What does a Friends school have to offer?
A Basic Tenet of Quakerism...
A basic tenet of Quakerism is that truth is continuously revealed and is accessible within a community of seekers. At Friends schools, this belief is reflected in an open-minded approach to curriculum and teaching and a developmental approach to children and learning. Students learn to practice truth-seeking and know the various ways this can be accomplished - through inquiry, scientific investigation, reflection, creative expression, critical thinking, dialogue, worship, and service.
Friends schools 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 person a deepening awareness of the “Inner Light,” which leads to faith in the ability of every member of the school community to reach his or her full potential. Children grow and change in an environment that nurtures their spirits and challenges them to develop inner resources for discipline, respect, compassion, and achievement. They are encouraged by word and example to respect a variety of perspectives in a diverse learning community, as they engage in a cooperative search for knowledge, insight and understanding.
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.
-Graduate of a Friends school, 1994
Aims of Quaker Education
Quaker education represents a unique combination of academic excellence and spiritual depth. 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, and 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, someone who:
- knows deep down that sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing are not all there are to life;
- has first-hand experience of the reality and importance of the Spirit in life, especially in this age of rampant materialism;
- is rooted as much in the unseen as the seen, as much in the spiritual as in the physical;
- has a capacity for reverence and is as well equipped to experience the Spirit as to do work in the world; • is optimistic about the ability of love and good will to mend the affairs of humanity.
(From Samuel Caldwell’s “Toward a Clearer View of Quaker Education”)
Meeting for Worship
Each week a Friends school community gathers for meeting for worship. The form of worship is simple and easily practiced in a religiously diverse community. Believing that each person has within him or her the capacity to listen deeply and to discern what is relevant and true, students and faculty gather to worship silently, waiting to be moved by Spirit. Students and teachers are encouraged to speak to the community from their hearts, if so moved. Meeting for worship makes explicit the connection between the inward and outward life that is unique to Quaker education. The unprogrammed nature of meeting for worship, with its focus on the strength of the gathered group, gives children and adults of all faiths a powerful tool for spiritual growth.
Friends education strives to teach social responsibility. Peace, war, racism, poverty, injustice and nonviolence become subjects for study and issues to engage as students learn to become effective citizens. Because Friends believe that faith requires action in the world, Friends schools emphasize the development of a caring community, peaceful resolution of conflict, and service to others. Friends have a long tradition of putting love into action, and the Quaker testimonies of equality, community, harmony, simplicity, stewardship and service are reflected in the life of the school. Students grow into compassionate and responsible adults who recognize their interconnectedness with the larger human family.
Understanding the Historical Context
The Religious Society of Friends emerged in late 17th century England during a period of political upheaval and social change. The established churches, Catholic and Anglican, were at low ebb, caught up in conflicts and preoccupied with power struggles rather than religious witness. Thousands of “seekers” were looking for something that they could believe in and that would give meaning to their lives.
One such seeker, George Fox (1624-1691), after years of spiritual questioning, had a revelation on Pendle Hill, in the heart of England’s Lake District. This revelation - that there is “that of God” in everyone, and that one can gain access to God through stillness and the practice of silence - led to the birth of the Religious Society of Friends. This revelation has been at the heart of Friends lives and witness ever since. The belief that there is that of God in every person led to the Quaker practices of careful listening, compassion, nonviolence, full equality for women and all people, and social action in pursuit of social justice. Fox also believed that decisions in the religious community should be made by the “sense of the meeting,” a spiritual process that seeks truth and is distinctive from consensus and voting, which seeks compromise or majority rule.
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 ideals from the Religious Society of Friends: religious toleration, participatory government and enduring love.
Quakers first established schools in England to provide their children with a “guarded” education to protect the children from the influences of the larger society. When Friends arrived in America over 300 years ago, they immediately founded schools to educate all children. 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.