What does a Friends School Have to Offer?
Quakers believe in strong encouragement of the individual. Each person has the capacity to be good, the ability to see the Light of God, and the ability to put that truth to good use. Thus, Quakers provide an exceptional and unique learning environment. Students who graduate from a Quaker school walk away with a strong sense of social understanding, skills to deal with adversity, tolerance and respect for others, and a strong sense of self-worth so that they have the power needed to succeed.
Friends schools hope to create an environment within which students and staff alike can continue to mature as companions in a wide range of experiences. These experiences, both outward and inward in nature, may bring forth in each a deepening awareness of the presence of God.
The Quaker belief in the “Inner Light” leads to faith in the ability of every member of the school community to reach his or her full potential. Children are expected to grow and change in an environment that nurtures their spirits and challenges them to develop inner resources for discipline and achievement. A variety of gifts and talents are honored.
Students learn to respect and practice truth and to know the various ways it can be found - through scientific investigation, through creative expression, through conversation, through worship, through service within the school community and beyond. They are encouraged by word and example to respect the talents and perspectives of others, and include them in a cooperative, rather than competitive search for knowledge.
A basic tenet of Quakerism is that truth is continuously revealed and is accessible to the seeker. At Friends schools, this belief is reflected in an open-minded approach to curriculum and teaching, in an emphasis on critical thinking skills, and in a developmental approach to children and learning. Work on individual skills and knowledge is balanced with group learning, in which each person’s unique insights contribute to a collective understanding.
The fundamental principle which Friends stress, that in every person, there is something of God capable of receiving direct illumination from God, must apply equally to children as to adults, and must, therefore set the tone for the whole life of the school. The whole community should live together in friendship, each one recognizing the special position held by the others, and the contribution required from each for the perfection of the common life.
-London Yearly Meeting, 1946
Aims of Quaker Education
A Friends school hopes to offer a community that cares deeply about what kind of persons its members, young and old, are becoming, what goals and motives are effective in their lives, what their response is to the high calling of being human. They hope to be communities of those who have, not only techniques and knowledge, but also a vivid relationship to reality, a hunger for worship, a passion for truth, and the experience of growth in the Light.
Quaker education does not seek to inculcate a particular set of beliefs or doctrines; it seeks to nurture a particular sort of personhood - a person who knows deep down that sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing are not all there are to life; a person who, in an age of rampant materialism, has first-hand experience of the reality and importance of the Spirit in life; a person rooted as much in the unseen as in the seen, as much in the spiritual as in the physical; a person who has a capacity for reverence, and who is as well equipped to experience the Spirit as to do work in the world.
This is a person who has learned that truth, beauty, goodness, and love are evidences of the transforming power of the Spirit and everywhere imbued with meaning; a person who is optimistic about the ability of love and good will to mend the affairs of humanity; a person who has begun to develop the courage to testify outwardly to what he or she knows inwardly; a person who has the courage to follow the inward argument where it leads.
Quaker education represents a unique combination of academic excellence and spiritual depth.
Meeting for Worship
A Friends Meeting, however silent, (knows) — that worship is something other and deeper than words and that it is to the unseen and eternal things that we desire to give the first place in our lives.
-Caroline E. Stephens, 1908
Each week a Friends school community gathers for meeting for worship. The form of worship is simple — believing that each person has within him or her the ability, with God’s help, to discern the truth, Friends worship silently, waiting upon the Spirit. Students and teachers are encouraged to speak from their hearts, if so moved.
The unstructured nature of meeting for worship, with its focus on the power of the gathered group, gives children of all faiths a powerful tool for spiritual growth. They are asked to turn to their Inner Light for guidance in living their lives. Meeting for worship makes explicit the connection between the inward and outward life that is unique in Quaker education.
Friends education strives to be socially responsible. Peace and war, racism and brotherhood, ignorance and poverty, injustice and law, violence and nonviolence--all these are both subjects for study and issues for commitment for students as they seeks to become effective citizens.
Because Friends believe that faith requires action in the world, the schools emphasize the development of a caring community, peaceful resolution of conflict, and service to others, especially those less fortunate. Friends have a long tradition of putting love into action, and the Quaker testimonies of equality, community, harmony, and simplicity are reflected in the life of the school. Students grow into compassionate and responsible adults who recognize their interconnectedness with the larger human family.
The Religious Society of Friends was originated by George Fox (1624-1691) during a period of political upheaval and social change in England. The established churches, Catholic and Anglican, were at a low ebb at this time, caught up in conflicts and preoccupied with forms and power struggles rather than religious witness. Neither provided much help to the victims of upheaval in a violent century, and so there were thousands of “seekers” who were looking for something that they could believe in and that would give meaning to their lives.
One such seeker, George Fox, after years of spiritual questioning, had a revelation on Pendle Hill, in the heart of England’s Lake District. This revelation led to the birth of the Religious Society of Friends and has been at the heart of its life and witness ever since. From this revelation, George Fox derived his essential insight, which was that there is “that of God” in everyone, and that one can gain access to the God within through stillness and the practice of silence.
Quakers came to America very early in their history — the first Quakers came on preaching missions in 1656 to Maryland. Also, as a result of the persecution of Quakers in England, many Friends emigrated to the American colonies. William Penn arrived in America in 1681 and founded Pennsylvania as the Holy Experiment, a colony governed on the ideals of the Religious Society of Friends.
Quakers first established schools in England to provide their children with a “guarded” education, one that protected the children from the influences of the larger society. When Friends arrived in America, they immediately founded schools to educate both boys and girls. Friends schools were founded in Philadelphia in the late 1600s. Believing that spiritual, social, and intellectual growth are closely linked, Friends have always stressed the importance of an education that supports the overall development of the child.
It seems to me that this Quaker attitude of sitting open to truth is one of the spiritual foundations of Quaker education. The 300 years of the Quaker story is shot through with bold probes into truth and shafts of new light, such as the early Quaker cry for worship rather than ritual, the direct God/person relation, the huge social effect of insistence on absolute integrity and simplicity, the witness against violence and war, the decision-making processes, radical concepts regarding slavery, careful use of natural resources, treatment of criminals, mentally ill, the refugee, the rejects of society, and the long, long tradition of Quaker education, including the first schools for black Americans, and Pennsylvania’s eighty years of peace with the Native Americans.
-Colin Bell, 1971
-Graduate of a Friends school, 1994
Reprinted with the permission of the Friends Council on Education. © 2008 Friends Council on Education.
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