision, and my bias, for Adventist education is personal, as I spent most of my elementary and high school years in an Adventist school, and attended an Adventist college as well. I believe the love, guidance, and influence of several teachers made a significant impact for me, and changed the trajectory of my life. I don’t know if I would be a pastor today, nor have the numerous other blessings I enjoy also, had it not been for the godly teachers who took time to model Jesus, minister to a rebellious teen, and mentor in spiritual matters. Having experienced these personal blessings, as did my wife, we wanted them for our children as well.
Moving for Education
Several years ago, after a poor experience in our local Adventist school, our family was compelled to find a more suitable academic solution. Our children were in transition, with our oldest ready to enter high school, and youngest three years behind. Our options were limited for another Adventist school close by, leading us to a critical decision time; homeschool, send our oldest to boarding school, or another outside-the-denomination solution. We never really gave serious consideration to boarding school or other private schools, and homeschool was off the table as well. This led to a specific prayer for God to lead us to an Adventist elementary school and high school that would provide the level of education excellence and influence we believed were important. This brought an unexpected move 1,200 miles west, from Virginia to Keene, Texas, home of Southwestern Adventist University. Our decision was based on the quality of Chisholm Trail Academy and Keene Adventist Elementary, as well the leaders and teachers in each school who were committed to Adventist Education, and each student enrolled in their respective school. Three years later we have never regretted our decision.
I understand our situation is unique, and not every family is able to move as we did. When an Adventist school locally doesn’t meet a parents expectations they are left with few choices; remain and accept the status quo, or find another suitable alternative, whether home school, public school, or another Christian school. For those who live near an Adventist school, I share my convictions on why the school is relevant, and also challenge leaders of these schools to self-examine, and make the changes which might be needed in order to offer our young people the educational environment they deserve.
Adventist Education Impact
Christian education as a whole, exemplified within the Adventist education system, gives teachers and staff a unique ability to mentor young people, minister to them spiritually, and model Jesus in the classroom and out. Education is the formation of the mind, character, and in Christian schools, spirituality. By nature children and youth are formed by external forces, leading us as Christian parents to ensure the forces shaping them are positive, directing them to a higher knowledge of God, and a connected relationship with Him. I wouldn’t leave this to just any teacher, or school, for there is much to risk of our children’s future by doing so. One misstep can change the trajectory of a child for years, if not a lifetime. Furthermore, I’ve spoken with parents who chose options outside of Adventist schools, specifically public school, who were quite alarmed at what their children were learning at a young age, giving these parents pause, and reconsidering their investment in Adventist schools for their children’s future. Adventist Education, at its best and most productive, can, and should, lead young people to a deeper relationship with God first, followed closely by success in academics, preparing them for life and careers, while shaping each student holistically in character and personality development.
Committed teachers, connecting with young people every day, have opportunities that far outweigh the contact any pastor will have with their congregation. The average teacher will spend 1,260 hours in a school year with a student! From first to eighth grade this equates to ten thousand-plus hours a teacher spends with the student, with over five thousand hours spent together in high school. Should a young person continue in an Adventist college or university, after twelve years in the local school, this is over twenty thousand hours! What an impact teachers can have in the lives of their students in our Adventist schools!
With the hours of impact available, teachers can have an indelible influence in the life of each student. This extends far beyond the pages of a textbook, but into areas of real life, from overcoming challenges, critical thinking skills, and developing a life-long relationship with God. These opportunities are powerful, and beneficial, with thousands of stories that bear witness to teachers who took advantage of the time with their students, and changed lives with their commitment.
Adventist Education Present
To not acknowledge present challenges facing many Adventist schools would be naive. I have experienced some of them personally, and empathize with parents who have become disappointed in their local Adventist school. My support and appreciation of Adventist Education gives me an earnest desire to be a part of solving pressing concerns and challenges that many schools are experiencing currently, causing many parents to choose an alternative, with often better results. Some challenges are equally shared among Adventist schools, while others are unique to individual schools. Those in common are: complacency, mission drift, tenure, lack of resources, and tepid support from the local church, and at times, the local pastor. The individual school issues I’ve seen firsthand include one teacher for all grades, inadequate facilities, irrelevant technology, and outdated curriculum and methodologies. The challenges many Adventist schools face must be addressed by local leaders, with the support of the local conference the schools reside in. To not do so is a failure of influence within the local church, the students the school serves, and the community.
In viewing these challenges as a parent, and not a pastor, it is left to me to determine how much involvement I would be willing to have addressing these challenges, and holding a school accountable to the standard of excellence each student deserves. It is easy as a parent to be dismissive of a school’s issues and moving a child elsewhere, but perhaps the needed changes can occur if parents become part of the focused solution. There is too much at stake to take the education of children lightly, and the right environment can be a difference-maker.
Conversely, Adventist school leadership cannot be upset with parents who are convicted their children must attend elsewhere, outside of the Adventist school system. The old thought process of sending our Adventist children to Adventist schools, just because they are Adventist, is done for. A rich educational experience is what each school must offer a student, and striving for excellence is a must if any Adventist school is going to compete for the tuition dollars, and commitment, from parents. Parents will always look out for their children first, and rightfully so, they would like to know the school their child attends is looking out for them too.
The Potential of Adventist Education
The best years of Adventist education can be ahead. There are thousands of us as parents who support the Adventist educational system. There are thousands yet in our communities and churches who would support the local Adventist school if the issues that plague the schools can be fixed. It is dependent on each Adventist school to choose excellence, and put out an educational product second to none. Adventist teachers desire it, parents desire it, young people deserve it.
Ellen White gives the most clarion call to the purpose and possibilities of Adventist education, and challenges all who will listen, from parents to educators, to support Adventist schools, and strive to make them even better. “Our ideas of education take too narrow and too low a range. There is a need of a broader scope, a higher aim. True education means more than the pursuit of a certain course of study… It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers.” From Pre-K to graduate school in the Adventist education system, the purpose and potential remains the same: to engage young people in holistic growth. Sadly, not all parents have seen this conviction in their local schools.
My wife and I are still committed to the best education for our children. We began with home-schooling, and then moved our children to the local Adventist schools. We have chosen to place our children in Adventist education, believing it to be the best option for them. Over the course of their future, and eternity, we will never regret our choice, and the sacrifices we’ve made to do so. We are respectful of other parents who did not have the options we did, and do not have a local Adventist school present in their community, or one one that is giving their child the best opportunity for the financial investment. For that reason we are committed to be part of the necessary change in Adventist education, so every family that desires to place their child in an Adventist school will be given the best advantages possible.
- White, Ellen G., Education, Page 13 ↑
Dean Waterman and his wife, Jody, live outside Keene, Texas, with their two children, Joseph and Andrea, where Dean currently serves as a pastor for the Texas Conference. Both children are students at Chisholm Trail Academy, with the oldest graduating this coming spring, ready to move on to Adventist higher ed.