The following letter, "Quaker Schools Continue to Grow and Deepen Community" was written by Executive Director Drew Smith in response to Donna Orem's November 15, 2016 article, "Building Community in the Wake of a Contentious Election Season." The letter appears on the NAIS Independent School Blog.
Quaker Schools Continue to Grow and Deepen Community
How are independent schools “Building Community in the Wake of a Contentious Election Season?” As the executive director of Friends Council on Education, the national association of 78 Quaker schools across the country, I write to provide a glimpse into how Quaker schools are continuing to grow and deepen community.
On the Wednesday morning after the 2016 presidential election, Quaker school students and educators across the country engaged in a practice used regularly in our schools: the weekly gathering together as a community for centering, reflection, deep listening and the respectful expression to one another across our differences.
The object of this weekly reflection is for Quaker school communities to seek common ground, or a communal sense of the truth through which the whole of the school and all of its students might benefit. Quaker use of silence and reflection also provides the framework for students’ experiences in our classrooms and the kind of civil discourse we expect from them; we value respectful listening to one another as equals above all else. It is through deep listening to others that our students discover their own voices.
When William Penn founded the first Quaker school in 1689, 100 years prior to the formal addition of the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution, he directed the school to educate students from all walks of life, genders, religions, and ethnicities to prepare them to be moral leaders within the Commonwealth no matter what profession or trade that they might someday pursue.
Penn proposed a program of study with a public purpose through which young people be equipped to imagine and create a more ideal society. Today Quaker schools across the United States strive to serve this critical public purpose through community engagement and service to society.
Now we find ourselves in a time of uncertainty and deep distrust. In Quaker schools, communities are turning to the Quaker values of peace, integrity, equality and community, as well as the longtime practices of peaceful conflict resolution and non-violence, as touch points for navigating these turbulent waters.
In the days immediately following the election, Friends Council collected a sample of letters written by heads of Friends schools to their school communities. Below is a collection of wisdom from those letters as well as a sample of actions taking place in Friends schools:
- A reminder of the school’s “Statement of Respect,” which provides clear guidelines about how community members treat and talk to each other.
- One new head of school stated clearly that the hateful and disrespectful language often witnessed during the campaign was not acceptable in the school community.
- Several schools encouraged parents and community members to seek out resources on how to talk with their children, such as Ali Michael’s article, “What Do We Tell the Children?”
- Another head of school, in raising the question of what is the road map from here, found the answer in a discipline woven throughout the school known as “QRA” – Question, Reflection, Action.
- Yet another head described how the school’s class of fifth grade students journaled about the statement “Love wins” and what each of them could do to make that happen.
- At one Friends school, the response to the election season has been the creation of a civility initiative called “Speak Up for Civility.” (http://www.friendsseminary.org/page/Speak-Up-for-Civility-at-Friends).
- Many Friends school students are submitting entries to the Friends Journal Student Voices Project themed, “Dear Mr. President.” (http://www.friendsjournal.org/studentvoices/).
- In yet another school, the already welcoming Friends school environment has set the table for student social action such as the organizing of a march for women’s equality (https://www.facebook.com/alicesmarchforequality/?fref=ts).
We anticipate that we will learn more about how Friends schools continue to build community and create the public purpose William Penn originally envisioned.
We hope to have more details to share as we learn more.
It is our sincere hope that children everywhere may come together, in the spirit of respect for all, to find a way to listen deeply to one another, to value the gifts that all students bring with them to school everyday, that they might, together, imagine and go forth to contribute to a more just and peaceful society.
Friends Council on Education