Ellen G. White Writings

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Messenger of the Lord, Page 344

Chapter 29—Education-Part1: Principles and Philosophy.

Ellen White’s “able articulation of the role of Christian education as a prime vehicle for the transmission of religious values and purpose constitutes a profound theology of Christian education.” 1George H. Akers, “The Role of SDA Education in the Formation of Adventist Lifestyle,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, Spring, 1993, p. 3.

Ellen G. White was recognized as the “prophetic thought leader of Adventist education from its inception until her death in 1915.... It is impossible to comprehend Adventist education either currently or historically without understanding the role and impact of Ellen White upon its development. She was not only a central figure in its development, but she was the only Adventist leader who was in constant prominence from its beginnings up through the end of its formative period (about 1910).” 2George Knight, Early Adventist Educators (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1983), p. 26; “Under the guidance of Ellen White, Seventh-day Adventists have always been committed to quality education.... The quality of Adventist education was virtually assured by the active role that Ellen White played in establishing the system.” Provonsha, Remnant in Crisis, p. 27. “Ellen White ... the denomination’s first and major writer on educational theory.” SDAE, vol. 1, p. 497; “Mrs. White’s educational thinking forms the philosophical base for the Seventh-day Adventist program of education.” Richard Lesher’s conclusion in his doctoral dissertation, “Ellen G. White’s Concept of Sanctification,” New York University, 1970; “How did we get into this system of Christian education that is distinctive in all the world, and that has brought such fruitage in training workers for gospel service? You know how we were led into this thing. You know the years in which that gift of the Spirit of prophecy continually warned us and exhorted us and drew us and marked the way for us to follow. All through these books by the Spirit of prophecy the true educational idea is emphasized.” W. A. Spicer, “The Spirit of Prophecy in the Advent Movement,” Report of the Blue Ridge Educational Convention (Washington, D.C.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1937), p. 79.

Nowhere in the writings of Ellen White do we find the principles of the Great Controversy Theme more explicitly unfolded than in her writings on educational principles. Her understanding of redemption as “restoration” lies at the heart of her educational philosophy. 3“To restore in man the image of his Maker, to bring him back to the perfection in which he was created, to promote the development of body, mind, and soul, that the divine purpose in his creation might be realized—this was to be the work of redemption. This is the object of education, the great object of life.” Education, 15, 16. See p. 257. These educational principles were developed, on one hand, within the context of nineteenth century attempts to reform education, and, on the other, within the denominational context of “comparative indifference to education reform.” 4Graham, Ellen G. White, Co-founder, p. 91.

Voices that attempted to reform educational systems in the nineteenth century sounded like lonely cries in the wilderness. The nineteenth century was a transition era from centuries of traditional thinking. In almost every area of American life—including theology, philosophy, medicine, industrialization, and education—the nineteenth century was in ferment.

In education, the struggle focused on the old wineskins of classical education that focused on the words (ancient languages) and ideas (philosophies) of Western civilization. 5The aims and purposes of education have been a major concern of all societies and great thinkers, at least from the time of Aristotle: “That education should be regulated by law and should be an affair of state is not to be denied, but what should be the character of this public education, and how young persons should be educated, are questions which remain to be considered. As things are, there is disagreement about the subjects. For mankind are by no means agreed about the things to be taught, whether we look to virtue or the best life. Neither is it clear whether education is more concerned with intellectual or with moral virtue. The existing practice is perplexing; no one knows on what principle we should proceed—should the useful in life, or should virtue, or should the higher knowledge, be the aim of our teaching; all three opinions have been entertained. Again, about the means there is no agreement; for different persons, starting with different ideas about the nature of virtue, naturally disagree about the practice of it.” Richard McKeon, ed., The Basic Works of Aristotle (New York: Random House, 1941), “Politica,” book VIII, ch. 2, pp. 1305, 1306. The educated person, as a common denominator, was expected to read and discuss the ancient poets and philosophers in Greek and Latin. However, the question was being asked: With the emergence of democratic ideas, more leisure time, and changing work conditions and expectations, was this elitist, bookish education meeting the needs of “modern” times? John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Heinrich Pestalozzi, and others had been saying “no” for several centuries, but their efforts made little “dent” in traditional education. 6See Knight, Early Adventist Educators, pp. 4, 5.

However, two influences in the nineteenth century were significant and made some impact on Adventist educational reform. Horace Mann (1796-1859) was perhaps the leader in establishing the need for the public school elementary system in the United States. 7Education, 5, 6. He also wrote extensively on the early need for children to understand physiology and to get a practical education. 8James and Ellen White published excerpts from Mann’s writings in Health: Or How to Live (V:19-25; VI:25-47). Writing from Australia, Mrs. White asked her son, Edson, who was contemplating the journey, to bring with him certain books that Mann had authored.

The other major influence centered in educational experiments with manual

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