Education for Freedom

Are church schools institutions within which innocent children are robbed of their wills?

Frederick E. J. Harder, Ph.D., is executive secretary of the Board of Higher Education for the North American Division.


WHY DID God forbid access to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Was He protecting the tree? For this a fence would have been more effective, as later events proved. Was God trying to protect man from the deadliness of the tree? If so, why didn't He place the cherubim guard with the fiery sword right at the beginning rather than later, after the fatal damage had been done? No, God was preserving that which was of more value than the tree of knowledge, more to be desired than life, in deed, so precious that the life of His only Son would be sacrificed to save it; and protecting it would cost all of these!

This prohibition was intended to con serve that which would have been destroyed by either a fence or the restraining sword, for it was issued to nurture man's free will, the very essence of his humanity, that which distinguished him from all other creatures and made him akin to Deity. The continued existence of a free being depended upon his right to choose and his ability to choose right.

Here, imbedded in the nature of man as a free moral agent, the very quintessence of the image of God, lies the primeval demand for true education. If man is to choose right he must learn what is right. If he is to shun the wrong he must learn what is wrong. An under standing of the difference comes through moral education. The desire to choose only the right comes through religious education conjunctive with the Holy Spirit. Man was free but placed under law, obedience to which was the indispensable condition for his existence. He was endowed with high intellectual powers and situated within an environment with the strongest possible inducements for faithfulness to his allegiance.

The created works of God by which man was surrounded furnished an exhaustless source for his instruction. In the books Patriarchs and Prophets 1 and Education 2 are given some hints as to the courses of study in the original school founded by God and taught by angels. The core curriculum consisted of the laws to which all nature is subject. Botany included the study of every plant, and zoology the study of every creature. Astronomy reached out not only to the shining stars but also to the innumerable worlds in their revolutions. Our science of astronomy has not yet advanced that far, for although the stars may be seen and studied, their planets, or worlds, are still beyond the reach of our instruments. Meteorology provided an investigation into the balancing of the clouds and the sequences of day and night. Physics revealed the principles of light, sound, air, sky; and mention of "the mote in the sunbeam" suggests that atomic physics may not have been overlooked. Paleontology involved every stone of the mountains. Geology and oceanography were introductions to research in earth and marine sciences. Courses in cosmography demonstrated the order and harmony permeating the vast creation, and gave assurance that infinite wisdom and power were available for a continuing increase in the capacities to know, to enjoy, and to love.

Other Courses of Study

In addition, the man and his companion studied the principles of physical education and health, developing their graceful, symmetrical, beautiful bodies into a glowing, healthful condition. Applied arts were in the course of study to provide a useful occupation in the magnificent setting of that Edenic paradise. Growing out of all these studies was an expanding insight into the principles of the spiritual universe and a dawning of realization that an unending escalation of new knowledge would unfold perennial sources of happiness and clearer concepts of the immeasurable, unfailing love of God.

Unfortunately, tragically for himself and the subsequent history of the world, man's search for education in the wrong place and from the wrong teacher caused his fall. Satan offered a seminar in which he taught that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would impart wisdom, power, eloquence, breadth of knowledge, depth of vision, and Godlikeness. (The devil hadn't yet introduced secular education!)

The pupil learned her false lesson well and proceeded to translate it into action. When Eve "saw that the tree was ... to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat." The serpent promised that if she would eat, her eyes would be opened. What was the real result? The record says that after the woman and her husband ate, "the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked." 3 What had they gained that was worth plunging the whole world into the tragedy that has been the history of humanity? Ellen White tells us, "The knowledge of evil, the curse of sin, was all that the transgressors gained." 4

But hadn't they gained a new freedom? God had granted them the right to choose obedience or disobedience. Now they had exercised that right both ways. Don't human abilities increase with use? If God didn't want them to know evil why did He provide the opportunity? Hadn't they gained a broader view of life now that they could see both sides? How could they warn their children against evil if they didn't know what they were talking about? Wasn't an insistence that they not disobey denying them the exercise of "certain unalienable rights" with which they had been endowed by their Creator?

Consider the experience of two friends of mine. Both were reared in Christian homes. Both taught in Adventist schools. Both of them married girls who also were reared in Adventist homes. Both wives left the church, divorced their husbands, and each confronted her former spouse with this argument: "I want our children to be free to decide what their relation to religion will be. Therefore, I don't want them attending church school, where they will be conditioned to a belief they might not elect to be saddled with if they were left really free to choose among various options."

What do you think of that argument? Do public schools shield children from indoctrination? Are church schools institutions within which innocent children are robbed of their wills? Do our academies constitute fences that eliminate true moral choices from the lives of students? Do our colleges and universities deny access to the tree of knowledge by placing sentinels—with or without fiery swords—to indoctrinate rather than to educate? I have heard sermons on Christian education that gave the impression that this is what Adventist schools are for! I get letters and sometimes listen to tirades condemning our schools for not doing these things. Generally such critics, after condemning an institution, cite the waywardness of a dropout or an expelled student to substantiate their allegations. I have on occasion pointed out that the school of Christ had an 8 per cent dropout rate and that the Eden school had a 100 per cent expulsion rate!

Our schools are not commissioned to destroy that which differentiates students from the lower creatures. From the book Education I read: "The beast is taught only submission to its master. For the beast, the master is mind, judgment, and will. This method, sometimes employed in the training of children, makes them little more than automatons." "The effort to 'break the will' of a child is a terrible mistake." 5

What Is Our Mission?

Our mission is to restore the image of God not to obliterate it; to cultivate freedom of the will not hamper it; to exalt free choice not to treat it with suspicion; and to understand that the exercise of true freedom by our students and graduates is an evidence of educational success not of failure. However, we must also recognize, and teach our students to understand the difference between genuine and counterfeit freedom.

When did students on the Eden campus have the highest degree of freedom in choice before or after disobedience? Before or after exposure to a false teacher? While eating from the tree of life or from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? While studying truth or while dabbling in error? While "in good and regular standing" or after they were suspended?

These questions are rhetorical. The answers are obvious. Yet, they spring from a truth that is almost impossible to teach, irrespective of age or IQ, and that is that we retain or achieve freedom of choice to the extent that we make right choices. Conversely, we lose our freedom to the extent that we make wrong choices.

One day as I came out of the General Conference north office building, where I had just finished lunch, several patrol cars were stopped in front of the bank next door; a crowd had gathered, and a police helicopter was flying overhead. The bank had been robbed by three men, one of whom was already in custody. Within the next ten minutes a second had been caught, and about twenty minutes later the third was in handcuffs. Here were three prisoners who an hour earlier were free men. In fact, they had remained free and retained their options to obey or to break the law right up to the moment that they chose to point a revolver at a teller. Had they at that moment made a right instead of a wrong choice their freedom to choose would have been preserved.

The apartment in which we live is on the seventeenth floor and has two large balconies from which we have a rather breath-taking view. Among our freedoms on those balconies are the alternatives: to jump off or not to jump. I assure you we intend to retain those options as long as we live there by always, without exception, choosing not to jump. The moment I should make the other choice I would lose that freedom, along with some others!

A Recognition of Good and Evil

The serpent's teaching wasn't all false. God does know good and evil. Man created in God's image requires a recognition of good and evil to function as a free moral agent. He cannot choose for or against that which he does not know. God did not attempt to withhold this knowledge, but provided the opportunity for learning it. However, there are two ways of learning evil:

1. By yielding to it. Adam and Eve chose this. The trouble is that man cannot learn it this way without suffering its consequences blindness to its true nature, loss of freedom, and death.

2. By resisting it. Jesus chose this way and thereby became the keen est analyst of sin the world has ever known. He became an authority on sin by refusing to yield to it. This is the method of Christian education.

To hold that indoctrination in righteousness limits a child's freedom is either to ignore the fact that he is being exposed to indoctrination of another kind or to repeat the original lie that freedom is to be found in yielding to evil rather than in resisting it. I submit that some thousands of years of experience have not rendered the serpent less subtle, nor made his lies less vicious, nor softened the tragic jeopardy of exposure to his teaching.

Today's children, on the average, have spent more hours watching television before they enter the first grade than they will spend in class during four years of college. Believe you me, they have been to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and any suggestion that they have not been indoctrinated or that their indoctrination will not continue in the schools of the state represents a naive idiocy beyond belief! They need access to the tree of life! They are entitled to be surrounded by an environment with the strongest possible inducements for the making of right choices! They are worthy of a chance to have restored within them the image of God, which is the only—repeat, the only— pathway to true and total freedom!

The Edenic curriculum, as reviewed above, when printed in a school bulletin looks quite ordinary: botany, biology, astronomy, meteorology, physics, pale ontology, earth science, oceanography, cosmology, law, religion, et cetera. Sometimes people who compare our bulletins with those of public schools or State universities ask, "What's the difference? Are the laws of Adventist physics different? Do computations by Adventist mathematics give different results? In Adventist history were the 'forty-niners' rushing to pan gold in Kansas?"

It should be noted in this regard that when the serpent held his tutorial in Eden he didn't introduce new subject matter, but taught on the same topic under study in classes presided over by angels. However, his method was different, his objectives were different, the results were different. His method was skepticism and disbelief in the word of God; exaltation of man above his Creator, and the encouragement of worldly ambition; the results were sorrow in place of joy, suffering in place of happiness, and death in place of life.

Study of the sciences in Eden was not merely to learn about nature but to make an acquaintance with nature's God. So it will be in schools that are truly Christian. We will study the humanities, not merely to learn about man but to discern the hand of God in the affairs of men. We will study the social sciences, not only to become experts in human social problems but to contribute toward the establishment of the divine society, the kingdom of God. Our acquisition of truth will be viewed, not so much in terms of human discovery, as in the context of divine revelation.

We began by noting that the doctrine of Christian education is found among the earliest and most basic doctrines of the Bible: the creatorship of God, the origin of man, free will, moral responsibility, and conditional immortality. We have seen that education was instituted first to preserve freedom and the image of God and, second, to restore these in human beings who had lost them by dis obedience. This is tantamount to equating education with salvation! Is this presumption? Not in the judgment of the foremost authority on Christian education and soul winning in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, who stated unequivocally: "In the highest sense the work of education and the work of redemption are one." 6

Any concept of Christian education less exalted than the central doctrine of redemption is inadequate! Any aim for an Adventist school that falls short of this is too low! Any attitude toward the Christian teacher that relegates him to a rank other than among the most elevated and sacred ministries is false! Finally, any education that fails to reckon with eternity is too fleeting in its aim, too narrow in its compass, too destitute of grandeur, and too delusive in its thrust to offer to our children and youth who have the potential to become Godlike!

What parent of you: if his child asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he seeks for freedom, will educate him for bondage? Or if his quest is for the Tree of Life, will send him to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a Serpent?


1 Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 50, 51.

2 Education, pp. 21, 22.

3 Genesis 3:6, 7.

4 Education, p. 25.

5 Ibid., p. 288.

6 Ibid., p. 30.

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Frederick E. J. Harder, Ph.D., is executive secretary of the Board of Higher Education for the North American Division.

August 1976

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