Monday, January 11, 2016

Radical Civics

FCE’s Service Learning Peer Network Gathering
Notes for Civic Engagement Panel Discussion
By Randall Williams, Carolina Friends School Upper School Civics Teacher

November 20, 2015

As I began thinking about what to say in this panel discussion, I began to think about the approach of Thanksgiving, which led me to envision Service Learning as a family. Among the family members are many relatives with their own beautiful logics. These relatives are volunteerism, service, service learning, critical service learning, civic engagement, and even our distant relatives charity, mission, and ministry. Today, I’d like to talk about a cousin -- Radical Civics.

Radical Civics is a millennial, born out of the wicked problem of climate change, the academic aspirations of intersectionality, and the rage of the #blacklivesmatter movement. Radical Civics is young, and a Quaker. I envision him, her, or them as wearing a second-hand red sweater.

The core ideas of Radical Civics are as follows:

1. Privilege should be used to dismantle systems of privilege
2. All oppressions are related
3. Conflict is generative; any movement that does not provide a process by which to work through 
    conflict fails
4. Rituals of shared silence can convert zealousness to empathy and courage
5. Traditionally disempowered people should lead movements while traditionally empowered
     people should defer, listen, and help
6. Students should have multiple ways to enter movements based on their comfort levels
7. Decisions should be made through egalitarian processes, such as consensus, and not majority

As you can see, Radical Civics is not the same as service learning, or civic engagement, or service, though they are in the same family. Today, I’d like to share with you three stories about some of my recent radical civics work. I’ve ended each story in that exact moment before my students or I took some action so that you can reflect on this mode’s challenges.

Case Study #1: Shelby, Molly, and YARC

Shelby and Molly are inseparable best friends. They are passionate about women’s issues. In particular, they care about reproductive rights, affirmative consent, body image and the media, and trans awareness. Through an Action Civics program that I began in our junior-year curriculum this year, thanks to a Friends Council on Education grant, Molly and Shelby are working with a group called Youth Against Rape Culture (YARC).

Shelby and Molly

The group is organized by the Orange County Rape Crisis Center. Carolina Friends School has worked with the Rape Crisis Center for many years, in particular with our sexual education and health curricula.

YARC, in its second year, is a student-led group of roughly 12 high school students, mostly from public schools. They meet biweekly to discuss how the conditions for sexual violence are embedded in our cultural norms. The students help one another plan and implement campaigns at their schools.

Graffiti at ECHHS

In late September, preceding our state’s Gay Pride parade, someone, presumably a student, spray-painted hate speech on the side of a building at East Chapel Hill High School. Specifically, this person, or people, spray-painted the phrase, “Fuck Gays.” The members of the school’s QSA, who are a part of YARC, contacted the principal, who condemned it in a private email to the group, and promised to look into who perpetrated the act.

The group was dissatisfied with this response: they wanted an all-school statement condemning the action. When the group got administrative silence, they launched a media campaign and petition. This angered the principal even more, which sent the entire district administration into crisis mute mode.

The YARC meetings were then filled with ire. Molly and Shelby, at these meetings, felt conflicted because, as they saw it, the students had responded abruptly. They felt like the QSA students should have articulated their demands, in a letter, to the principal, then requested to meet in person with her, before they went to the media. If the principal didn’t act, then they could escalate the meeting request to the district. Shelby and Molly’s strategy, though, was, no doubt, informed by their privilege at being a Quaker school wherein students are involved in nearly every level of administrative decision-making—from hiring, to discipline, to schedules, to campus design. Furthermore, they had been trained to lobby, listen, and work toward collective truths. They did not have much of a history, or experience, of being disenfranchised.

So, here’s the situation: The group’s adult ally hears that Shelby and Molly have these strategic thoughts and ask them to present a plan to the group. How do Molly and Shelby best help their counterparts? And, is their plan-of-action circumstantial, and applicable only to them at a privileged Quaker school, or is it feasible for public school students as well?

Case Study #2: #blacklivesmatter

Last year, after Freddie Gray died in police custody, organizers in Durham called for an vigil downtown. Because one of the themes of my American Literature class is Race and Identity, I had been processing ideas related to systemic racism with my students for weeks. When I saw that a like-minded organization, the Youth Organizing Institute, was publicizing the vigil, I offered to drive a busload of students to the event. I warned students that there could be civil disobedience, and police action, based on previous actions in Durham. 12 students were interested. 

When we arrived downtown, we joined a crowd at the public square. Organizers invited people of color to share their thoughts and feelings. They also requested that white allies take time to listen, not talk. Toward the end of the gathering, organizers asked people of color to gather in a caucus to discuss what to do next. They met, deliberated, and, after a joyful whoop, they returned to the group with a proposal. They wanted to march to the jail and hold a rally there. Attendees at nearby John Oliver concert would be in earshot.

Protester at Durham Detention Center

As we marched together, we chanted in solidarity. One chant, though, was discordant and muddled. Although the crowd seemed to agree that the first half of the chant was, “No Justice / No Peace,” the crowd split on the rhyming second line: half of the crowd said, “No Racist Police,” while the other half said, “Fuck the Police.”

Police on Hwy 147

After we rallied at the jail, organizers led the teeming crowd to the Highway 147, the main artery of Durham. There, lines of riot cops with a sound canon, batons, and zip-ties stood to block the group. The crowd, of perhaps 400, marched by the cops, across the bridge, then down an entrance ramp, to block the highway for 45 minutes.

At school on the following day, my head teacher said that he had heard that some of the protesters that night had chanted, “Fuck the Police,” and he wondered if our students were among those petitioners. One of our parents is a police officer, and it seems inconsistent with our Quaker values to advocate for vitriolic disrespect. I said I thought not, because half of the crowd, including me, were yelling the more compassionate, “No Racist Police,” but I was unsure. I had coached my students to be peacemakers and to represent our school’s philosophy. But I couldn’t see all of my student mouths at that time. I wondered: what did our students do while in the crowd?

Banner at the rally

 CFS student at the march to raise awareness about the school-to-prison pipeline

 Relatedly, students in our school have marched, for the last two years, in a Youth Organizing Institute rally to call attention to the school-to-prison pipeline. We start at a Raleigh elementary school and end at the Central Prison. At those rallies, the same chanting dilemma comes up.

The query for Case Study #2 is this: How can we best prepare students to ally themselves with popular social justice movements when blame, objectification, and calls for violence invariably arise as well? Should we abstain or engage in these movements? If we engage, how do we frame this experience for students?

Case Study #3: FCNL

For the last four years, my Quaker Advocacy class has partnered with the Friends Committee on National Legislation. In particular, we have sent a student delegation to the group’s Spring Lobby Weekend, a four-day conference in DC.

My class begins with an in-depth training in Quaker process, or consensus-decision making. Through the school’s advisory program, my students run small consensus circles to help the Upper School come to unity on a Declaration related to our lobbying topic. So far, we’ve come to consensus on two Climate Change Declarations and a Peace Declaration related to U.S. militarism. In March, our topic will be mass incarceration.

Students lobbying Burr about climate change-related legislation

Students outside the Rayburn Office Building

There are two interesting challenges that have come up in my Quaker Advocacy class. First, because FCNL picks the legislation, we do not start our consensus process with an open question. We begin with an examination of the issue and specific legislation. Is it true consensus if the proposal is picked ahead of time? More interestingly, the school community is urged to come to consensus within a strict timetable. Is expedited consensus true consensus? If not, how do you fit a consensus process into a rigid school schedule?

The second problem is more personal. Last year, a Quaker, public school student asked if he could go on the trip. He said he wanted to attend Friends School, but his family couldn’t afford it. Considering that lobbying meetings become less effective if more people are in the room, should I have taken this student, and students like him, on the trip?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

What Quaker Education Has to Offer Our World

By Max Carter

I don't have any easy answers for San Bernardino, Ferguson, Columbine, Paris, Chicago, Beirut, West Nickel Mines, Mali, Charleston, Mumbai, Greensboro, Duma or any of the countless other tragedies by whatever name one calls them. But I do know that the last 45 years of my life have been spent in Quaker education in settings as varied as the Middle East, rural Indiana, urban Philadelphia, and suburban Greensboro. My students have been Palestinian, Israeli, Black, White, Asian, Native American, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan, Evangelical, Liberal, Atheist, wealthy, poor, middle class, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, military, pacifist, refugees, victims of violence, from the Global South, from the One-Third World, and the just plain run-of-the-mill ordinary person.

But one thing they all have in common, thousands of them: to my knowledge not one of them has committed any kind of atrocity like the ones that are becoming all-too-common. And another thing: they all had benefit of an education rooted in a fundamental belief in the inherent worth and dignity of each person as a child of G-d, that each possesses a divine Light that can be nurtured and brought into a fullness that gives a positive meaning to life. That belief fundamentally impacted the ethos of their education, marking it with principles of peace, justice, simplicity, community, integrity, and truth-seeking.

Many of these students had every reason to have harbored bitterness and anger about their situation. But they were shown a better way than bitterness, anger, and desire for revenge against "enemies" real or perceived.

There are, of course, other educational pedagogies and cultures about which similar observations could be made. But this has been my experience - over nearly half a century - and it might give one pause to reflect on what part of the answer might be to the persistent question of "What can we do?"

We could do worse than start with the quality of education that leads to lives that make a positive impact on the world.

Max Carter recently retired from Guilford College as the director of Friends Center and Campus Ministry Coordinator.  A graduate of Earlham School of Religion (M.Min '75), he was nurtured in the Russiaville, Indiana Friends community, attended Ball State University, and performed alternative service during the Vietnam War as a teacher in the Ramallah Friends Schools.  He earned a Ph.D. in American Religious History at Temple University and teaches in the area of Quaker Studies at Guilford and in the Divinity School at Wake Forest University.  In 1992, he founded the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program at Guilford, a program that has now produced more than 200 graduates. Max has also taught at Quaker secondary schools in Philadelphia. With his wife Jane he leads annual work/study trips to Israel and Palestine.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Reflections on Transformation

by Christen Higgins Clougherty

Early Friends speak of convincement. An experience where the truth of a Quaker path is revealed and it transforms how they see and interact with the world. I learned about convincement long after I graduated from the Carolina Friends School. But my experience at CFS was one of transformation. My head of school reminded me recently of a time in middle school when a parent questioned whether CFS prepared students for the “real world.” I responded that, “CFS challenges us to have difficult conversations about the injustices of the world. We learn about real issues in a safe space so that when we later confront unjustness, we can return to the spirit-filled place inside us. From there we will have the strength and discernment to tackle any challenge.” I remember the fire and conviction I felt when saying this. These words expressed my transformation; my convincement had already occurred. This is the power of a Friends education; to transform students to see and commit to living a particular way in the world.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Giving Students the Opportunity to Engage

Friends have long talked about the role of Quaker education in preparing children for the world not as it is, but as we would like it to be. And it occurs to me, that Friends Schools are also preparing youth to become a particular type of person with a particular (sometimes peculiar) set of values. Our work as Friends educators is to nurture and prepare students to carry their Light into the world.  We know that it is their Light that transforms the world. It's a Light that already exists, a Light ready to spread. And sometimes as educators we just need to know when to get out of the way. 

Last month Brooklyn Friends School's 10th Grade Service & Justice seminar helped to design the first BFS Community Issue Day. During this full day program upper school students learned about significant local community issues, participated in collaborative problem solving, and identified ways they, as young people, can support constructive change in the community.

What strikes me about this opportunity is the inclusion of students in the development of the programming. In doing so we communicate to students that learning is connected to the world outside of the classroom and school buildings. And it also empowers students with the skills and experience to be the change they would like to see in the world. 

Read more about this event here: 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

We Must Ask Ourselves Which Side of History Do We Want To Be On?

A continued discussion on Quakers and sustainability by Christen Clougherty

When pondering sustainability, I have found a great guidance from the Great Law of the Iroquois - which holds appropriate to think seven generations ahead (about 140 years into the future) and decide whether the decisions they make today would benefit their children seven generations into the future. What are the consequences of my actions? But not just tomorrow or the next day, week, month, or year – but 140 years from now?

140 years - what does that look like? I'm 36 years old, I have a 4 year old son, and my only living grandparent is my 97-year-old grandmother. I joke that my grandmother is so old that she was alive before Pluto was a planet and alive still after it was demoted. But is amazing to me is listening to her stories about what the world was like, what changes or progress that has been made, but at what cost and to what harm we have caused. My grandmother has a life like Forest Gump’s. She was in the right place at very interesting times. She was born in 1917 at the end of WWI and lived through the depression and WWII. She saw the Lindbergh and Hindenburg take off and explode. She was the third car to drive through the Lincoln Tunnel. She was a docent at the world’s fair and toured around Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacky Cooper. Her mother worked for Teddy Roosevelt at his summer office in Oyster Bay, NY. She saw Helen Keller speak and when she asked for someone in the audience to play the piano for her, my grandmother volunteered. And then while pursuing a masters in mathematics she took a seminar with Albert Einstein. She then married my grandfather who ran a second-generation funeral home and had fourteen children together. And now has 36 grandchildren, and 30 great-grandchildren. But in addition to these remarkable moments in her quite privileged life, she saw remarkable change in the world. Countless wars, the atomic bomb, civil rights riots in her town, a son drafted into Vietnam, the connectivity of technology, and the impacts of globalization on travel, food, imports and exports, and knowledge. But my grandmother’s lifetime of nearly 100 years still is shy of 140.

Next year is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War – this is a legacy of seven generations. A legacy that was followed by continued systematic oppression of Americans from African descent that continues today. Living in the South, I’m often asked by visitors if the South is still upset about losing the Civil War? I would say that upset is not the right word, but there is a frequent reference to “the war of Northern Aggression.” And in many ways I’m an advocate for talking about the Civil War more as the impact of the war is very much alive today. It is alive in the way our schools were created around an agricultural calendar with summers off. And it is alive in the way our economy moved towards industrialization and then to globalization. It is alive in the way that we think of race in the US as a black and white issue while completely ignoring the numerous other groups of color who share our democracy. And this week in particular, I am very aware of how it is alive in Ferguson, MO and across the nation.

I'm left asking, what is my responsibility as a Friend? as an educator? as an American?

I was at the Friends Council on Education and Friends Association of Higher Education Conference in June and attended an interesting session where the presenter asked us consider how Friends have been on the wrong side of history. Examples included Friends involvement with Native American children and boarding schools with the intention of “civilizing” the children. Quakers also invented solitary confinement; although it was never meant to be used in the way that it is currently. And Friends now actively are trying to end its use. And early on the Quaker’s view towards abolition was a long struggle by a few courageous Friends, some of whom were ostracized by their meeting communities for taking such a stance. And the presenter asked us to then consider where Friends actions today may be on the wrong side of history? Now that is sustainable thinking. And I will ask you now... what choices are you making in your life, in your classroom? And where might we collectively be dragging our heels or showing our approval with inaction?

Monday, October 20, 2014

What Might A Quaker Approach to Sustainablity Look Like?

I had the pleasure of joining the Brooklyn Friends School (BFS) last week for their professional development day. The theme was "Sustainability." I appreciated how BFS worked hard to explore an all encompassing view of sustainability; a view held by Friends all over the world.

British Friends offer these thoughts on a Quaker approach to sustainability:

“[The Quaker] response [to sustainability] may arise from love and a sense of the sanctity of all life – a call to answer that of God in every being, every rock, stream, dung heap. It must also be grounded in Truth, especially being willing to see where we are doing harm, where we are part of a system of harm. And we must find the way to hold to that truth while also being compassionate to ourselves and others. We may also respond out of a concern for humanity, for current and future generations and for society as a whole. To be sustainable, our society must enable individuals, communities and the natural world to flourish. It will be unstable if it fails to care for the well-being of every individual, or for community cohesion, or for the ecosystems on which it depends. The Quaker testimonies of equality and peace are witness to our vision of a world grounded in love and in answering that of God in each other. They call for a transformation in the economic system as well as in the systems of government and justice. Ultimately, sustainability means finding our joy, our life, fulfillment of our deepest needs, in ways that cause no harm and that enrich the world.”

"True godliness," wrote William Penn, "[doesn't] turn men out of the world but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it." Geoffrey Durham adds that, "Quakers work to bring about peace and social justice, because it is a part of their religious impulse to do so. It is living in truth. There is no difference between the sacred and the secular.” (Durham, Geoffrey. Being a Quaker: A Guide for Newcomers. London, 2013).


Monday, September 15, 2014

Mary McDowell Friends School Students’ Quaker Dinner Party

How will you make Quaker history come alive for your students this year? Orla Dunstan, Director of Communications at Mary McDowell Friends School, shares one exciting project!

Mary McDowell Friends School elementary students displayed an extraordinary artwork titled Quaker Dinner Party at the school’s annual Arts Night this past May. Modeled after Judy Chicago’s seminal feminist piece The Dinner Party, the students’ collaborative project featured place settings for twelve notable Quaker women on a triangular table layout similar to the Judy Chicago piece.

Art teachers Jocelyn Russell and Bill Borman were inspired to develop this project following a field trip to the Brooklyn Museum where students saw an exhibit of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. Some Quaker women, such as Elizabeth Fry and Lucretia Mott, were included in The Dinner Party. Historically, Quaker women have been prominently involved in political and social activism, including abolitionist, suffragist, and equal rights movements.

Twelve women spanning the history of Quakerism were chosen for the Quaker Dinner Party. Every student in the three oldest elementary school classes designed and created a ceramic plate and cloth placemat for one of the following Quaker women.

Sandra Boynton 
Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Mariana Wright Chapman
Prudence Crandall
Margaret Fell 
Elizabeth Fry
Violet Longobardi
Mary McDowell
Maria Mitchell 

Lucretia Mott

Alice Paul 

Bonnie Raitt

The project dovetailed nicely with Mary McDowell Friends School’s on-going curriculum exploring the lives of important Quakers. Every classroom at the school is named for a Quaker. Students are introduced to ‘their Quaker’ at the beginning of each school year, and teachers may choose to do more in-depth research into the lives of the Quakers for whom their classrooms are named. Such is currently the case with the Margaret Fell and George Fox rooms. Students in these classrooms conducted research during the 2013-14 school year, and they will create illustrated biographies of Margaret Fell and George Fox this fall.  This familiarity with the study of Quaker leaders helped students to connect with the women for whom they created place settings.

The project started with a discussion about the kinds of images and/or symbols that might clearly reflect the individual women’s lives. For some women, the possible images were obvious, as was the case with Maria Mitchell who discovered a comet and Bonnie Raitt who is a musician. Others were more difficult, for instance Alice Paul who championed a women’s right to vote and went on a hunger strike to promote the cause. It was also necessary to explain to students the importance of focusing on women because women were often not considered significant nor were they acknowledged during their lifetimes.

Jocelyn compiled a portfolio of information and images about each woman, drawn from MMFS curricula and other resources, to help guide students. The packet included step-by-step instructions on designing the plates and placemats. Students began by sketching the plate and placemat together. Using the sketches as blueprints, students formed plates in clay, which they embellished or carved and glazed, and they added images and text to cloth placemats with embroidery, paint, and markers. Each place setting included the person’s name and the dates of their birth and death. A brief biography of the person and the student artist’s explanation of his or her design choices accompanied each place setting.

The Quaker Dinner Party dominated the middle of the auditorium on Arts Night, Mary McDowell Friends School’s annual school-wide celebration of student art work. The response from attendees was resoundingly positive – many parents and faculty members commented on the importance of the piece, especially those who had previously seen the Judy Chicago artwork.

Two students donated their place settings to be auctioned off at our annual benefit gala at the end of May, and a family was thrilled to purchase them for their home.