Opinion: Adventist Education Isn’t For Everyone

sarah-jilge

Sarah Jilge

I don’t remember the year. I should; if I’ve heard the story once, I’ve heard it a million times. My adolescent grandfather set on a 25-hour hitchhike from Oklahoma to Keene, Texas with nothing but two dirty $1 bills and a cardboard box with everything he owned, simply for the sake of an Adventist education at Southwestern Junior College. Or the countless times my grandmother passed out because of the heat at the broom factory, one of three jobs worked 70-plus hours a week to put herself through Adventist nursing school. Or even the move across the country when their first child was born so she could have that same education kindergarten through bachelors in the comfort of the town she grew up in.

I have heard these stories. I admire the courage and the strong will they took. I admire the statue sitting in my living room that matches the one sitting outside the SWAU library and the dedication to Adventist education and how hard earned the money donated was. But in 2012, when it came my turn to be the first grandchild to attend Southwestern Adventist University, I chose not to continue my education in the Adventist system.

My experience with my Adventist and then Christian education was one that should have never happened. My parents will blatantly admit that I would have not only been better off emotionally but would have also received a better public education. But my great-great grandparents built the first house in Keene, and my grandparents gave up everything to move to Keene, and both my aunt and mother graduated and taught nursing at SWAU. But like my mother said to me a couple weeks ago, just because a medication works for her, doesn’t mean it will work for me. We are different people. Just because Adventist education served everyone before me in my family well doesn’t mean that I could take the pill and feel better. If anything, there was definitely an allergy in my case.

From the moment I entered school I never stayed one place more than four years. There would always be something wrong with a teacher, or the school, or the other students. But instead of my parents looking at me, and assessing what was best for me and who I was, I would end up at another small Adventist school with the same problems that had yet to rear their ugly heads. Lower grade Adventist education is focused on eventually directing us towards higher Adventist education, which is focused on keeping us in the Adventist circle in our careers. So like most of my family, you become a nurse, and work at the nearest Adventist hospital or teach nursing. Or like my grandfather you become a business executive and work for the conference or you teach it. You could go into music and volunteer at your local church and get paid tragically little to teach music. You could even just become a teacher and preferably work at the small Adventist school.

But if you were a child like me, who thrived on a story and soaked in history like a sponge, what do you do? What kind of stories do you turn in when you know if you talk about Jesus it’s an automatic A? How many books do you hide since they’re not devotionals? How many stories do you write and pass around to your friends, praying that an adult won’t find it because it doesn’t fit the ideals? How many times were you afraid to speak up because this is something that you studied on your own and you love this subject? But it’s not the subject that will prepare you for your future Adventist career, so you are dismissed and your mind isn’t allowed to grow like the future nurse in the desk to your left and the pastor to your right.

So when it came time to walk the same campus that I would have been the third generation to walk, I realized I didn’t fit the mold. No matter how much my parents pushed, I would never be a nurse. No matter how many times my grandparents pleaded, I didn’t want to be a music teacher. I was never meant to be any kind of teacher. And even though you can find my grandparents’ names, written on the statue at the library, and I lived two minutes from campus, I wasn’t created to go to SWAU.

It wasn’t until 2015 when I stopped getting pushback from my family. To them Adventist education was just part of the road to salvation. If you left the circle you were influenced by other non-Adventists and was highly likely to leave. But if truth is truth, why are we so worried about it being challenged? Is our faith so fragile that we must have only people like us surrounding us? If faith needs to be validated, is it really faith at all? I understand wanting to be around people who think like you; I do. Humanity has its herd mentality and if the person you have lunch with agrees with your worldview, it certainly makes lunch a lot easier. But if we are never challenged, how are we to grow? How are we supposed to become strong in our faith if we never leave our circles and have other faiths question it? Why do you believe what you believe? Do you really truly believe it, or are you just going through the motions because it’s what your family has always told you to believe?

Education has always been a tricky subject. And the problem with combining education with religion is sometimes religion is pushed harder than education. My parents sent me to four different Adventist schools because they were Adventist, not because they were the best schools. We paid monthly not for the best education but for the extra Bible class. Once I got in to the “real world” and had to work that much harder to catch up on basic things that everyone else had taught to them in school, I realized how robbed I had been because of the Adventist school is your only choice mentality that surrounds the grade schools and high schools in my area. The education suffers, because they don’t have to be better, they just have to be Adventist. The push towards Adventist education and lack of support if I chose something else not only pushed me from my family and Adventist education, it pushed me from a relationship with my Creator.

To this day I still struggle with the education choices my parents made for me. And after a few years I have made it back to Christ, but a few of my friends haven’t. The difference between them and me is that even though I had pushback from my family over my decision not to attend SWAU I was given the choice not to. I was still allowed to attend any school of my choice while still having the begrudging support of my family. Would they have preferred me to go to an Adventist university? Absolutely. Did they deny me help with my continued education because I didn’t? No. The one thing I can say I truly appreciate about the education decisions my family made was that they decided that as long as I was going to school, to try and better myself and learn and grow and become a productive member of society they were going to do their best to help me.

Some of my friends weren’t so lucky and now that they are graduated they are no longer in the church so angry I doubt they will ever come back. Higher education needs to be the choice of the student and not anyone else. I have friends that chose their continued Adventist education and loved every minute of it. But it was their choice, and just because it worked for them doesn’t mean it worked for others. But that’s the key, they chose it. 

 

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