Ellen G. White Writings

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The Signs of the Times

August 26, 1886

Right Methods in Education

By Mrs. E. G. White

There is at the present time an unparalleled interest in the subject of education. The wide diffusion of knowledge through the agency of the press, placing the means of self-culture within the reach of all, has awakened a general desire for mental improvement. But while we gratefully acknowledge our increased educational facilities, we should not ignore the defects in our present school systems. In many cases, physical as well as moral training has been neglected in the too eager desire to secure intellectual culture; and the youth have left school with morals debased and physical powers enfeebled, with no knowledge of practical life, and little strength to perform its duties.

As these evils have come under my observation, the inquiry has arisen, Must our sons and daughters become moral and physical weaklings, in order to have the advantages afforded by an education in our schools? This should not be; and it need not be if teachers and students will but be true to the laws of nature, which are also the laws of God. A right education will make the youth strong, well-balanced men and women, by developing and calling into active exercise all the powers of mind and body. It will make them a blessing to the world; for it will enable them to attain a true and noble manhood and womanhood.

Many times students are so anxious to complete their education that they are not thorough in anything that they undertake. They do not understand the true object of education, and so fail to take such a course as to secure this object. They apply themselves to the study of mathematics or the languages, while they neglect a study far more essential to happiness and success in life. Many who can explore the depths of the earth with the geologist, or traverse the heavens with the astronomer, take not the slightest interest in their own bodies. Others can correctly describe every organ of the body, and tell how many bones there are in the human frame, and yet they are as ignorant of the laws of health, and the cure of disease, as though life were controlled by blind fate, instead of definite and unvarying law.

Sound health lies at the very foundation of the student's success. Without it, he can never see the fruition of his ambitions and his hopes. Hence a knowledge of the laws by which health is secured and preserved is of preeminent importance. The human body may be compared to nicely adjusted machinery, which needs care to keep it in running order. One part should not be subjected to constant wear and pressure, while another part is rusting from inaction. While the mind is taxed, the muscles also should have their proportion of exercise. Every young person should learn how to regulate his dietetic habits,—what to eat, when to eat, and how to eat. He should also learn how many hours may be spent in study, and how much time should be given to physical exercise.

It is a duty which every student owes to himself, to society, and to God, to properly regulate his habits of eating, sleeping, study, and exercise; but there are few who have the moral courage and the self-control to act from principle. The student who studies hard, sleeps and exercises little, and eats irregularly of an improper or inferior quality of food, is obtaining mental discipline at the expense of health and morals, of spirituality, and, it may be, of life itself.

Young persons are naturally active, and if they find no legitimate scope for their pent-up energies after the confinement of the schoolroom, they become restless and impatient of control; they are thus led to engage in the rude, unmanly sports that disgrace so many schools and colleges, and even to plunge into scenes of dissipation. And many who leave their homes innocent, are corrupted by their associations at school. Much could be done to obviate these evils, if every institution of learning would make provision for manual labor on the part of the students,—for actual practice in agriculture and the mechanic arts. Competent teachers should be provided to instruct the youth in various industrial pursuits, as well as in their studies in the school room. While a part of each day is devoted to mental improvement and physical labor, devotional exercises and the study of the Scriptures should not be overlooked.

Students trained in this manner would have habits of self-reliance, firmness, and perseverance, and would be prepared to engage successfully in the practical duties of life. They would have courage and determination to surmount obstacles, and moral stamina to resist evil influences.

If young persons can have but one set of faculties disciplined, which is most important, the study of the sciences, with the disadvantages to health and morals under which such knowledge is usually obtained, or a thorough training in practical duties, with sound morals and good physical development? In most cases both may be secured if parents will take a little pains; but if both cannot be had, we would unhesitatingly decide in favor of the latter.

Where useful labor is combined with study, there is no need of gymnastic exercises; and much more benefit is derived from work performed in the open air than from indoor exercise. The farmer and the mechanic each have physical exercise; yet the farmer is much the healthier of the two, for nothing short of the invigorating air and sunshine will fully meet the wants of the system. The farmer finds in his labor all the movements that were ever practiced in the gymnasium. And his movement room is the open fields; the canopy of heaven is its roof, and the solid earth its floor. A farmer who is temperate in all his habits usually enjoys good health. His work is pleasant; and his vigorous exercise causes full, deep, and strong inspirations and exhalations, which expand the lungs and purify the blood, sending the warm current of life bounding through arteries and veins.

In what contrast to the habits of the active farmer are those of the student who neglects physical exercise. The student sits day after day in a close room, bending over his desk or table, his chest contracted, his lungs crowded. His brain is taxed to the utmost, while his body is inactive. He cannot take full, deep inspirations; his blood moves sluggishly; his feet are cold, his head hot. How can such a person have health? It is not hard study that is destroying the health of students, so much as it is their disregard of nature's laws. Let them take regular exercise that will cause them to breathe deep and full, and they will soon feel that they have a new hold on life.

Young ladies, too, should be taught how to work. Experienced teachers should be employed to instruct them in the mysteries of the kitchen. A knowledge of domestic duties is beyond price to every woman. There are families without number whose happiness is wrecked by the inefficiency of the wife and mother. It is not so important that girls learn painting, fancy work, music, or even the more solid branches of study, as it is that they learn to cut, make, and mend their own clothing, and how to prepare palatable and wholesome food. That was a wise father, who, when asked what he intended to do with his daughters, replied, “I intend to apprentice them to their excellent mother, that they may learn the art of improving time, and be fitted to become wives and mothers, heads of families, and useful members of society.”

Every young woman should be so educated that if called to fill the position of wife and mother, she may preside as a queen in her own domain. She should be fully competent to guide and instruct her children, and to direct her household affairs. It is her duty to understand the mechanism of the human body and the principles of hygiene, the matters of diet and dress, labor and recreation, and countless other things that intimately concern the well-being of her household. Many ladies, accounted well-educated, having graduated with honors at some institution of learning, are shamefully ignorant of the practical duties of life. They are destitute of the qualifications necessary for the proper regulation of the family, and hence essential to its happiness and well-being. They may talk of woman's rights and her elevated sphere; yet they themselves fall far below the true sphere of woman.

Ignorance of useful employment is contrary to the design of God in the creation of man, and is by no means an essential characteristic of the true gentleman or lady. Idleness is sin, and ignorance of common duties is the result of folly,—a folly which the after-life will give ample occasion to bitterly regret.

“Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God,” will be the rule of life with students who desire to serve and honor God. Such students will preserve their integrity in the face of temptation; they will come from school with well-developed intellects, and with health of body and soul, and the world will be the better for their influence and labors.

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