Ellen G. White Writings

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The Signs of the Times

March 14, 1900

The Position and Responsibility of a True Educator

By Mrs. E. G. White

The Object of Education

I would not in any case counsel restriction of the education to which God has set no limit. Our education does not end with the advantages that this world can give. Through all eternity the chosen of God will be learners. But I would advise restriction in following those methods of education which imperil the soul and defeat the purpose for which time and money are spent. Education is a grand life-work; but to obtain true education it is necessary to possess that wisdom that comes alone from God. The Lord God should be represented in every phase of education.

Let students be advised to put into practise the theories they have gained. Daniel pursued this course in Babylon. He put into practical use that which he had learned under tutors. Let students seek heavenly direction, and let them pursue no course, even tho it be advised by their teachers, unless they have most humbly sought wisdom from God, and have received His guidance and counsel.

Is it necessary that in order to solve the problem of education one must commit robbery toward God, and refuse to give God the willing service of the powers of the spirit, soul, and body? God calls upon you to be doers of His Word, in order that you may be thoroughly educated in the principles that will give you a fitness for heaven. Let the Word of God be the man of your counsel. The purpose of education should be to take in light in order that you may impart light by letting it shine forth to others in good works. The highest of all education is the knowledge of God.

The highest class of education is that which will give such knowledge and discipline as will lead to the best development of character, and will fit the soul for that life which measures with the life of God. Eternity is not to be left out of our reckoning. The highest education will be that which will teach our children and youth, our teachers and educators, the science of Christianity, that will give them an experimental knowledge of God's ways, and impart to them the lessons which Christ gave to His disciples of the paternal character of God.

True education means more than taking a certain course of study. It includes the harmonious development of all the physical powers and the mental faculties. It reaches the love and fear of God, and is a preparation for the faithful discharge of life's duties.

There is an education that is essentially worldly. Its aim is success in the world, the gratification of selfish ambition. To secure this education many students spend time and money in crowding their minds with unnecessary knowledge. The world accounts them learned; but God is not in their thoughts. They eat of the tree of worldly knowledge, which nourishes and strengthens pride. In their hearts they become disobedient and estranged from God; and their intrusted gifts are placed on the enemy's side. Much of the education at the present time is of this character. The world may regard it as highly desirable; but it increases the peril of the student.

There is another kind of education that is very different. Its fundamental principle, as stated by the greatest Teacher the world has ever known, is, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Its aim is not selfish; it is to honor God, and to serve Him in the world. The studies pursued and the industrial training followed should have this object in view. The Word of God is studied; a vital connection with God is maintained, and the better feelings and traits of character are brought into exercise. For “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and better than all other knowledge is an understanding of His Word.

Character of the Teacher

Teachers are to do more for students than to impart a knowledge of books. Their position as guide and instructor of youth is most responsible; for to them is given the work of moulding mind and character. Those who undertake this work should possess well-balanced, symmetrical characters. They should be refined in manner, neat in dress, careful in all their habits; and they should have that true Christian courtesy that wins confidence and respect. The teacher should be himself what he wishes his students to become.

Teachers are to watch over their students as the shepherd watches over the flock intrusted to his charge. They should care for souls as they that must give account.

The teacher may understand many things in regard to the physical universe; he may know all about the structure of animal life, the discoveries of natural science, the inventions of mechanical art, but he can not be called educated, he is not fitted for his work as an instructor of youth, unless he has in his own soul a knowledge of God and of Christ. He can not be a true educator until he is himself a learner in the school of Christ, receiving an education from the divine Instructor.

Every teacher needs Christ abiding in his heart by faith, and to possess a true, self-denying, self-sacrificing spirit for Christ's sake. One may have sufficient education and knowledge in science to instruct; but has it been ascertained that he has tact and wisdom to deal with human minds? If instructors have not the love of Christ abiding in the heart, they are not fit to be brought into connection with children, and to bear the grave responsibilities placed upon them, of educating children and youth. They lack the higher education and training in themselves, and they know not how to deal with human minds. There is the spirit of their own insubordinate, natural hearts that is striving for the control, and to subject the plastic minds and characters of children to such a discipline, is to leave scars and bruises upon the mind that will never be effaced.

If the children do err and misbehave, then it is all the more essential that those who are placed over them as teachers should be able to teach them by precept and example. In no case are they to lose self-control, to manifest impatience and harshness and want of sympathy and love; for these children are the property of Jesus Christ, and teachers must be very careful and God-fearing in regard to the spirit they cherish and the words they utter; for the children will catch the spirit manifested, be it good or evil. It is a sacred responsibility.

The teacher needs to be susceptible to the influences of the Spirit of God. Not one who will become impatient and irritated should be an educator. Teachers of children must consider that they are dealing with children, not men and women. It is much more difficult for some children to learn than others. The dull scholar needs much more encouragement than he receives. If teachers are placed over these varied minds who naturally love to order and dictate and magnify themselves in their authority, who will deal with partiality, having favorites to whom they show preference, while others are treated with exactitude and severity, it will create a state of confusion and insubordination.

Teachers who have not been blessed with a pleasant and well-balanced experience may be placed to take charge of children and youth, but a great wrong is done to those whom they instruct. Parents should feel it their duty to co-operate with the teacher, to encourage wise discipline, and to pray much for the one who is teaching their children. The teacher will not help the children by fretting, censuring, or discouraging them; neither will he act a good part in teaching them rebellion, disobedience, unkindness, and unlovableness, because of the spirit he manifests. If teachers are Christians indeed, they will have an abiding Christ, and the Spirit of Him who gave His life for sinners; and the wisdom of God will teach them in every emergency the course to pursue. Children are in need of having a steady, firm, living principle of righteousness exercised over them and practised before them.

Essential Studies

There is nothing so ennobling and invigorating as a study of the great themes which concern our eternal life. Let students seek to grasp these God-given truths; let them seek to measure these precious things, and their minds will expand and grow strong in the effort. But a mind crowded with a mass of matter it will never be able to use, is a mind dwarfed and enfeebled, because only put to the task of dealing with commonplace material. It has not been put to the task of considering the high, elevated disclosures coming from God.

The Bible must be made the foundation for all study. Individually we must learn from this Lesson-book which God has given us, the condition of the salvation of our souls; for it is the only book that tells us what we must do in order to be saved. Not only this, but from it strength may be received for the intellect. The many books which education is thought to embrace, are misleading, a deception and a delusion. “What is the chaff to the wheat?” Satan is now stirring up the minds of men to furnish to the world literature which is of a cheap, superficial order, but which fascinates the mind, and fastens it in a network of his contrivance. After reading these books, the mind lives in an unreal world, and the life, so far as usefulness is concerned, is as barren as a fruitless tree. The brain is intoxicated, making it impossible for the eternal realities, which are essential for the present and the future, to be pressed home. A mind educated to feed upon trash is unable to see in the Word of God the beauty that is there.

Every child may gain knowledge as Jesus did,—from the works of nature and the pages of God's holy Word. As we seek to become acquainted with our heavenly Father through His Word, holy angels will come near, our minds will be strengthened, our character will be elevated and refined, and we shall become more like our Saviour. And as we behold the beautiful and grand in nature, our affections will go out after God, while the spirit is awed, the soul is invigorated, by coming in contact with the Infinite through His works.

As divine truth is revealed in Holy Writ, so it is reflected, as from a mirror, in the face of nature; and through His creation we become acquainted with the Creator. And so the book of nature becomes a great lesson-book, which instructors who are wise can use, in connection with the Scriptures, to guide lost sheep back to the fold of God. As the works of God are studied, the Holy Spirit flashes conviction into the mind. It is not the conviction which logical reasoning produces; but unless the mind has become too dark to know God, the eye too dim to see Him, the ear too dull to hear His voice, a deeper meaning is grasped, and the sublime, spiritual truths of the written Word are impressed on the heart.

It is a mistake to put into the hands of the youth books which puzzle and confuse them, a study of which can not fail to confound things in their minds. The reason given for this study is that the teacher has passed over the same ground, and the student must follow. But if teachers were receiving light and wisdom from the divine Teacher, they would look at these things in a very different way. They would measure the relative importance of the things to be learned in school; the common, essential branches of education would be more thoroughly taught, and the Word of God would be honored and esteemed as the bread sent down from heaven, which sustains all spiritual life, binding the human agent with Christ in God.

Cold philosophical speculations, and scientific research in which God is not acknowledged, are a positive injury. And the evil is aggravated when, as is often the case, books placed in the hands of the young, accepted as authority, and depended upon in their education, are from authors avowedly infidel. Throughout the thoughts presented by these men, their poisonous sentiments are interwoven. The study of such books is like handling black coals; a student can not be undefiled in mind who thinks along the line of skepticism.

Yet the study of the sciences is not to be neglected. Books must be used for this purpose; but they should be in harmony with the Bible, for that is the standard. Books of this character should take the place of many of those now in the hands of students. God is the author of science. Scientific research opens to the mind vast fields of thought and information, enabling us to see God in His created works. Ignorance may try to support skepticism by appeals to science; but instead of doing this, science contributes fresh evidences of the wisdom and power of God. Rightly understood, science and the written Word agree, and each sheds light on the other. Together they lead us to God, by teaching us something of the wise and beneficent laws through which He works.

Moral philosophy, the study of the Scriptures, and physical training should be combined with the studies usually pursued in schools.

Music forms a part of God's worship in the courts above, and we should endeavor, in our songs of praise, to approach as nearly as possible to the harmony of the heavenly choirs. The proper training of the voice is an important feature in education, and should not be neglected.

Students should be taught how to breathe, how to read and speak so that the strain will not come on the throat and lungs but on the abdominal muscles.

Physical culture is an essential part of all right methods of education. The young need to be taught how to develop their physical powers, how to preserve these powers in the best condition, and how to make them useful in the practical duties of life. Many think that these things are no part of school work; but this is a mistake. The lessons necessary to fit one for practical usefulness should be taught to every child in the home and to every student in the schools.

It is well that physiology is introduced into the common schools as a branch of education; all children should study it. And then parents should see to it that practical hygiene is added. This will make their knowledge of physiology of decided benefit.

The work of physical training, begun in the home, should be carried on in the school. It is the design of the Creator that man shall know himself; but too often in the pursuit of knowledge this design is lost sight of. Students devote years to different educational lines; they become engrossed in the study of the sciences and of things in the natural world; they are intelligent on most subjects, but they do not become acquainted with themselves. They look upon the delicate human organism as something that will take care of itself; and that which is in the highest degree essential,—a knowledge of their own bodies,—is neglected.

Every student should understand how to take care of himself so as to preserve the best possible condition of health, resisting feebleness and disease; if from any cause disease does come, or accidents do occur, he should know how to meet ordinary emergencies without calling upon a physician and taking his poisonous drugs.

There are times when Greek and Latin scholars are needed. Some must study these languages. But the study of Greek and Latin is of far less consequence to ourselves, to the world, and to God, than the thorough study and use of the whole human machinery.

There is science in the humblest kind of work, and if all would thus regard it, they would see nobility in labor. Heart and soul are to be put into work of any kind; then there is cheerfulness and efficiency. In agriculture or mechanical occupations men may give evidence to God that they appreciate His gift in the physical powers, and the mental faculties as well. Let the educated ability be employed in devising improved methods of work. This is just what the Lord wants. There is honor in any class of work that needs to be done. Let the law of God be made the standard of action, and it ennobles and sanctifies all labor. Faithfulness in the discharge of every duty makes the work noble, and reveals a character that God can approve.

Methods

There should be more faithful teachers, who will strive to make students understand their lessons, not by explaining everything themselves, but by letting the students explain thoroughly every passage which they read. Let the inquiring minds of the students be respected. Treat their inquiries with respect. To skim over the surface will do little good. Thoughtful investigation and earnest, taxing study are required to comprehend it.

When students enter the school to obtain an education, the instructors should endeavor to surround them with objects of the most pleasing, interesting character, that the mind may not be confined to the dead study of books. All schools should be located, so far as possible, where the eye will rest upon the things of nature instead of masses of buildings. The ever-shifting scenery will gratify the taste and control the imagination. Here is a living teacher, instructing constantly.

All narrowness should be avoided. Let teachers so far unbend from their dignity as to be one with the children in their exercises and amusements, without leaving the impression that you are watching them, and without going round and round in stately dignity, as tho you were like a uniformed soldier on guard over them. Your very presence gives a mold to their course of action.

Every faculty, every attribute, with which the Creator has endowed us, is to be employed for His glory and for the uplifting of our fellowmen. And in this employment is found its purest, noblest, and happiest exercise.

Were this principle given the attention which its importance demands, there would be a radical change in some of the current methods of education. Instead of appealing to pride and selfish ambition, kindling a spirit of emulation, teachers would endeavor to awaken the love for goodness and truth and beauty,—to arouse the desire for excellence. The student would seek the development of God's gifts in himself, not to excel others, but to fulfil the purpose of the Creator and to receive His likeness.

Results

While a good education is a great benefit if combined with consecration in its possessor, still those who do not have the privilege of gaining high literary attainments need not think they can not advance in intellectual and spiritual life. If they will make the most of the knowledge they have, if they will seek to gather something to their store every day, and will overcome all perverseness of temper through the studious cultivation of Christlike traits of character, God will open channels of wisdom to them, and it may be said of them, as it was said of old concerning the Hebrew children, God gave them wisdom and understanding. There is no limit to the usefulness of those who put self to one side, make room for the working of the Holy Spirit upon their hearts, and live lives wholly sanctified to the service of God, enduring the necessary discipline imposed by the Lord without complaining or fainting by the way.

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