This year's Autumn Council generated much interest with its focus on reconciliation and mission. Yet General Conference President Ted Wilson chose neither unity nor mission, but education as the topic of his October 8 Sabbath sermon. A gift copy of Ellen White's Education had been placed at each seat, and he recommended it as both a complement to the educational instructions in the Bible and a book that could change the direction of our institutions.
More than once in his message, Wilson made reference to God's educational model, and he urged us to follow it. This model for our educational work is found in the book he gave out and is in total harmony with the biblical injunction that God's commandments "shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children" (Deut. 6:6,7).
We only need to read as far as the second chapter of Education to find that "The system of education instituted at the beginning of the world was to be a model for man throughout all aftertime. As an illustration of its principles a model school was established in Eden, the home of our first parents" (Education, 20).
These definitive statements are followed by a description of the model school. "The Garden of Eden was the schoolroom, nature was the lesson book, the Creator Himself was the instructor, and the parents of the human family were the students" (Education, 20). Adam and Eve were instructed "to dress and to keep" the garden (Gen. 2:15). "Useful occupation was appointed them as a blessing, to strengthen the body, to expand the mind, and to develop the character" (Education, 21).
In the model school, God spoke His Word directly, nature was the textbook, and useful work developed body, mind and character. Man's disobedience banished him from that garden school, but it remains the model today. “Under changed conditions, true education is still conformed to the Creator’s plan, the plan of the Eden school” (Education, 30).
Jesus followed the Eden school plan in His earthly life. "His education was gained directly from the Heaven-appointed sources; from useful work, from the study of the Scriptures and of nature, and from the experiences of life—God’s lesson books" (Education, 77).
A time-sensitive educational imperative came to the church in 1897, with dire and shocking consequences should we fail. “Now, as never before, we need to understand the true science of education. If we fail to understand this, we shall never have a place in the kingdom of God” (White, Mind, Character and Personality, Vol. 1, 53). That same year, we were told we must “educate the children in the truths of the Word of God, which are so essential for these last days, and which it is so important for them to understand." (White, Pamphlet 140, 24).
The reason our children need to learn Bible truth is specified. "A great test is coming: it will be upon obedience or disobedience to the commandments of God" (Pamphlet 140, 24). Certainly, Sunday legislation was a serious threat in the late 1800s when blue laws were being legislated, but the national Blair Sunday-rest Bill had been defeated in 1889. A look at what was happening in American education in 1897 reveals another side to our need to understand true education and know our Bibles.
“In the final years of the last [19th] century, a great transformation began in American education” (Paulo Lionni, The Leipzig Connection, Preface). During that time, in a laboratory at the University of Leipzig, Dr. Wilhelm Wundt developed the new science of experimental psychology that would ultimately lead to a redefinition of teaching completely foreign to “the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers” (Education, 13).
The transformation of American education came through Americans earning prestigious German doctorates from Leipzig and bringing experimental psychology back to the United States. Wundt’s former assistant James Cattell became head of Columbia University's psychology department in 1891 and, by publishing journals and organizing his colleagues, he brought experimental psychology into mainstream American thinking.
In 1897 James Russell came to Columbia with his doctorate from Leipzig, ran their Teachers College for 30 years and made it the largest institution in the world for training teachers. “Thus, in 1897, the stage was about to be set for the propagation of Wundt's laboratory psychology throughout American education” (The Leipzig Connection, 25).
The problem with experimental psychology is summed up in its definition of teaching as “the art of giving and withholding stimuli with the result of producing or preventing certain responses” (Edward Thorndike, The Principles of Teaching based on Psychology, 320). If that reminds you of Pavlov’s dogs, it should, for to educational psychology man is an animal.
God says, "The education of children, at home or at school, should not be like the training of dumb animals; for children have an intelligent will, which should be directed to control all their powers" (White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 3, 132). Control is the issue, whether children will learn self-control or be conditioned to yield control to others. When the great test comes, those who have been trained as animals will find it extremely difficult "to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
"Bloom's Taxonomy," first published in 1956, has been the textbook on educational goals for K-12 teachers and college instructors alike. Benjamin Bloom, after whom it was named, wrote, “The purpose of education and the schools is to change the thoughts, feelings and actions of students” (All Our Children Learning, 180). It is no longer just the godless content of the world's education that is fraught with danger, but its goals and teaching methods as well, though they be worded to sound ever so innocuous. Surely in our day, God’s people are not safe following the world's educational program.
In addition to all this, our church's schools are being threatened with legal problems. A bill introduced in the California Senate in February, 2016 proposed withholding state funding from postsecondary schools that do not conform on gender-related issues. The language that would seriously affect our schools was subsequently removed, but attorney Jon Daggett, who has represented the church in California, said, “Some of our schools, depending on where they are located, will be in a fight for their life in the next year or two” (Andrew McChesney, Adventist Schools Told to Be Distinctively Adventist to Minimize Legal Trouble, Adventist Review Online, Oct. 7, 2016).
Potential legal problems may motivate us to follow certain counsels we have had for years, such as, “Let us determine that we will not be tied by so much as a thread to the educational policies of those who do not discern the voice of God” (White, Counsels to Parents, Teachers and Students, 255). One such thread might be the influence of regional accrediting agencies. Another might be the Common Core State Standards, for "We are not at liberty to teach that which shall meet the world’s standard or the standard of the church, simply because it is the custom to do so” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 6, 142).
Wilson's strong appeal to follow God's educational counsels must be heeded "now as never before" (Mind, Character and Personality, Vol. 1, 53). As representatives from San Gabriel Academy testified during Wilson's sermon, our schools can return to God's educational model and receive His blessing. This will require prayerful study, a willingness to change and painstaking effort, for "it is most difficult to adopt right principles after having been so long accustomed to popular methods…. There have been hindrances which have tended to keep us in common, worldly lines, and to prevent us from grasping true educational principles." (Testimonies, Vol. 6, 141).
Notwithstanding the hindrances, "Reforms must be entered into with heart and soul and will…. That which the Lord has spoken concerning the instruction to be given in our schools is to be strictly regarded" (Testimonies, Vol. 6, 142). Simply stated, “We need now to begin over again" (Testimonies, Vol. 6, 142).