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.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Turn To The Silent Place In Your Heart

As I leave you for the summer. Here are some parting words to ponder.

A quote from Daniel Seeger’s Practicing the Gospel of Hope in the Nuclear Age, 1983.

“To the extent that the blessing of peace is achieved by humankind, it will not be achieved because people have outraced each other in the building of armaments, nor because we have outdebated each other with words, nor because we have outmaneuvered each other in political action, but because more and more people in a silent place in their hearts are turned to those eternal truths upon which all right living is based. It is on the inner drama of this search that the unfoldment of the outer drama of history ultimately depends.”

I hope you find silent time this summer to unfold and re-explore the inner truths that you live outwardly the rest of the year in the classroom.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Intersections of Service-Learning and Social Justice: What Can History Teach Us?

What is the difference or rather relationship between social justice and service-learning? And why are more of the tools used in social justice activism not used in service-learning? These distinctions may not be as evident in Friends Schools, but they were blatantly evident to me while I attended the National Service-Learning Conference in Washington, D.C. this month.

My professional work centers around using service-learning as a tool for teaching about global citizenship. And I have found that when I work with Friends Schools many of the teachers and the students are fairly well informed of the concepts embedded in the term “social justice.” Some of these concepts include the intersections of History, Power, and Relationships. So after I returned from the conference, I found myself wondering, “how well do Friends schools seek out historical examples of Quakers who dedicated their lives to working to both understand and sometimes untangle these intersections?” And for those who might be interested in doing just that, here is a good place to start:

Gay, Black, and Quaker: History Catches Up with Bayard Rustin” By Stephen W. Angell and Leigh Eason.
And Stephen W. Angell’s latest book, co-authored with Hal Weaver and Paul Kriese, is also a must read! Black Fire: African American Quakers on Spirituality and Human Rights (Quaker Press of Friends General Conference, 2011).

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Introducing QuakerSpeak
This week I wanted to highlight a fabulous resource QuakerSpeak. This new web video series is aimed at communicating Quaker experience in ways that are appealing and energizing, particularly to religious seekers and to Friends meetings interested in growing in number and level of engagement.

The goal of the project is to educate and engage viewers and invite them into a Quaker community, as well as to help existing Quaker communities become more responsive to these (and other) newcomers.

These videos are a tremendous resource in understanding the varied experiences and beliefs of Friends. They can be used as teaching tools (for students, faculty, and parents) in better understanding the full complexity of a religion that is often described as "caught" and "not taught."

Watch Videos Here

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Make The Ordinary Come Alive

One lovely benefit of half the country being snowed in this winter again and AGAIN, are the flurry of posts by Friends school educators on Facebook; those who I rarely see on there otherwise. On the unexpected day (or days) home they reconnect with others in the virtual world. And today, this poem has been circling between friends who work with children and still get to have the thrill of a “snow day.” (Of course I live in Savannah, GA and still no snow here ;)

Make The Ordinary Come Alive
By William Martin

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take of itself.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Quaker Education Through Film

Film can be a powerful tool for communicating and bringing a message to life. For this week's post we have a video from Sandy Springs Friends School titled "What is Quaker Meeting for Worship?" In this film Spring Friends School members share their perspectives about what it means to gather together in silence in a video produced by SSFS parent Cheryl Crim. The production was made possible by a generous grant from the Sue Thomas Turner Quaker Education Fund.


For students you know who have or would like to explore film making, encourage them to submit works to the Bridge Film Festival (BFF). BFF is an international festival of student made films from Friends Schools and Meeting worldwide that is dedicated to making films that depict Quaker values in action! 

BFF provides a forum for dialog, learning, and exchange of ideas of commonality and diversity. Serving student filmmakers across an international network of Quaker educational institutions, the festival is committed to nurturing purposeful filmmaking that communicates messages of conscience. Guided by the Quaker principles of truth, community, equality and peace, the festival gives voice to student expression and recognizes creative achievement.

Deadline for submitting films is March 14, 2014 - To learn more or watch additional films visit ...

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Laborious Bee Draws Honey from Every Flower

The following is a short excerpt from “William Penn’s Advice to His Children.” Published by Friends Council on Education, Philadelphia, 1944 (first published in 1726). Pages 34-35.  

“In conversation, mark well what others say or do, and hide your own mind, at least till last, and then open it as sparingly as the matter will let you. A just observance and reflection upon men and things give wisdom; those are the great books of learning seldom read. The laborious bee draws honey from every flower. Be always on your watch, but chiefly in company; then be sure to have you wits about you, and your armor on; speak last and little, but to the point; interrupt none; anticipate none. … It gives time to understand and ripens an answer. Affect no words, but matter, and chiefly to be pertinent and plain. Truest eloquence is plainest, and brief speaking (I mean brevity and clearness to make yourselves easily understood by everybody, and in as few words as the matter will admit of) is the best."

My reflection…
I remember learning in college that some students process information by talking it out. It was quite the “ah ha” moment as that very accurately describes me. And today, as a cold has taken my voice, I have been forced to choose my words carefully, speaking when only necessary and with as little words as possible. And this practice makes me remember learning about Quakers using words sparingly as a way of being as truthful as possible. I was kind of baffled by how this could be done. Especially considering Quakers were known for being activists. I found myself wondering how could they persuade people to support their positions without engaging in long debates? It was sometime later (while still in upper school) that I came to understand the power of listening, observing, and then crafting just the right words to make the group pause and reflect on what was said.

I was asked to serve on our “School Life Committee,” which comprised of a teacher from each unit, a board member, a parent and two upper school students. The first couple of meetings were exciting; all the “adults” were very interested in hearing about our student perspective, and accordingly we dominated the conversation. This tapered off somewhat at later meetings. But over the course of some months I began to recognize that one of the meeting members, who was a Quaker and the most quiet, always spoke with such clarity. His comments demonstrated how he was thoughtfully engaging with the information being shared, culling the sense of the meeting but also adding his wisdom. And even at the age of 16, I understood the power this had and it gave me cause to rethink how I engaged in meetings and conversations. I learned that my many words did not hold nearly the power of his few because I had not spent the time, the labor, of listening. And with very conscious effort I remind myself to be the listener first, and the contributor last. This is an important skill for me as a spouse, as a parent, as an activist, and especially as an educator.

Monday, January 20, 2014

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Christen Higgins Clougherty

As educators at Friends schools or as Quaker educators, the common denominator between us is the influence of Quaker values on our teaching. After graduating from a Friends school, I later discovered one Quaker value I had misunderstood: the true meaning of the Light in each of us. As a student at a Friends school, I and many of my peers, came to understand implicitly that being “different” was more acceptable than being the same. As my school community encouraged me to express my inner Light, I was misinterpreting that to mean that my individualism was of greater value than that of community. I have come to realize that this is not an accurate understanding of the practice of Friends’ testimony to equality. It is true that Friends believe there is an inner Light in each of us, but what is more important to this understanding is that the practices of Friends center around a community of believers. That each of us holds a piece of the Truth, and when we come together we can test and discover the way forward. In a way, the powers of our Lights become both clearer and stronger when unified.

I am reflecting on the idea of the power of our Lights today as I celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy.

I have a three and a half year old, and last night at dinner I was trying to explain why he didn’t have school on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I explained that King was a man who reminded us to do two things: to be kind to others, but also that by coming together we can find courage and clarity in how to make change in the world. Two quotes from King resonate with me today:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

The meaning of this second quote has power with both a lower case “friends” and an upper case “Friends.” I read the subtext as a responsibility of those in positions of power to stand up when we see injustices. It is a reminder that we must do this everyday. And for Friends, we confirm our position on injustices and find our way to respond to them through our silent practices. It is out of silence our Lights reveal the Truth.

For those who might be interested in learning more about King’s relationship with Friends, here is a link where you can learn more: