Heads or Tails?

(Originally printed as ‘Madison’s Mission and Methods’, in The Madison Survey, March 10, 1920.)

Ellen White called Madison College, founded in 1904, the best Adventist School in the entirety of the USA—a fact validated by it being the only school on whose board she served as a member. This institution was not only highly commended by Ellen White but first lady Eleanor Roosevelt published a glowing article about the school in her column ‘My Day’ in 1938. The school was also publicized in Reader’s Digest. That same year, Madison received nearly 5,000 applications. 

How did Madison reach such a state of worldwide recognition?

Recognition as a one-of-a-kind “self-supporting college” would have been impossible if Madison’s aims had simply been to better imitate pre-existing models of education from the world. Ironically, we sometimes imagine that being the head is simply being a better tail—being a better follower rather than leading. The position of leadership that God promises does not always look how we imagine, however. As a movement, we have been called to stand apart from our inception. This article illustrates that it is precisely this unique positioning that enables God’s distinct and proven methods to flourish in the work we engage in for His kingdom. 

Dylan Homan


Students should be able to explain in detail the system of education which coming to Madison indicates that they have adopted. In certain features the institution differs from many others, and these features cause questions to be asked that should receive an intelligent answer.

A School of Small Buildings

Reaching the crest of the hill overlooking the campus, the visitor is apt to exclaim, “What a little village of cottages!” Groups of small buildings, thirty or more of them, may be seen among the trees, over a stretch of possibly three-quarters of a mile from the sanitarium on the left, to the barns and shops on the right. 

The sanitarium is built on the cottage plan, all rooms on the ground floor, and the cottages connected by porches or coveredways. Instead of living in dormitories, students are housed in two or four-room cottages. There is a family atmosphere in keeping with the ideas of self-government and self-support. 

It is believed that when students go into rural districts to build up community interests they should be able to erect their own houses and make a large part of the furniture. A neat simplicity and a rural atmosphere, with plenty of trees, flowers, and wide stretches of grassy lawns, characterize the homes of the students while in training. There is personal responsibility for the upkeep, and a cooperative scheme which makes men out of boys and women from girls according to which each has his share of the burdens and is provoked to good works by teachers and inspectors, while wholly free from the “herding” of the dormitory system. 

A Central Dining Room

In Kinne Hall, the light, airy, first-floor dining room, the entire school family meets at meal time. There is quick service on the cafeteria plan, liberal orders of wholesome food, largely the product of farm, garden, dairy, and orchard, cooked and served by students under the direction of a member of the Faculty. This is a part of the cooperative scheme which saves time and labor of individual housekeeping, plays an active part in the education of workers, and is a part of a democracy which brings all to a common table. There is no favored class, students and teachers share alike, and individual preferences are second to the upbuilding of the institution and the education of the student body.

Everybody Works

There is not much satisfaction in living at Madison unless one is willing to do his share of the work and to carry his part of the load. Not many rich come here, but once in a while some one gets in who prefers paying cash to milking or hoeing, or printing or baking, but he soon learns that it is not his money so much as his brain and muscle that is wanted here.

Students are able to earn their school expenses because all the activities of the place are open to them. Each department is headed by a teacher who works with the students assigned to the department, and in the course of his Madison life the student passes the rounds from department to department contributing to the support and upkeep of the institution, which in turn feeds and educates him. 

There is Book Work, Also

Industrial education is sometimes criticized on the basis that it belittles class-room instruction. But that is an unjust criticism. While book work is not the all-absorbing feature, it yet has a big place in practical education. Industrial education is making head workers out of what have heretofore been very largely just “hands”. The farmer used to hire harvest hands, but the up-to-date farmer wants men, whole men, heads, hands, feet, heart. And it is the mission of practical education to make, of men and women, masters instead of slaves of labor. 

This all means that Madison students must learn to use books as well as tools. They must know the subject matter before they are accomplished nurses or agriculturists or mechanics or teachers or food manufacturers. In order to keep the industries from overstepping their legitimate bounds, and in order to safeguard study periods, Madison students have three hours daily devoted exclusively to class work. And to this should be added a period of equal length for study and preparation of lessons.

The daily program is something like the block system on the railroad. When class comes, no industrial duties are allowed to infringe on the time, and when work time comes it is not cut into by frequent calls for short class recitations. When it is time for work, the student works; when it is time for class he is free for book work. The two, book and practical work, are inseparably linked, for it is Madison’s plan to put into the heads of students those things that can be worked out with their hands. Otherwise stated, education to be of value, so Madison says, must be applicable to the everyday life of the student.

The two, book and practical work, are inseparably linked, for it is in Madison’s plan to put into the heads of students those things that can be worked out with their hands.

School and Sanitarium on a Farm

Madison is located on a farm in order to make rural-minded men and women. Agriculture is the backbone of the nation, and the world is in need of more backbone. Nations are starving, and the United States is groaning under the burden of high prices, because of the disturbance in the balance which producers of the country should maintain.

The school farm is the fundamental means of support. We are digging our living from the soil, feeding ourselves and some of our neighbors. But the Sanitarium is the avenue for serving others besides ourselves. It is man’s first duty to provide his own support, but he is not a rounded man until he is also serving others. The Master set the example of ministering unto the needs of others, and inasmuch as we are able to do for our brethren will it be counted that we are doing it unto Him.

It is a great item in the education of students to have the sick in their midst to be cared for, and so at Madison the Sanitarium does not stand off on a hill, alone and apart, but it is nearby, an integral part of the institution which bears the name of a school. It is served by every other department. It must have first and best of everything—orchard, garden, dairy products, everything even to the first and best of the man service. All this is part of the great Communion Service, symbolized by the Lord when He girded Himself and washed the feet of His disciples.

“I met a friend who told me of Madison and its work. It sounded good to me. Since then I have been reading that inspired little paper, the Survey, and the pamphlets you sent me. Your school appeals to me because I want to work for souls rather than money.”

Published by The Nashville Agricultural Normal Institute, Madison, Tennessee.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *