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.