Monday, December 9, 2013


I tell my ethics students that no one religion or belief systems has a claim on goodwill. Down here in the South I often hear the phrase, "I'm sorry, that wasn't very Christian of me." I think to myself, "well it wasn't very Buddhist of you either." Rather than believing that they have a unique claim to Truth, many Quakers believe, Truth is too big for any one person to know, and that anyone one who claims to fully know the Truth is mistaken. My professor Ben Pink Dandelion adds that, "the only thing Quakers are certain about is uncertainty." It is this belief that sustains the Quakers as a community of seekers, of life-long learners.

During this time of year, I find comfort in the ways that different believers express a belief in and hopefully commitment to peace. So here are some wishes of Peace, from all walks of believers:

“Make me an instrument” – Prayer of St. Francis

“Seek peace and pursue it.” – Psalm 34:14

“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” – Gautama Buddha

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” –  Mahatma Gandhi

“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” – Albert Einstein

“World peace must develop from inner peace. Peace is not just mere absence of violence. Peace is, I think, the manifestation of human compassion.” – Dalai Lama XIV

“It is my conviction that there is no way to peace - peace is the way.” –  Thích Nhất Hạnh

"We are a people that follow after those things that make for peace, love and unity; it is our desire that others' feet may walk in the same..." - Margaret Fell, early leader in the Religious Society of Friends, letter to Charles II, June 1660

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Labour of Love Still Deserve Thanks!

An Address To Those Who Have The Care of Children (Part 5)

Published Tract Association of Friends of Philadelphia, 1832 (but cannot be quite sure that it is not 1882)

With these, an easy, natural, modest behaviuor is more agreeable, then what is called a pretty manner; for nothing affected can please. Play with them; forget the teacher, and be their companion: at the school hours, your instructions will enough remind them that you are their master, and that is sufficient. Tire them not with reading: make them sometimes leave off when they have an inclination to proceed. Reflect how great will be your reward for the exact discharge of your duties. As you educate these children, they will educate theirs, and so on till time shall be no more: and if you this turn many to righteousness, you will shine as the stars forever, for so doing; and when the great Shepherd shall appear, you, with other shepherds, will receive a bright crown , which fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for your labour of love: therefore serve as to the Lord, and not to men: think not of your pensions and perquisites, so much, as that the most important, the most honourable of all employments, is committed to your care, the forming the minds of the next generation, to avoid (as far as in your lies) all the faults of this, by endeavouring that those under your care may become blessings to the world, in every station of life; and bright angles to all eternity. 

My reflection:
Seeing that this is the week of Thanksgiving, I’d like to take this opportunity to give thanks to my teachers. Because my teachers at the Friends School permitted themselves to be my companions, I still (17+ years later) consider them dear friends, many of who I’m in regular contact. But more importantly I am the person I am today because of their teachings – they introduced me to knowledge, they fostered the transformation of knowledge to understanding, and then understanding to action. Now that I am a teacher I better understand the labor of love (and labor it is!!) and I try to emulate what I learned from my teachers – to introduce new concepts here and there, but more importantly to pull out the strengths of each child, and offer them opportunities to realize their potential, their passions, and their gifts. I seek to prepare each student with the tools necessary to bring their gifts to life in the world. I think for me, I left the Friends School knowing that my purpose was to use my gifts in service to the world. And I am so very thankful for my teachers for giving me the toolbox necessary for getting the job done.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Fear Not To Lose Respect By Familiarity

An Address To Those Who Have The Care of Children (Part 4)

Published Tract Association of Friends of Philadelphia, 1832 (but cannot be quite sure that it is not 1882)

Above all things, give them a taste for reading; and then, by laying good books in their way, they educate themselves. Let their works and studies be for use, not for parade. Fear not to lose respect by familiarity: respect follows esteem and love and not constraint. You can only cure their faults by knowing them; you can only know them by familiarity with them. Encourage them to confide in you. Be not startled at their faults, or they will not show them to you. We only open our hearts to those we love, and none but such can mend them. Permit the children entrusted to your care, to be as little as possible out of your sight or hearing, as they will hurt each other if they are: for children left to themselves, even in play, will catch each other’s faults. All that has been recommended, is consistent with the most steady and regular conduct; for steady and regular you must be, or you do nothing. Make the children do as much as possible for themselves. Encourage them to keep their persons perfectly neat: use them to assist each other: be not severe for trifles: subdue in them, by God’s grace, every instance of pride and vanity: let the proud child submit to the lowest employment in all things: teach them to speak low and slow: discourage pertness, which often is a fault in public education: fashion them to a graceful gesture, carriage and gait; and make them polite: the foundation of good breeding is charity and humility; not to offend or assume, and a desire to please, is good breeding.

My reflection:

This is my favorite section of this pamphlet. So full and complex. I’ll leave my reflection short, so that you might re-read the passage again.

There is one particular line that speaks to me, “Fear not to lose respect by familiarity.” While as a student at a Friends school, my peers and I would often describe our school to outsiders by what it was not. (Quakers also do this when defining their faith and practice: no creed, sit facing in, not in rows, etc.) The defining features we would list about our Friends school included, no grades and that we called our teachers by their first names. And when I first learned that other Friends schools called their teachers by their last names, I was flabbergasted. It was not until many years later when I saw Paul Lacey speak that I came to understand that, as Paul said, “it is not that we call our teachers by their first names, rather it is that all of our teachers know our names.” It is in this familiarity that we, as students and as teachers, open our hearts and minds to be loved by one another. It is this familiarity that allows us to place trust in one another to prepare us for our future and to challenge us to reach beyond what we thought possible.

Monday, October 28, 2013

No Trifling Matter Whether You Gain Or Lose Their Hearts

An Address To Those Who Have The Care of Children (Part 3)

Published Tract Association of Friends of Philadelphia, 1832 (but cannot be quite sure that it is not 1882)

Teach them that it is more honourable as well as more blessed, to give than to receive; and that in order to this we must be frugal, even in the highest stations and fortunes. Ease, affluence, generosity, justice, and charity, are the lovely offspring of this humble virtue; as want, anxiety, injustice, avarice, and hardness of heart, are the necessary consequences of careless prodigality. The mind of a prodigal resembles his mansion, where the vain glitter concludes in an habitation for beggars and owls; but the person who with order and skill conducts his affairs, like the sun, blesses all within his influence, and himself is not impoverished thereby. Never shew a fondness for beauty, finery, fortune, titles, or any vanity before them: teach them to be secret and discreet: shew an abhorrence to the least instance of insincerity. Children will be insincere, if not permitted to speak their minds freely. Let there be no punishment stated in the school for certain faults; let lies, malice, anger, envy, falsehood, and illnature, never escape condign punishment, which never should be inflicted by passionate expressions or blows, and seldom by whippings, as these may be construed to proceed from passion, and none others can: for the former, they will blame you; for the latter, themselves. Children should be dealt with, as we would be dealt by. We wish that our lives may be made agreeable, that our inclinations may be consulted, as far as it is consistent with our interest; deal thus by them. Trifles please or displease them; but it is no trifling matter whether you gain or lose their hearts.

My reflection:
This short passage is ripe with complexity. For me, on this day two lines stand out:
“is more honourable as well as more blessed, to give than to receive” and
“Children will be insincere, if not permitted to speak their minds freely”

I had the great pleasure of joining the Friends Council on Education’s Service-Learning Peer Network last week. And, as with times past, I left inspired and impressed by both the service-learning work being done in Friends Schools but also by the care and concern that the service-learning coordinators, heads of schools and teachers place upon the work of instilling a commitment towards service in their students. As an alumna, I can attest to the fact that my commitment to service and social justice was the greatest gift bestowed upon me and has led me to find meaning in my life and in my work. Interestingly my students (not at a Friends School) told me today, as we are in week two of a large scale service-learning project on global poverty and the Dominican Republic, that “kids from 15-21 are not interested in helping anyone else but themselves.” I asked them if that was how they felt personally. And they discussed how they do feel empathic towards other people, but that they don’t know what to do, so they don’t do anything. And just as Al Vernacchio from Friends Central who presented about by-standers and being a witness, I was able to bring my students into a discussion about what it would take to motivate 15-21 year-olds to move from a passive to active role in society. And with much more enthusiasm by the end of class they had filled the board with ideas on how to engage both themselves and their peers.

And this moving towards being engaged speaks to the second lined I selected, “Children will be insincere, if not permitted to speak their minds freely.” In my classes, students are intimidated by my demand that they take a stand, form a position on a topic, and then find a way to respond. “I’ve never been asked what I think before” they tell me. Whereas in a conversation I had with two Friends School teachers a couple of weeks ago, we discussed to what degree students should have input into the organization of the school day (you know, it’s that every three to five year shifting of the upper school daily scheduled – “to block or not to block, that is the question”). The teacher was arguing his position on giving the students a large stake in determining the schedule, “let them create it on their own.” And I reflected on how I would have found a tremendous sense of empowerment if my teachers had displayed such trust in our capabilities. But I warned that the value of role models, of being able to participate alongside those with more knowledge and experience creates a greater opportunity for learning. Especially when the more knowledgeable parties at the table are sincere in their listening to new ideas and considering new ways of doing things.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Teach Them All Virtues By Example

An Address To Those Who Have The Care of Children (Part 2)
Published Tract Association of Friends of Philadelphia, 1832 (but cannot be quite sure that it is not 1882)

If children come to you from harsh parents, and you are gentle and good-natured to them, they will love you, and all you teach for your sake. If from tender parents, and you are harsh, they will hate you, and every thing you teach them. The more defects you show, the fewer can you correct; to be masters of others, we must be so of ourselves. Let them experience, that a meek and quiet spirit is of great price; teach them all virtues by example: your wisdom must be from above, first pure, then gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good works, without partiality, without hypocrisy. Inculcate, that to be honorable, they must be useful: that no employment Is mean that is of use: set before them our Lord’s example, who washed his Apostles’ feet, and commanded us to do the same to each other.

My reflections on this excerpt:
Sometimes we learn the most about ourselves when we are with those who are different from us. We learn about ourselves in these moments in away that we can’t learn if we are only surrounded by sameness. I currently teach college and am away from the Friends School environment. And as I continue my quest to understand what makes a Friends School a Friends School, I find that my experiences at non-Quaker schools add to my understanding. For instance, in conversations recently with my colleagues I often find differences in our understanding of the role of teacher. I believe firmly that learning is a joint process and that the best way to teach virtues is by example, whereas my colleagues feel that there should be distance between teacher and student in order for authority to be established. I find it essential for my students to see my as a person and to develop a teacher-student relationship built on understanding, trust and respect. But how I can ask my students to understand, trust or respect me if I do not reveal to them who I am? And more importantly, how can I set a virtuous example for my students if I am not taking virtuous actions in my life?

Monday, September 30, 2013

I Must Find Something I Love In Each of Them

My mother taught in a Friends School for many years. During her teaching career she has taught all ages from Pre-K to adults. She now teaches kindergarten at a project-based learning charter school. At the start of every year we always seem to have the same conversation. She is nervous about the new year. How will it go? What will be dynamics of the class? What type of personalities might there be? And as the first weeks start and she learns about the strengths and weakness of each child before her, she always tells me the same thing. “I must find something that I love in each of them.” In my current teaching of college students, I have taken the same rule to heart. Sometimes it takes time and work to recognize and open yourself up to loving all of these people you find before you. But teaching, she tells me, is about relationship building – relationships between peers and relationships between teacher and student. And this is how children, who become adults, learn about relationships – they learn from the ones they love, and hopefully they love us.

For our next few postings, I have excerpts from an old tract. And the beginning seems useful to consider in this early part of the year. If you’re like me, you’ll want to read it over and over to pull out all the words of wisdom (and question if all the content is still timely). Enjoy!

An Address To Those Who Have The Care of Children (Part 1)
Published Tract Association of Friends of Philadelphia, 1832 (but cannot be quite sure that it is not 1882).

Those who teach others, must first learn to subdue their own passions. –Education is the correcting of fallen nature; and he who hath not, by God’s grace, subdued his own is not yet fit to correct others.

The principal part of education is, to insinuate into tender minds the love of God and virtue; and as we learn best from those we love most, the first step to be taken in education is, to make ourselves loved. Let all instruction then be given cheerfully, kindly, tenderly, mildly, lest by our defects we prejudice those we should instruct against what we teach them; show children in a lively and good-humoured manner that you advise them for their own sakes, and not to satisfy you humour, which never will mend theirs; that you correct them with regret, and encourage them with pleasure. Do not suppose that they are always inattentive through design; some have slow parts, and all are giddy. Children are all clear-sighted enough to discern whether you or they are in fault; would you mend theirs, you must be patient: and perhaps discernment and tenderness are as much wanted in teachers, as docility and attention in scholars. All things are easy to those who know them; nothing so to those who do not. We were once scholars, and perhaps as dull and perverse as those we teach; but suppose you should suddenly gain your point by severity, and lose their hearts; in that case is not everything lost? Will they not, like bent bows, return with greater violence to their former inclinations, when the restraint of a few months or years is over? But when the head is convinced and the heart gained, the work is done forever.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

How Can We Teach Kids to Take Social Action?

 Welcome back to the Quaker School Voices Blog! And welcome back to school. For our first entry of the year, we have a timely piece considering the large discussions surrounding Syria and the role of pacifism in conflicts. If you are interested in submitting a piece for our bi-weekly blog, please contact me at We look forward to sharing new entries from students, alumni, teachers, staff, administrators and parents. And please share the blog with others you think might be interested.  

Following post by Chris Searle, teacher at Princeton Friends School

The other day my two daughters and I were in the grocery store shopping when a woman a fair distance away in the baking section reached for a pastry only to have the whole shelf fall on her.  Only catching the event out of the corner of my eye, while trying to corral my 3 year old and 8 year old towards the end of a long shopping trip, I strived to herd us down the next aisle.  However, the next thing I noticed was my 8 year old leading her sister over to help the woman.  Although my first thought was “Why are my children not listening to me?” I was proud of their willingness to help someone in need automatically.  At the most basic level, this is what I hope to teach students who take my US history class in 8th grade: “Your actions matter.”   

Growing up attending Quaker schools, one of my earliest misunderstandings of Quakerism was the notion that pacifists were indeed passive.  In actuality, social action takes an inordinate degree of empathy, planning, and concentrated effort.  Most of all, it requires the belief that your thoughts and actions matter because it is only in this belief that we bother to take the time to make a difference.  As institutions, schools have often implicitly taught children that life is something that happens to you.  There is a natural passivity that takes hold as rules and procedures are followed; tests are taken, and we realize we are essentially average, no better, smarter, faster, or more handsome than our neighbors.  While we might have an inspiring teacher telling us we need to create a better world, we think to ourselves how can an average person make a difference?    

Here lies one of the most important missions of a Quaker school: To nurture the belief in children that their voice can have an impact on the world in which they live, while at the same time, helping them to develop the empathy needed to recognize the face of social injustice and to give them the courage to act.

Raising children to listen carefully to the needs of others, while having the confidence to share their own authentic voice, can be cultivated by giving the time necessary to build rich and vibrant communities around shared learning. 

My 8 year old daughter has been attending Princeton Friends School for 3 years now.  When I read her end of year report, her reading and math were, well, average, or should I say, right where she should be.  What stood out though was her willingness to share herself with the community.  Speaking at Meeting for Worship, helping younger students during Community Outreach, sharing her artwork with her older Meeting partner, all showed her willingness to engage her community.  By sharing herself and being open to the feedback from others, she is learning that both her own voice and the voice of others is important. 

This engagement in shared communities becomes even more important as students head toward those tricky adolescent years.  As a teacher I've observed older students often claim their greatest voice by experiencing firsthand the impact they can have on younger children.  I saw this in action this past school year.  My daughter’s older Meeting partner was thrilled to learn that her meticulously crafted cards to my daughter helped my 8 year olds’ artist talents blossom.  By putting the time and thoughtful effort in sharing part of herself, this 8th grader realized her actions mattered.  So while I had some success in teaching this young adolescent that she will help decide how the country spends its money, whether we choose to go to war, and how we treat our most vulnerable citizens; it was her first-hand experience getting to know someone, sharing an interest, and taking the time to care, which ultimately taught her the power of taking social action.  By instilling such an attitude in our children during their formative years, these Quaker students will learn the importance of making a connection and taking action to help those around them.  As they get older they will know their voice matters and, in turn, this will allow them to speak out against injustice no matter where they fall on the bell curve.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Smell of the School

In our last blog entry for the school year (we will resume early September!) I found this passage tucked in a pamphlet, cut out from its original publication. Colin W. Bell was a retired executive secretary of the American Friends Service Committee who served in Quaker relief activities for many years.

What I am drawn to in Bell’s writing is his call for developing students’ truth-seeking skills. What becomes clear to me is the parallel between truth-seeking and what I see as the Quaker pedagogical value of teaching critical thinking.

By Colin Bell (1904-1988)

Maintaining and creating good private schools, largely for middle income people, may be a worthy thing to do, but is not particularly Quaker unless two things happen. One is that the whole life, the (in George Fox terms) “smell” of the school is redolent of the Quaker testimonies as applied to today’s world. The second is that the students leave the school clear in their understanding of the Quaker testimonies as the result of quite specific teaching about them. If this is propaganda, I think it is proper. I have met non-Quaker parents of students at Friends schools who appear to regard toleration as the prime Quaker virtue, and who rest in the assurance that we will not even communicate in any calculated way what we believe and would like to be strong enough to practice. I would like people to send their children to us in order to expose them to our religious views and how they apply to the world about them. These boys and girls ought to know the areas of Quaker strength, and the areas of Quaker confusion and weakness. They should be helped to understand our ambivalences regarding material possessions, the economic and social systems, the use and abuse of power and wealth and nature, violences of all sorts, and the universal shame of war. For after all, these are the issues they must face in life, whatever their faith. Our purposes are to help them seek and find what is truth for themselves.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Preparing Students for the Society that Ought to Be

By Christen Higgins Clougherty

Quaker schools are historically noted for preparing students for the society, not as it is, but as it ought to be (Brinton 1967, 8). Following this belief we have to ask, “what should society be?” “What unmet potential has yet to be realized?” “How are we, as Friends educators, preparing youth for something that does not yet exist?”

In my work on global citizenship I explore how schools, including Friends schools, are meeting this challenge in interesting and meaningful ways. It is the Quaker dedication to action and change that continues to draw me to work with Friends schools. For this blog segment, I want to invite readers to share what IS happening at your school that demonstrates a commitment to educating for international understanding.

The topic of international understanding or global awareness appears as a Quaker concern in both Britain and America. In an opening address to a British Quaker education conference the speaker defines education as “a collection of experiences which enhances self-knowledge, enhances knowledge of the world as it is and as it is becoming, and develops the capacity to make informed choices” (Hubbard 1988, 9). A group of educators gathered at this conference composed an essay that describes the need, role and function of teaching global awareness (Serner et al. 1988, 19). The authors assert that [Quaker] educators who fail to initiate the process of change and action are failing in their purpose (Serner et al. 1988, 25). An American Friend, Leonard Kenworthy, shares this commitment to teaching international understanding. He wrote,
But where is the Quaker school … which prepares its students for the 21st century? Such a Quaker school or college may exist but I have inquired widely and not yet found one institution which has taken seriously the need …[to] construct total programs which are world-centered. The child-centered school needs to remain. So does the community-centered school. And the nation-centered school. But education for tomorrow needs to be world-centered, too (Kenworthy n.d., 34-35).

Kenworthy offers twelve queries on how Friends’ schools should be different because of their Quaker witness. Out of the queries presented two specifically reflect on what my research on global citizenship explores.
Are we teaching students to develop a chronic social conscience?
Do we educate students to be world-minded and loyal to a global view, rather than restricted to nationalism? (Kenworthy n.d., 52).

I would love to hear from you. How might you answer these queries? And considering the lateness of the school year, if you don’t take the time to write just now, I ask that you continue to reflect on these queries into the summer weeks ahead.  Then come back and let us know your thoughts!
Brinton, Howard H. 1967. Quaker Education in Theory and Practice. 3rd ed. Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill Publications.

Hubbard, Geoffrey. 1988. ‘Choices and Consequences: Education for a Better Life’. In Affirmation, Communication and Co-operation, edited by Elizabeth R.Perkins. London: Quaker Home Service.

Kenworthy, Leonard. Date unknown. Quaker Education: A Source Book. Kennett Square, PA: Quaker Publications.

Serner, Ruth, John Woods, Ruth Tod, and Mic Morgan. 1988. ‘Education for International Understanding’. In Affirmation, Communication and Co-operation, edited by Elizabeth R.Perkins. London: Quaker Home Service.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Teacher as Naturalist

Passage by William Penn

For our next entry, I have a historical passage written by William Penn from the section on education, in “Some Fruits of Solitude,” originally published in 1693. This passage is found in a pamphlet by Elbert Russell, “Early Friends and Education,” published by The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends’ Committee on Education in 1925. In this excerpt, Russell points out Penn’s appreciation of the “importance of activity in education and of the experimental and ethical in true learning.”

From my experience in attending and working at Friends Schools, these two principles, ‘experiential learning’ and ‘Quaker ethical values,’ are a central focus of Friends schools’ missions. I was intrigued to see such early writings embracing this practice. And with so many schools including a focus on Stewardship, this passage also offers a historical context of learning from nature as a pedagogical practice. Enjoy reading and please consider sharing your thoughts and interpretations!

     We are in Pain to make them Scholars, but not Men [or Women]! To talk, rather than to know, which is true Canting.

     The first Thing obvious to Children is what is sensible; and that we make no Part of their rudiments.

     We press their Memory too soon, and puzzle, strain, and load them with Words and Rules; to know Grammer and Rhetorick, and a strange Tongue or two, that it is ten to one may never be useful to them; Leaving their natural Genius to Mechanical and Physical, or natural Knowledge uncultivated and neglected; which would be of exceeding Use and Pleasure to them through the whole Course of their Life.

     To be sure, Languages are not to be despised or neglected. But Things are still to be preferred.

     Children had rather be making of Tools and Instruments of Play; Shaping, Drawing, Framing, and Building, &c. than getting some Rules of Propriety of Speech by Heart: And those also would follow with more judgment, and less Trouble and Time.

     It were Happy if we studied Nature more in natural Things; and acted according to Nature; whose rules are few, plain and most reasonable.

     Let us begin where she begins, go her Pace, and close always where she ends, and we cannot miss of being good Naturalists.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Peace: Can It Be Enforced?

The final of our three youth submitted blog entries. Bryan offers his perspective of Peace and the trouble with enforcing it. I encourage you to read and comment – share your thoughts and stories with us too!

By Bryan Shipon, Sophomore at William Penn Charter School

I think that peace is something that is talked about a lot, but not always enforced. In defense of schools, it is almost impossible to actually enforce peace. For example, the other day I was at a club meeting at my Quaker school. Specifically it was a business club meeting. We were talking about something and a fellow student jokingly said "you wanna rumble?” (or something along those lines). I responded to this by saying “No, I don’t fight, this is a Quaker school.” The boy eventually engaged in a playful fight, as the two were laughing. But, it was a fight nonetheless. At school, we are often reminded of peace with quotes at meeting for worship, posters around campus, etc. I think that some kids at the school don’t care about the feelings of others, but only about being “cool” and fitting in. From what I have experienced, this is not just a problem at this school, but with teenagers in America as a whole. Enforcing peace with teens is a very delicate thing.

I do think that peace does exist at this school. It doesn’t get the attention that hurtful acts do. In this world, it does seem that nice people and nice acts don’t get the attention that the bad things do. Just turn on the news. Here in Philadelphia, you see news of murder, robbery, and rape on the regular rather than so many good things that happen here with nonprofits. Philadelphia gets a bad reputation in the country, especially when it comes to sports fans throwing snowballs at Santa Claus. This city has a lot of good people, and they tend to get lost through the acts of a few stupid people. For me, peace is almost like a handicap parking spot. You see it, but when you get close, there’s a reason why it doesn’t exist. Just a few people can mess it up for the masses.

Recently at school, we were called into a mandatory assembly at lunchtime. The head of the Upper School spoke to the students. He said that he “doesn't use this word often, but (he was) disgusted”. He certainly had reason to be that way with the way some students had been acting on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Students were saying some hateful things to their own classmates on sensitive subjects like race, religion, and sex among others. Students and teachers alike later commented that they never had seen him that mad.

It is hard to know exactly what peace is. One of the definitions on on peace is “absence of mental anxiety.”1  Clearly, in modern society that is nearly impossible. You are always stressing about something whether it be school, work, relationships.

Peace does not have a single authoritative expression.2  So, it cannot really be enforced. What are you going to do to enforce peace, punish someone who is acting non-peacefully? Spank them? Throw them in jail? That’s not really peaceful.

1 "Peace.", n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.
2 QICadmin. "Friends Peace Testimony." Quaker Information Center., 26 May 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Equality in Education at Quaker Schools

Today we have another student entry about Equality in Friends Schools. Imani focuses on one element of equality afforded to students at her school. She even begins the debate for us, on the exclusivity (or not) of Advance Placement (AP) courses. I welcome readers to post comments on this topic or simply enjoy reading!
By Imani Stone, William Penn Charter School Sophomore

Quaker schools are unique to other schools in that they have certain specific values that are focused on through the years. These values are integrated into every aspect of a students school life. In turn each student comes away from a Quaker education in some way impacted by what was taught to them in their school life. I think one of the most important Quaker principles is equality, because without it, only the privileged few would be able to achieve the goals for which they set out. One of the most important place for equality is in education because knowledge is, in fact, power, therefore it is important that all children receive the same opportunities in education. I feel that Quaker schools are good role model for this system.

One way in which Quaker schools display equality in its education is the lack of the tracking system many public high schools have. This system of tracking, places students in a certain academic level based on their grades, and once placed in a certain track, it is very difficult to catch up or move up to a higher level. Because Quaker schools do not have this system each and every student has the opportunity to move up to an advanced or AP class, if they wished to go in that direction, because they had the same (or very similar) learning experience as their fellow students.

Students who may have a learning disability, or learn slightly different that the other students are given the aid needed, specifically extra time on tests. These students are treated the same as the rest of the students by their teachers. From what I have observed, students treat their peers who have extra time with the same respect their teachers do. In addition, it is not made obvious who has extra time and who does not. It is done discretely, so that a major show does not ensue, and so that it may save the child some embarrassment. They are not talked to in condescension or looked down on, they are respected and, because of the principle of equality, have the same opportunity as other students. In addition, it is not made obvious who has extra time and who does not. It is done discretely, so that a major show does not ensue, and so that it may save the child some embarrassment.

Of course there are the AP classes that require an application and certain prerequisites in order to take the class. This could be classified as an inequality, but as I said earlier because there is no tracking system, every student has the opportunity to move up to advanced classes and APs. Because different students have different interests and different strengths, there is, at least at my school, an AP class for every student. From AP Biology to AP Art History, there is a class for most student interests. This shows equality, while highlighting and celebrating the academic diversity of the student body.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Equality: One Way In Which My School Exemplifies the Quaker Tradition

For a change of pace, our next post comes from a Friends School student voice. Tom Rickards, the Chair of Religious Studies at William Penn Charter School asked his 10th graders, who recently finished a Quaker Principles and Practices class, if they would be interested in write a post for this blog. Those interested were instructed to focus on particular Quaker testimony to explore. This first submission focuses on the testimony to equality.

By Julia Truten, William Penn Charter School Sophomore

I go to the William Penn Charter School, a Quaker school in East Falls, Pennsylvania, and witness examples of equality and inequality at school every day.
Our school has an active GSA (gay-straight alliance), in which I am as an active a member as I can be, and we are constantly fighting for our peers and classmates to treat LGBTQ kids the same way they would treat everyone else. However, when we really delve into the matter, I think the GSA has realized from a few discussions that what we want isn't for people to be kind to gay kids, because that would be inequality, for most kids aren't kind to everyone. What we're fighting for is kindness all around. Our slogans aren't just comprised of, "Chicks marry chicks; get over it!" We also try to spread messages like, "Think before you speak!" and "Everyone has problems--don't add to them." We focus on LGBTQ people because they've received so much hatred and injustice throughout history, and because no one else will fight for them. My school seems to be focused on the idea that if you stand up for gay rights, you must be gay. They don't realize that it's even more powerful when straight people stand up for them.

Our school
, namely the administration, is uncommonly supportive of equal rights in all minorities, especially LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer) people. This may be because we have openly gay teachers that make our community an obviously better place, or it could be because there are over 50 members of the GSA; it's the biggest club in the whole school. It's one of the things I like best about my school. Also, I know that those administrators who will, appropriately, denounce its students for screaming homophobic cheers at sporting events, and will do so in the full high-school assembly, will also find upon further inquiry and/or reflection that they do hold that standard of respectfulness and non-judgmental-ness to every student and regarding every student. I'm quite proud of my school for that, and even though some would say that my school is pretty "un-Quaker" for a Quaker school, maybe because it has a football team or all-school dodge-ball competitions, I think that this is one way in which my school exemplifies the Quaker tradition. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Excerpts from “With Relation to Time and Eternity” Earlham College Convocation Address March 3, 1999

From time to time, this blog will highlight past writings to compliment new reflections on Quaker education. This post is from Paul Lacey, Retired Earlham College professor, whom we have heard from once already in the short run of this blog. Paul's contributions to the dialogue on Quaker education is vast. If you do not know of his work or writtings, I encourage you to read his book, "Growing Into Goodness: Essays on Quaker Education." In this book, as the introduction states, Paul "tries to address practical issues of teaching and learning from historical perspectives, to see what insights Quakerism in particular has offered, and to discover what influences have been most powerful on Quakers concerned with education."

Here today, you can read an excerpt from Paul's 1999 Earlham Convocation Address.

Perhaps Quaker education makes its greatest contributions to both the spiritual and the practical work by introducing students to the preparatory practices of silent waiting and then to the deeper disciplines of meeting for worship and actions grounded in the links between worship and service to others. Describing the plans for Ackworth School in 1779, Dr. John Fothergill says "To habituate children, from their early infancy, to silence and attention, is of the greatest advantage to them, not only as a preparative to their advancement in a religious life, but as the groundwork of a well cultivated understanding." Early habits of "silent attention" strengthen our capacity for patience and recollection, he says. The mid-nineteenth century British philanthropist Samuel Tuke says the "doctrine of an inward Divine Light" modified the character of those who received it, affected the means pursued in the moral training of young people, and had an influence on the intellectual character of the rising generation."
Quaker receptivity to the study of science, a strong characteristic since our earliest days, rests not only on the conviction that all truth is from God, and on the capacity to trust that the sacred can be revealed through the physical world, but also on the capacity to wait and attend quietly as an observation or experiment unfolds. The child who learns how to sit still while waiting for a bird to land or a deer to emerge from the thicket is laying the foundation for greeting the sacred, for centering outside the self, for knowing herself as a part of a world of beauty and order, as well as for learning how to collect data.

Two former students at Germantown Friends School attest to the power of this kind of silence in recalling, more than a dozen years afterwards, their experience of learning science in the lower school. They write of their teacher, Joseph Cadbury, "...there was something rare about Mr. Cadbury that distinguishes him in one's mind from all other teachers. He knew a lot about nature..., and he could explain scientific data with magnificent clarity; but it wasn't filling our heads with facts that he had in mind. We remember a strange silence that he liked to keep, as if the important facts of Nature lay beyond the reach of names and explanations....When some one asked a really good question, he would roll his head from side to side, look into each of our expectant faces...and he wouldn't say a word. In that Silence there was something else, that no words could touch, that words if they were spoken would obscure. It was a feeling...that came gently at first, but grew in the Silence until it was everywhere and in everything....His Silence was a way of inspiring wonder within us....It was a Silence that recalls our school's greatest classroom: the Meeting House."

Such waiting in silence can teach us how to entertain a question, to be hospitable to it as we are hospitable to a friend. If silence is welcomed, to allow time for entertaining a question or propounding one's own, students can learn how to wait for one another to contribute to a cooperative activity. The spirit of the classroom can change. At its best, Quaker education teaches the same lesson in the classroom or laboratory, in fieldwork, as well as in meeting for worship, how to wait attentively, in silence, for way to open or knowledge to come to us.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Making it “Real” for the Middle School Mind

By Kiri Harris, Dean of Students and Sixth Grade Teacher at Greene Street Friends School in Philadelphia, PA

Our youngest students seem to slide so contentedly along the stream of Quaker beliefs shaping their days. They appear shipshape within the structure carved out by this stream, and they aren’t likely to question its direction or source. When Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote about “a willing suspension of disbelief,” he also called the concept “poetic faith” (1817, Biographia Literaria). To my imagination this is what carries our youngest students along – pure, poetic faith in wonders such as peace, equality, and Light.

Disbelief likes to make its entrance in middle school. You start to see faint flickers of skepticism, or eyes glazing over at the mention of peace. It’s a delicate entrance, because disbelief can easily be pushed into the wings if not encouraged to find its voice. For the middle school mind – ready to see all the gradations of gray – Quaker ideals on their own can start to seem airy, implausible, precious or childish. If we talk only peace without also exploring the shades of conflict, we risk losing our students’ full trust. My sixth graders recently floored me with their comments on the benefits of conflict. To their minds, at their age, “conflicts make you who you are.” Middle school kids need to see Quaker ideals in three-dimensions.

Last year, as part of a developing plan to teach Quakerism more completely at Greene Street Friends, we brought Quaker history to life for our middle school – one “Big Quake” at a time. Teachers researched and portrayed pivotal Quakers in a series of seven assemblies. During winter, we met George Fox, Margaret Fell, Mary Dyer, William Penn, John Woolman, Lucretia Mott and Bayard Rustin. As hoped, the messages pitched in first person (and in costume) by teachers were “made to stick” (Heath & Heath, 2007) because they were delivered as stories hinging on concrete details.

For example, students loved learning that Margaret Fell adored bright colors so much she had the dyer make custom sea-green and sky colored stockings for her daughters. According to one anecdote, when Fell wore a red dress to Meeting and was labeled “gaudy” by another Quaker woman for not dressing plainly enough, she retorted: “It’s silly, poor gospel to question my dress.” This feisty moment (not to mention Fell’s initial questioning of the Quaker dress code) instantly earned her “kindred spirit status” with our twentieth century audience. Once that personal bond clicked into place, students were more on board to cheer about Fell’s important, impressive work for women’s rights and freedom of conscience.

Last year’s series culminated in a “Quaker Olympics,” with mixed-age teams of students rotating through multi-modal stations, applying, connecting and synthesizing information about the seven “Big Quakes.” Introducing and celebrating these Quakers’ lives in this way has energized students and faculty alike. We’ll add a new series of speakers to match our testimony themes for each upcoming year. It’s a start. With enough three-dimensional examples, maybe we’ll even set the stage for a re-entrance of poetic faith.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Oiling the Hinges: Nurturing the Inner Light in those who Find Book Learning Difficult

By Kirk Smothers, Upper School Director, Mary McDowell Friends School, Brooklyn, New York

The Persian poet Rumi speaks of two kinds of intelligence. The first comes from books and teachers’ lessons. It is the intelligence by which the world ranks and judges us; and with it comes the badges and certificates that attest to our achievement and expertise. The second type of intelligence is not acquired. Rather it pours out of us like a spring that cannot be kept within its banks. This intelligence never becomes spoiled; it is ageless and ever fresh.

The four walls of a classroom for many is an invitation to the life of the mind and preparation for academic success. Teachers who are adept at creating the conditions for intellectual stimulation give a great gift to learners. Not all students are alike, however, and some find that the doors that give access to the books, charts, and discourse in “school” are much harder for them to open. Students who have learning disabilities have minds that are as fully capable of curiosity and wonder as their peers, but the doors which allow them to acquire the first kind of intelligence can be heavy and mounted on rusty hinges; it takes a great deal effort and sometimes specialized help to open them.

Friends schools are well familiar with the second type of intelligence and our name for it, of course, is the Inner Light. Like Rumi’s spring, all students have an infinite abundance of light that shines brightly from their core. Friends schools that specialize in serving students who have learning disabilities, like the one where I am privileged to work, create curricula, structure programs and train faculty to help oil the hinge of the doors to book learning, while always focusing on the even greater value of the Light within.

The mission of a Friends school that serves students with learning disabilities provides a powerful confluence. In most educational environments, students who have LDs are often spoken of in terms that fall on a pejorative continuum. At the less judgmental end, these children and adolescents are referred to as slow, unmotivated, lazy or unfocused. As part of my position, I read many applications for admissions and often the narrative reports of teachers contain phrases such as, “Susie would be a good math student if she only applied herself.” At the harsher end of the continuum, the words are much more pointed, such as dumb, stupid or incapable. Imagine what repeated instances of either softer or the harsher versions does to a student’s self-esteem over the course of years, even for the brightest students.

In a Friends school, our predisposition is to see That of God within every single student. At a Friends school that provides specialized educational supports, we fully acknowledge the difficulties our students face in traditional academic learning. Our first practical effort is to identify where a particular learner’s challenges lie and the onus is on our teachers, specialists and administrators to provide that student the tools to be successful. We believe in our students’ innate worth and unique gifts and we do all that we can to oil the hinges of the heavy doors that block their way to the types of achievement recognized by the greater world. At the same time, we recognize that the spring of a student’s innermost being is a profound source of life and growth that nourishes both the self and all of the neighboring gardens as well. We create environments that provide appropriate challenges, opportunities for authentic accomplishments, and enable students to recognize and embrace their innate worth and that of all those around them.