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?