The True Science of Education
Some years ago a young man became a Sabbathkeeper through a health outreach program. Very enthusiastic about the message, he had a desire to excel but was hindered by a serious defect—scholastically he performed very poorly. After struggling through missionary training, he managed to enter the Bible work for a while. However, what he really wanted to do was to study medicine. When he mentioned this to a doctor friend, the physician felt sorry for him but did not want to discourage him. Instead he reminded the young man about the difficulty of undertaking the study of medicine, then suggested to him that he first prepare by spending one year putting into practice the lifestyle advice given in the Spirit of Prophecy—including good diet, daily exercise, adequate sleep, temperance, and trust in God. Amazingly, after carefully following his friend’s advice, the young man was able to pass pre-medicine and enter medical school, managing his studies quite well.
This story illustrates the importance of considering the whole person in the work of education. Education which is complete must address more than just mental training and the mere learning of information.
The Creator’s plan for humanity encompasses the entire being. When God at creation breathed into the first human being the breath of life, a complete person instantly came into existence, made “in the image of God” (1). “When Adam came from the Creator’s hand, he bore, in his physical, mental, and spiritual nature, a likeness to his Maker.”
Sin caused us to lose to a great extent that likeness to God which we had in the beginning. But the promise of redemption involves restoration. The apostle prayed that “your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” ().
Christian education seeks this whole-person development, toward the high ideals which God has for His creatures. He says to us, “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (2). “Our ideas of education take too narrow and too low a range. There is need of a broader scope, a higher aim. True education . . . is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers.”
Since God’s design involves educating the whole person in body, mind, and spirit, our first priority must be to maintain faithfulness in following His instructions. “Real success in education depends upon the fidelity with which men carry out the Creator’s plan.”3
A recent study compared the academic achievements of students with the amount of physical activity in which they engaged. Researchers concluded that students who engaged in vigorous physical activity had significantly higher grades than students who performed no vigorous activity.4
There is a powerful connection between the health of the body and the health of the mind. Therefore, a complete education must begin with the education of the physical nature.
In the very beginning, when creating an environment for the first people, “God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (5). The Garden of Eden was not only a place, but a system—a way of life. “The system of education instituted at the beginning of the world was to be a model for man throughout all aftertime. As an illustration of its principles a model school was established in Eden, the home of our first parents. The Garden of Eden was the schoolroom, nature was the lesson book, the Creator Himself was the instructor, and the parents of the human family were the students.”
This system is itself so important, that we are counselled regarding establishing institutions: “Study in agricultural lines should be the A, B, and C of the education given in our schools. This is the very first work that should be entered upon.”6
The Bible describes many outstanding examples of great leaders and educators whose practical training was a significant part of their work and their preparation to lead and teach others.
Elisha stepped away from a farmer’s plow, continued in faithful service to Elijah in humble tasks, before being endowed with a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, and ushering in an important period in the educational work of Israel, by leading out in the schools of the prophets.
The apostle Paul rose to prominence among the Jewish nation, a promising young man of brilliant intellect and indomitable courage and energy. He gave evidence of a well-rounded education, in that he could readily take up his tent-making trade, by manual labor supporting himself whenever necessary. All of these capabilities were brought into his work as the greatest missionary worker of Christian history.
Jesus, the greatest Educator, spent His youth and early manhood in practical work, combined with mental training. Even during His few years of active ministry, His healing hands were more often felt restoring the sick and disabled to health, than was His voice in preaching to the crowds.
Studies have shown that working with your hands promotes intellectual development, leading to a more general capacity to work across other disciplines. One paper concluded that “working with one’s own hands in a ‘real-world’ 3-D learning environment is imperative for full cognitive and intellectual development.”7
There is something inherent in manual labor that develops important neural pathways in the brain, and which benefits the person in many more areas than we might have realized. Therefore, an education cannot be considered complete which does not give to the student the gift of skill in practical, hands-on labor.
“Practical work encourages close observation and independent thought. Rightly performed, it tends to develop that practical wisdom which we call common sense. It develops ability to plan and execute, strengthens courage and perseverance, and calls for the exercise of tact and skill.”8
From the model which God gave us, agriculture is a very important aspect of physical training. “ ‘Students should be given a practical education in agriculture. This will be of inestimable value to many in their future work. . . . Agriculture will open resources for self-support. . . . We should so train the youth that they will love to engage in the cultivation of the soil.’ ”9
Proper provision for practical work, including agriculture, is so important in education that the Lord says, “Some do not appreciate the value of agricultural work. These should not plan for our schools, for they will hold everything from advancing in right lines.”10
“To secure a strong, well-balanced character, both the mental and the physical powers must be exercised and developed. . . . Each should acquire a knowledge of some branch of manual labor by which, if need be, he may obtain a livelihood.”11
Sometimes we may be tempted to view manual labor as a thing to be avoided if possible. However, we are told that even “if it were certain that one would never need to resort to manual labor for his support, still he should be taught to work.”12 “If schools had been established upon the plan we have mentioned, there would not now be so many unbalanced minds.”13
Sadly, physical training is often neglected in the education of our young people. “The constant application to study, as the schools are now conducted, is unfitting youth for practical life. The human mind will have action. If it is not active in the right direction, it will be active in the wrong.”14
“In order to preserve the balance of the mind, labor and study should be united in the schools. . . . And a portion of the time each day should have been devoted to labor, that the physical and mental powers might be equally exercised.”15 Institutions which followed this advice generally devoted a full half day to physical labor.
Certainly the benefits were seen in giving time for physical work. “In following this plan the students will realize elasticity of spirit and vigor of thought, and in a given time can accomplish more mental labor than they could by study alone.”16
The advent of the Internet search engine has introduced a problem into modern society. People are now getting used to the idea that any time they need to know something, they just have to go enter some words into a search form, and they will have instant answers. However, this is negatively affecting our minds. Because we know we have the information available virtually instantly, we can become less likely to remember, and less likely to dedicate thorough research to a given subject.
One team of researchers put it like this: “The advent of the ‘information age’ seems to have created a generation of people who feel they know more than ever before—when their reliance on the Internet means that they may know ever less about the world around them.”17
On the other hand, spiritual things require diligence and a commitment to study earnestly. As we study we must build knowledge step by step, by careful, prayerful research. “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” ().
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (18). “Sharp, clear perceptions of truth will never be the reward of indolence. . . . We cannot expect to gain spiritual knowledge without earnest toil. . . . It is essential for old and young, not only to read God’s word, but to study it with wholehearted earnestness, praying and searching for truth as for hidden treasure.”
Since God’s design involves educating the whole person in body, mind, and spirit, our first priority must be to maintain faithfulness in following His instructions.
Bible study is not just about finding information. “The mind will enlarge, if it is employed in tracing out the relation of the subjects of the Bible, comparing scripture with scripture, and spiritual things with spiritual.”19 As you search for answers, you are rewiring your brain—making new connections and strengthening mental power.
One young person to whom I had the privilege of giving Bible studies had an outstanding experience illustrating this. She had not completed high school and needed to study for an equivalency exam, which she had failed once already. In the meantime we started to take her through Bible studies, and she began to study God’s word for herself. A few months after this began, she received an unexpected opportunity to sit the high school equivalency exam. Without any chance to prepare, she went and took that exam. When she received her results she came to me very excited, to tell me that she had passed with a high score. She firmly believed that it was the benefits of Bible study that had strengthened her mental power.
Complete education will include learning diligence, perseverance, and mental discipline. These qualities are necessary for success in life, and Bible study helps in developing them. “The study of the Bible is superior to all other study in strengthening the intellect. What fields of thought the youth may find to explore in the word of God! The mind may go deeper and still deeper in its research, gathering strength with every effort to comprehend truth; and yet there is an infinity beyond.”20
Study of the Scriptures brings deeper benefits, too. An investment in filling the mind with God’s word brings moral stamina to the soul. The psalmist said, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (21 Therefore, a deep and intimate knowledge of the Bible is an essential part of a complete education, for both its mental and moral benefits.). As we hide God’s word in our heart, it changes our nature, so that we are less and less susceptible to temptation. “A familiar acquaintance with the Scriptures sharpens the discerning powers, and fortifies the soul against the attacks of Satan.”
Often we consider education to be about planting information in the mind. But it is essential to go deeper than this. “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom” (22 “The word [of God] destroys the natural, earthly nature, and imparts a new life in Christ Jesus. . . . By the transforming agency of His grace, the image of God is reproduced in the disciple; he becomes a new creature.”23). “The [moral] law is an expression of the thought of God; when received in Christ, it becomes our thought. It lifts us above the power of natural desires and tendencies, above temptations that lead to sin.”
“In giving us the privilege of studying His word, the Lord has set before us a rich banquet. . . . By partaking of this word our spiritual strength is increased; we grow in grace and in a knowledge of the truth.”24 This work is intimately connected with the last-day message, when God’s people are being sealed, “settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved.”25
As we understand the love of Christ, “we love him, because he first loved us” (26). When we come to “know the love of Christ,” we can be “filled with all the fulness of God” ( ). “Love, the basis of creation and of redemption, is the basis of true education. . . . Unselfishness underlies all true development. Through unselfish service we receive the highest culture of every faculty.”
The spiritual focus of education has higher goals than we can fully understand right now. “Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children. Godliness—godlikeness—is the goal to be reached.”27
As a spiritual work, education will continue beyond the present world. “The education begun here will not be completed in this life; it will be going forward throughout eternity, ever progressing, never completed.”28
Today we are desperately in need of energetic youth who “will not be bought or sold,” who “in their inmost souls are true and honest,” who “do not fear to call sin by its right name,” whose “conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole,” and who “will stand for the right though the heavens fall.”29
But how can this kind of character be developed? It “is not the result of accident; it is not due to special favors or endowments of Providence. A noble character is the result of self-discipline, of the subjection of the lower to the higher nature—the surrender of self for the service of love to God and man.”30
We are now living more than one hundred years beyond the events that gave rise to the Reform Movement. As we reflect on this fact, we must ask ourselves, what have we done toward hastening the coming of our Lord? What can be done now to redeem the time? The answer comes to us, “With such an army of workers as our youth, rightly trained, might furnish, how soon the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Saviour might be carried to the whole world! How soon might the end come—the end of suffering and sorrow and sin!”31
Today’s world begs for a “great work of reform,” “and it is only through the grace of Christ that the work of restoration, physical, mental, and spiritual, can be accomplished.”32 Therefore at this time, “as never before, we need to understand the true science of education. If we fail to understand this, we shall never have a place in the kingdom of God. ‘This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent’ ( ). If this is the price of heaven, shall not our education be conducted on these lines?”33
The work before us is to seek a complete education—physical, mental, and spiritual—for ourselves and for our children and youth. “Before we can carry the message of present truth in all its fulness to other countries we must first break every yoke. We must come into the line of true education, walking in the wisdom of God, and not in the wisdom of the world. God calls for messengers who will be true reformers. We must educate, educate, to prepare a people who will understand the message, and then give the message to the world.”34