Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Let's Talk About Educational Revolution

A Legacy of Revolution
Our schools were first established in the 1870’s and we’ve believed in wholistic education since the beginning.  But we weren't the only ones, we were continuing a revolution started with the Protestant Reformation.  The early reformers understood that to be effective they needed to develop an educated mind.  The development of an active, curious, self-actualized individual is the fertile ground God intended for us.  

Luther and Melanchthon saw the path to reform in education. “To neglect the young in our schools is just like taking the spring out of the year.  They indeed take away the spring from the year who permit the schools to decline, because religion cannot be maintained without them.”

Under this belief these two reformers reorganized the schools in Eisleben and Madgeburg.  These schools had several key elements. 

First, teachers did not burden the children with too many books and studies.  They focused on how to think, what to think or the goal of covering every inch of a curriculum.

Second, the theoretical was always be matched with the practice. “They should learn to do, by doing”; was the mantra.

Third, independence of thought and individuality was honored and protected.  

Forth, competitive testing and pomp and circumstance was avoided.

These schools thrived until the counter reformation.  Not only was a counter system created, but it began to actively infiltrate and subvert the Reformation system.  You can mark the decline of the Reformation to the popularity of the new Counter Reformation system in education.  

Later in the United States Thomas Jefferson tried to create an education system based on the Reformation style.  It worked for a time until it began to follow the European style.  

God tried again to raise a movement when the early Adventists began their education system.  But eventually that revolution faltered in the late 1800’s. Enamored with pomp and circumstance and the trappings of the prestiges European and American secularized colleges, our institutions began to change.

It was at this time Ellen White, freshly back from Australia, boarded a boat with her son and several like minded revolutionaries, Sutherland, Magan and others.  Their goal explore the opportunities to restart the educational revolution in the South. Many of our current schools can trace their origins and founders back to this little boat.

For decades now we have studied our decline.  We have become convinced of the crisis and apparently the inevitable shrinking of our system; but crisis is actually an opportunity!  Here’s why, human nature will not easily allow for change and revolution without crisis.  

Our schools grew in the beginning not out of loyalty to the denomination, but instead out of a shared purpose and action. We were a movement instead of an institution; we were purposeful.  Called to make our communities better though meeting their practical needs of health and education. Then once proven trustworthy, sharing the gospel.  As we have grown into an "old" organization that purpose has been obscured by tradition. 

We stopped asking ourselves "Why" and settled for "Because".  For many years that answer was enough to keep us afloat, but as those generations went though our schools they found, that answer, to be dry and empty. 

We've tried to sell Adventist Education for its ability to make Adventists, and to raise test scores, but these are not the most compelling reasons for Adventist Education, they are by-products of a deeper answer. 

The answer to why Adventist Education is valuable is that it creates men and women who know Jesus. Men and women of action; skilled in the practical application of the knowledge they acquired. Who are driven to create opportunities for themselves and their communities.  We make the world around us better!  We fulfill our Creators intention.  The light on the hill that draws the world to Him is not a static activity of waiting, but an active search, reaching out into the darkness.

In studying the original blueprint it has become clear that our schools were never meant to stay insular in nature.  They were to be the embodiment of the great commission.

Just as the medical training at our colleges and hospitals was meant to reach out into the community and offer better living.  Adventist Education was meant to do the same, reaching out with the message of wholistic education.  

Done correctly the two arms of ministry make the surrounding community healthier, better educated and aquatinted with the Savior.  Freeing minds and bodies to hear and understand the gospel.  The left and right arms of our denominational work reach into the world drawing them to the body of Christ’s church.

This mission also serves to keep us focused on moving the gospel forward.  "When (the church) failed to continue the constructive work, which is centered largely in the education of the youth...internal dissension arose.  Their time was spent very largely in criticizing the views of their co-laborers who differed with them on some unimportant points of theology.  They paid much attention to doctrines, and spent the most of their energy in preserving orthodoxy.  They crystalized their doctrines into creeds; they ceased to develop, and lost the spirit of Christian Education, which was the oil for the their lamps...degenerating into dead orthodoxy, and opposing factions.”(A.E. Sutherland)  

Of all the issues facing the Adventist church this is one of the hardest to change; but it is essential if we are to become what we were created to be.  

Our education system must be fundamentally different!  “All education must grow out of the life of the people educated.  In order to educate children, parents must be educated also.  Real education must be education of the whole community, and it must take hold of the life which the people live, making them more intelligent about this life.” (Sutherland)  

Traditional education has focused on activities that limit free activity and thought.  It has sought to create implicit obedience instead of self-government.  Our education system, should seek something different, "originality and independence of mind, love of truth for its own sake, the power of reflecting and forming correct judgments”.(White)  
Our system was built to be different, we were always meant to recognize the needs of the individual.  Creating an education, customized to the learner.   "Permitting the student in council with teachers, to select subjects according to their future needs.”(A.E. Sutherland) 

Creating an individual "in the image of God, endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator-- individuality, power to think and to do.  The student in whom this power is developed are the students who bear responsibilities, who are leaders in enterprise, and who influence character.  It is the work of true education to develop this power, to train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other's thoughts.”(White) 

Teachers tend to teach in the manor they have been taught. The predominant model being used today is based on old pedagogues that revolve around the teacher and not a collaboration of student and mentor. These methods were originally designed to numb the free will of the students. "The memory was cultivated as a means of keeping down free activity of thought and clearness of judgement. In the place of self-government mutual distrust, espionage and informing. Implicit obedience relieved the pupils from all responsibility as to the moral justification of their deeds."(Rosencranz) 

If we want to see our teachers using a new pedagogue we must change the methods we are modeling. The model must be changed at every level, our schools are are the location of our future. 

We need a new pedagogue, the pedagogue of the self reliant student. The new model must value practical application, hands on learning, reflection, active assessment based on more than grade percentages, it must find room for creating and making, project based and service oriented learning, adaptability toward the varying levels of the students regardless of grade level. Our education should inspire the innate creative spirit. 

A.E. Sutherland, used the phrase “academic corpulence” in a lecture in 1919; he was concerned with the separation of the practical parts of education and the theory.  "The teacher is a better teacher if he/she is linked up with the experiment station(practical application)... No student has made the most of their life who has not come in close touch with the actual work of the station.  For teachers to carry out this program, making a successful combination of class room work and experimentation, or demonstration, the course of study must be reduced to essentials, not only must unimportant subjects be weeded out, but minor details and non-essential portions must be eliminated from those subjects that are retained.  This will reduce that academic corpulence to normal proportions. The time of the student is now too precious to allow him or her to pursue what the humorist has called "the tail of the details.” God's work is not to wait while his servants go through such wonderfully elaborate preparations...The world needs men and women of action, and our schools must prepare students to do by doing." (A.E. Sutherland)

How much has educational corpulence increased since 1919?  In order to free ourselves to teach and honor the necessary physical activity of a well rounded student we must be diligent in trimming "the fat."  Every school should carve out time each day for both structured play and free play in the elementary and practical application in our high schools and colleges.  

This can be scary, academic time is precious.  But this time of activity will make academic time more productive, allow the coverage of as much or more than would be covered if you didn't have the activity.  We also need to  focus on understanding, instead of time-lines.  Let's worry less about "getting to the end of the book" and more concern with how much our student truly understand.  Asking what did you learn instead of what grade did you make.

Let us teach student how to think, not what to think. Every year, time should be spent reevaluating what is necessary and what is redundant.  How can we combine subjects; accentuating their natural connections not only to be more efficient, but more effective in creating understanding in our students minds. 

The easiest route to change how we teach is by equipping the teachers going into the schoolroom.  Our teacher training should focus more on real classroom experience with teachers who exemplify the best. 

We must invest in veteran teachers who are already using this "new pedagogue" supporting them and encouraging them to continue and grow the ranks.  We need empower them as evangelists for the new pedagogue, so that they can ignite change in the staffs they join.

We were meant to be the dreamers, the troublemakers, the non-conformists, the free thinkers and the difference makers. It’s time to do something!  The Revolution starts with you and it starts now!  Let us relight the fires, let’s act more like revolutionaries. 

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