I remember talking to a former student some fifteen years after he had been at school. He rang to thank me for showing patience with him while serving as Deputy Principal. He had come from a very difficult background and had an explosive temper. Over that year he was my most regular visitor. But eventually he began to change. When he rang me, he was the Deputy Mayor of a large city. However, he commented that if we hadn’t taken the time, he might have been in jail because of his fiery temper. What made the difference?
I believe firmly it was Adventist Education. George Akers said it very well: “Teachers are modelling the justice and mercy of God when they are disciplining. Those who most try your patience most need your love.”
All schools deal with students who misbehave. All schools have processes in place and want what is best for their students. The difference is our focus on our students as sons and daughters of God.
We have high expectations for appropriate behavior, good language, respect and courtesy. However, we also take the time to deal with each student individually in their breaches of set boundaries. We try to separate the behavior from the person so our students feel valued. We challenge them to do better and to see themselves as God does – in need of grace but unconditionally loved.
We focus on due process, following God’s example in Genesis 3 and 4. God knew what had just happened with Adam and Eve, and with Cain, but He modeled the importance of asking what happened. He sought both sides of the story so that He could be fair. We try and do that as well. We don’t always get it perfectly right, but we strive to listen, ask questions, and take the time to get all perspectives.
The difference in discipline in Adventist education is not the absence of problems. It is the philosophy that undergirds how a teacher reacts. Our view of a loving God is transmitted most effectively when we model how He would react, with unconditional acceptance.
Unconditional acceptance in the school is extremely difficult, maintaining behavioral standards but allowing individual reactions to each specific situation. Redemptive discipline is costly, but important. It is a reflection of God’s dealing with us: fair but consistently individualistic and unique.
Over a decade ago, I was the face of the school to a family whose Year 9 son was asked to leave for a serious breach of our discipline code. The family were not Christians. The dad said to me, “Thank you for your patience and fairness. You have done more for our son as a school in six months than he has had in all his years of schooling. I would recommend this school to anyone.”
How we discipline is how we show our view of God.
This article is the third in a series of ten articles on the unique characteristics of Adventist education. Another article in the series will be published every other Friday. To view all articles in this series, along with other articles by this author, click here: Articles by David McClintock.
Note: Article written and posted in Australian English.