What is Quaker Education?
Quaker schools have been educating children and young adults for over 300 years. Notable politicians and their children have attended Quaker schools, including both of President Barack Obama’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, Vice President Joe Biden’s grandchildren, President Theodore Roosevelt’s son Archibald, Richard Nixon’s daughter Tricia, Bill Clinton’s daughter Chelsea Clinton, and Vice President Al Gore’s son, Albert Gore III.
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.
- 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 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.
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 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
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 seek 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.
[Excerpted from What Does a Friends School Have to Offer? with permission from the Friends Council on Education]