1931 Address to Friends Council

The year 1931 is especially significant for Friends education in America, since it represents the founding of the Friends Council on Education whose purpose was to bring all these diverse Friends schools under an integrating canopy of educational service.

In his initial address to the Council in 1931 on “The Place of the Quaker School in Contemporary Education,” Dr. John A. Lester, founding volunteer executive secretary, urges Friends schools to lead in preparing children to address contemporary problems, in words that still ring true today.

We may define education as continuous reconstruction of individual and group living to ever higher and richer levels…That the coming years will be critical in the history of private schools is certain. Their right to survive will be exercised only when they become (first) pathfinders in education, and (second) pioneers in producing efficient, rich, and beneficent living in the boys and girls they nourish…It is not by chance that the doctrines of modern education have found so warm a welcome in Quaker schools. To my mind the spokesmen of the new schools are the spokesmen of modern Quakerism on both sides of the Atlantic are saying the same thing in different words…Notice three striking fundamental agreements.

  1. The objective of education is to make desirable changes in the way of living; the Quaker objective is a new way of life arrived at through spiritual experiences.
  2. The child’s creative urge is the precious stuff to release and to rely on: The best schoolmasters seem to be saying, as clearly as Quakers when they invoke the inner light, “The kingdom of God is within you.”
  3. The insistence of the modern educator on daily periods of quiet…how closely this is related to midweek meeting that our schools attend.
Hence the present offers peculiar opportunities for Quaker leadership in education. How urgently the modern scene invites the emphasis which Quakers have always laid, not only on individual, but also on social reconstruction of living.

Now amid discussions of the educational sociologists about what kind of civilization it is desirable to aim at, how the atmosphere is clarified, how the problems defined, when the church can say to the schools it has founded, here are some of our traditional doctrines and attitudes, testified to over hundreds of years, which need emphasizing and interpreting now as they have never needed it in the whole history of the race: For standing out clearly for solution in the lifetime of our boys and girls now in school are three problems.

First, the abolition of war.
Second, the problem of social justice.
Third, the problem of social international and interracial understanding.
The persons to influence are our youth: the place for emphasis is the school.

What are the great impediments in the way of the reconstruction of individual and group living to ever nobler levels? What are the obstacles to be removed before the Quaker way of life may bear its social harvest? They are identical. The program is definite and inspiring; it awaits the men and women to execute it.

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