Masked teacher teaching elementary school children.
All Heads Gathering with Wess Daniels: Moving Beyond Quaker Values 

This year’s Fall Heads Gathering featured guest speaker Wess Daniels, the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. Daniels has written extensively on leadership in Quaker institutions. He shared some of his insights on “Moving Beyond Quaker Values” to provoke strong thinking around the Quakerism that undergirds programs and activities at Friends schools.

Daniels encouraged heads to think beyond simply emphasizing “Quaker values” and move towards the deeper work of teaching Quakerism, focusing on Quaker practices, and shifting the culture to building a more inclusive style of Quakerism.

“The five or seven core values on their own aren’t enough. It’s too thin,” says Daniels. “We are talking about cultural change. I am calling for something far more difficult. The lowest common denominator is having values pasted on the wall. To push in the other direction is to understand the tradition enough to ask questions about the tradition.”

Daniels called for a shift away from birthright culture and towards convincement culture. “In many institutions,” says Daniels, “there is a system that perpetuates a birthright community: 1) the passing on of information implicitly; 2) the legacy aspect of who knows who and the 'Quaker naming game'; 3) external boundary markers, including certain types of dress and language. It protects a not-so-subtle exceptionalism of the group. There are insiders and outsiders. Those in the know get to decide who info gets passed to,” he says. He contrasts this with convincement culture. “It is more open ended. If someone is a convinced Friend they are coming in as an outsider. Convincement culture borrows from a blended model. Anyone who wants to be a part, can be. It makes things more explicit.”

Daniels encouraged educators to call someone’s bluff when they say, “Quakers don’t do that....” “When that happens,” he says, “that is not mastery over a tradition, it’s a check list.” Daniels shared the example of when he was told not to wear regalia for graduation at a Quaker institution. “Not wearing regalia does not make us Quaker. External markers we point to say we are or are not Quakers – that’s an easy answer. It is not an in-depth answer.”

When it comes to the expression, “Quakerism is caught not taught" Daniels cautioned educators against using the phrase. “Erase that from your mind. How can it not be taught?” he asks. “We apprentice people into the tradition. If it can only be caught, shortly we will have very few who can understand and teach the Quaker tradition.”


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