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Ellen G. White: The Early Elmshaven Years: 1900-1905 (vol. 5)

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    Counsel on a Church School Problem

    As already noted, in response to Ellen White's pleadings, a church school had been started to serve the Sanitarium church, of which she was a member. Sarah Peck, a much-valued helper, had been released to assist in teaching. Three teachers taught the thirty-five children (Testimonies for the Church 3:79). In the initial school plans, however, no provision was made for the younger children, for it was argued Ellen White had counseled in the Testimonies that “parents should be the only teachers of their children until they have reached eight or ten years of age.... The only schoolroom for children from eight to ten years of age should be in the open air amid the opening flowers and nature's beautiful scenery. And their only textbook should be the treasures of nature.”—Ibid., 3:137.5BIO 312.3

    The Sanitarium church school proved to be a great blessing to the community, even though the nearby public school was taught by a Mr. Anthony, a faithful Adventist of experience.5BIO 312.4

    Not infrequently, important council meetings were held in the living room of Ellen G. White's Elmshaven home. General Conference administrators, union and local conference men, and men from the colleges, sanitariums, and publishing houses occasionally sought the privilege of discussing important matters relating to the cause with her and her staff. Usually a record was made of the discussion, for C. C. Crisler or D. E. Robinson took shorthand notes and transcribed the interviews.5BIO 312.5

    Early on Thursday morning, January 14, 1904, in harmony with previous arrangements, a meeting of the Sanitarium church school board was held at Elmshaven. As the fire crackled on the hearth, the seven-member board, seated in comfortable chairs about the living room, discussed with Ellen White whether the Sanitarium church school should provide schooling for children under the age of 10. The question was far-reaching.5BIO 313.1

    On a church-wide basis, Seventh-day Adventists were just then beginning to establish schools to accommodate children below the ninth grade. The lower grades had been taught for years at Battle Creek and Healdsburg colleges, but, as noted earlier, up until 1898, little effort had been made elsewhere. As the concept began to sweep across the land, there were soon about a hundred church schools.5BIO 313.2

    The problem of the age children should begin attending these schools was not confined to the Sanitarium school, and its study involved what was thought to be specific Spirit of Prophecy enunciated directives and how church members should relate to them.5BIO 313.3

    Several in the group that morning at Elmshaven sensed that the discussion to take place would be far-reaching in its influence in establishing policies.5BIO 313.4

    Iram James was in the chair. The other members were L. M. Bowen, business manager of the St. Helena Sanitarium; Elder C. L. Taylor, Sanitarium chaplain and pastor of the church; H. M. McDowell, Sanitarium steward and purchasing agent; Mrs. J. Gotzian, a lay sister of some means residing in the community; Miss Sarah Peck, now one of the church school teachers; and Brother Dennison, a layman employed in the community.5BIO 313.5

    In advance of the meeting, Ellen White had been apprised that children under the age of 10 were being deprived of school privileges. There was a strong feeling on the part of some in the Sanitarium community that, on the basis of statements in the early Testimonies, no provision should be made in the newly established church school for children under 10 years of age.5BIO 313.6

    According to the twenty-five page stenographic report, [published in full in The Review and Herald, April 24, 1975, and in part in Selected Messages 3:214-226.] filed in the White Estate as Manuscript 7, 1904, Ellen White took the initiative in opening the discussion, saying:5BIO 314.1

    For years, much instruction has been given me in regard to the importance of maintaining firm discipline in the home. I have tried to write out this instruction, and to give it to others.5BIO 314.2

    She discussed the responsibilities of parenthood and the importance of right home influences. She dwelt on the responsibility of mothers teaching the children the lessons they should learn in early life. She stated that, according to the light given to her,5BIO 314.3

    many who enter the marriage relation fail of realizing all the sacred responsibilities that motherhood brings. Many are sadly lacking in disciplinary power. In many homes there is but little discipline, and the children are allowed to do as they please. Such children drift hither and thither; there is nobody in the home capable of guiding them aright, nobody who with wise tact can teach them how to help father and mother, nobody who can properly lay the foundation that should underlie their future education.

    Children who are surrounded by these unfortunate conditions are indeed to be pitied. If not afforded an opportunity for proper training outside the home, they are debarred from many privileges that, by right, every child should enjoy.5BIO 314.4

    She was particularly concerned about the influences on the Sanitarium guests of children running loose, “sharp-eyed, lynx-eyed, wandering about with nothing to do,” and “getting into mischief.”5BIO 314.5

    Under the circumstances of parental neglect she declared that according to the light given to her, “the very best thing that can be done is to have a school,” a “school for those who can be instructed and have the restraining influence upon them which a school-teacher should exert.”5BIO 314.6

    She called for a lower department in the Sanitarium school where children as old as 7 or 8 could be instructed. “They will learn in school that which they frequently do not learn out of school, except by association.” She said:5BIO 314.7

    I want to know ... who it is that feels perfectly satisfied with their children, as they are, without sending them to the school—to a school that has Bible lessons, has order, has discipline, and is trying to find something for them to do to occupy their time.5BIO 315.1

    She then went into the background of the statement about 10-year-old children:5BIO 315.2

    When I heard what the objections were, that the children could not go to school till they were 10 years old, I wanted to tell you that there was not a Sabbathkeeping school when the light was given to me that the children should not attend school until they were old enough to be instructed. They should be taught at home to know what proper manners were when they went to school, and not be led astray. The wickedness carried on in the common schools is almost beyond conception. That is how it is.5BIO 315.3

    She expressed her concern over what seemed to her an unreasonable application of the Testimonies:5BIO 315.4

    My mind has been greatly stirred in regard to the idea,“Why, Sister White has said so and so, and Sister White has said so and so; and therefore we are going right up to it.”5BIO 315.5

    God wants us all to have common sense, and He wants us to reason from common sense. Circumstances alter conditions. Circumstances change the relation of things.5BIO 315.6

    Turning to the board after these opening remarks, she declared: “I shall not say so much now, because I want to understand just what I should speak on. I want the objections brought forth, why children should not have an education.”5BIO 315.7

    Sarah Peck pointed out that “if we have any more children, we ought to have some extra help.”5BIO 315.8

    To this Ellen White answered, indicating factors that should be taken into consideration:5BIO 315.9

    I want you to take care of what I have said. First, understand that. This is the light that has been given me in regard to these things.5BIO 315.10

    Here are children that are quick. There are children 5 years old that can be educated as well as many children 10 years old, as far as capabilities are concerned, to take in the mother's matters and subjects.5BIO 316.1

    She thought that perhaps another room would have to be added to the school building, and declared, “Every one of us ought to feel a responsibility to provide that room.”5BIO 316.2

    She held that5BIO 316.3

    those mothers that want to keep their children at home, and are fully competent and would prefer to discipline them themselves, why, no one has any objection to that. They can do that. But provision is to be made so that the children of all that have any connection with this food factory and sanitarium and these things that are being carried on here, should be educated. We must have it stand to reach the highest standards....

    I say, these little children that are small ought to have education, just what they would get in school. They ought to have the school discipline under a person who understands how to deal with children in accordance with their different temperaments. They should try to have these children understand their responsibilities to one another, and their responsibility to God. They should have fastened in their minds the very principles that are going to fit them for the higher grade and the higher school....5BIO 316.4

    He wants this education to commence with the little ones. If the mother has not the tact, the ingenuity, if she does not know how to treat human minds, she must put them under somebody that will discipline them and mold and fashion their minds. Now, have I presented it so that it can be understood?5BIO 316.5

    W. C. White explained that his interest was a broad one. With the rapid development of church schools he was concerned that a balanced work be done across the land and throughout the world as guidelines were being established. He stated:5BIO 316.6

    My interest in this school lies in the fact that it is our privilege to set a pattern. The successes and failures and the rulings of this school will affect our church school work throughout California and much farther, because of Sister Peck's long experience as a teacher, and her work with you, Mother, in helping to prepare the book on education. All these things have put this school where it is a city set on a hill....5BIO 316.7

    The world is doing a great work for the children through kindergartens.... And the ruling in this school here, and the reasons that have always been given me for this ruling, have been based on your statement that a child's mother is to be its only teacher until it is 8 or 10 years old. I have believed that for the best interests of our schoolwork throughout the world, that it is our privilege to have such an interview as we have had this morning, and also to study into the principle which underlies such things.5BIO 317.1

    The following paragraph sums up Ellen White's comments on that occasion:5BIO 317.2

    We must educate our children so that we can come up to the gates of the city and say, “Here am I, Lord, and the children that Thou hast given me.” We must not come up without our children to hear the words, “Where is My flock, My little flock, that I gave you—that beautiful flock that I gave you, where are they?” And we reply they have been left to drift right into the world, and so they are unfitted for heaven. What we want is to fit them for heaven so we can present the little flock to God, and say, “I have done my best.”—Manuscript 7, 1904.5BIO 317.3

    No statement was published at the time, but the discussion in this meeting helped to establish a pattern that guided parents who were not so situated that they could teach their children at home till they were 8 or 10. Their children's needs for a Christian elementary education could consistently be met.5BIO 317.4

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