Friends' concern for education has been stimulated by the Quaker search for Truth. For Friends, new knowledge has not threatened religious faith, but rather has confirmed their belief in the continuing revelation of God to human beings.
Friends' involvement in education has traditionally included oversight of Quaker schools and colleges and thoughtful planning and conduct of Christian Education programs in their meetings. But because many modern Friends send their children to public schools, Quaker concern for education now extends beyond that valuable but limited traditional involvement.
Friends seek to bring to the task of teaching and learning in any educational situation an attitude which derives from the Quaker imperative to answer to that of God in everyone, everywhere. When teachers and students truly respond to the Light in each other, respect, dialogue, and active engagement in the learning process follow. Cooperation and compassion mark the atmosphere. The clear presence of the Spirit at work in the lives of teachers offers as important a model for students as do the teachers' intellectual accomplishments. Ideally, knowledge gained is to be converted to service, not to selfish or destructive purposes.
While Meetings have the opportunity to make visible these attitudes and ideals in the schools and Christian Education programs under their care, they must also be responsive to the Quaker parents, teachers, and students involved in public education, through spiritual refreshment and guidance that will enable them to witness to their values in the wider community.
Respect for the Soul of a Child
Our belief in the divine spark in each individual person involves complete respect for the soul of a child: he belongs to himself even before belonging to his parents, from whom he is often different in temperament, tastes and abilities. The most important duty facing parents who take religion seriously is to hand on to their children those things that they hold to be true and good.
L'Education Religieuse des Enfants, France Y. M., 1963.
That Children May Know God
To watch the spirit of children, to nurture them in Gospel
Love, and to labour to help them against that which would mar the beauty of their minds is a debt we owe them; and a faithful performance of our duty not only tends to their lasting benefit and our own peace, but also to render their company agreeable to us. A care hath lived on my mind that more time might be employed by parents at home and by tutors at school in weightily attending to the spirit and inclinations of children, and that we may so lead, instruct, and govern them in this tender part of life that nothing may be omitted in our power to help them on their way to become the children of our Father who is in heaven.
John Woolman: On schools, (written probably in 1758) in The journal and essays, ed. Amelia M. Gummere, 1922, p. 392.
The Concern of the Meeting
Religious education in our Society cannot be left as the concern of individual Friends in a Meeting, nor of the full-time officers of permanent committees. The drive behind it must come from the membership as a whole. While the problem of meeting the existing demands for such instruction is a pressing one, a much more urgent matter is that of awakening a sense of the need for this task to be undertaken. It is not too much to say that the two most important duties of our Society are to publish the truth as we understand it and to educate our children in our faith and life.
London Y. M., Friends Education Council: Up to eighteen, 1949, pp. 6, 7
Essential Traits of the Quaker School
A Quaker school emphasizes the testimonies or values important to Friends, such as the value of consensus, the Meeting for Worship, the principles and practice of non-violence, the dignity of physical work, the liberty of an unencumbered life-style, and the value of an atmosphere of trust.
In a Friends school, human development and human excellence take precedence over academic excellence.
A Quaker school strives to demonstrate that love is possible in a group significantly larger than the family.
A relevant Friends school today must strive to foster and restore authentic speech. "Yes" must mean yes in a Friends school, and "No" must mean no.
Earl G. Harrison, Jr. at New England Yearly Meeting, 1974
To Experience Divine Discontent
To believe that Truth is continuously being revealed, to expect that one can approach perfection, and to commit one's self to live in Truth is to experience divine discontent. A Friends school should be divinely discontented. I feel uncomfortable when I am with a head and faculty who are contented, who have no innovative experiments in mind, who seem to believe that the Kingdom has already arrived at their school. Should not a Friends school be a restlessly searching, experimenting, risking place, ceaselessly seeking to attain new levels of perfection? It is growing rather than the stasis of contentment that brings a sense of aliveness, even happiness.
Douglas Heath: The peculiar mission of a Friends school (Pendle Hill pamphlet, no. 225), 1979, p. 8.
Quaker Education Should Be Experiential
Hence Quaker schools and colleges are not such because they furnish courses in the Bible, in religion, or in Quakerism. These may all be present in an institution untouched by dynamic religion, and a school which teaches none of them may yet be deeply religious in its influence. Quaker education cannot be considered as something apart from religious education, for Quaker education is by definition religious; the teacher who has experienced the power of God within him is always teaching religion by that discrimination among values which colors thoughts, and words, and actions.
A religion based on adventure and experiment should be served by schools devoted to adventure and experiment. "There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition." "This," said George Fox, "I know experimentally." Schools which translate the religious experiences of Friends into educational terms cannot be static. A religion whose essential message is "a constant renewing of the spirit to the end that there may be a progressively widening view of the will of God for man" will be reflected in schools that are adventurous.
World Conference, 1937: Report of Commission IV. pp. 20-1. "Friends contribution to education."
Avenues to Fuller Life in God
I may reach God through Keats, you by Beethoven, and a third through Einstein. Should not education to the Christian mean just this enlarging and cultivating the country of God; and the subjects on any school time-table be thought of as avenues to an increasingly fuller life in God, or, to change the metaphor, windows, each of which give a new view of the Kingdom of Heaven? This may seem a fantastically idealised view of what happens in a school, especially in these days of examinations, but is there any other open to the religiously-minded teacher? Is the commercial side of school and college life, the exchange of intellectual wares for examination results, so many facts and opinions for so many marks, which is so terribly dominating nowadays, to be allowed to weaken the allegiance of the young to knowledge and beauty as bringers of God to mortal men? No examination has yet been devised the passing of which will guarantee wisdom or culture. For these are slow-growing breeds, matters of character as well as of intellect and sentiment, the outcome of long exposure to the influence of truth and beauty.
Caroline C. Graveson: Religion and culture (Swarthmore lecture), 1937, pp. 21-2.
Discovering God as Creative Purpose
Religious education aims to help adults and children to realize God as the creative, active Purpose underlying the structure of the universe as well as of each individual life.
Religious education aims to help adults and children to experience Cod as creative, redemptive love, working at all levels in the personal and social structure toward the brotherhood of man.
Religious education seeks to develop a growing awareness of God's purposes and will, and a commitment and dedication to these purposes at each stage of development.
Friends General Conference, Religious Education Committee: Objectives of religious education, 1955.
The Purpose of Christian Education
The purpose of Christian Education is to help persons enter into a vital and loving relationship with God. Friends believe that God is experienced supremely through the Living Christ and we are called to be sensitive and responsive to this Inward Teacher. The Christian imperative is that we increasingly understand and do the will of God; that we love and serve God in all human relationships.
Friends United Meeting, "Educational task for Friends," 1967, pp. 11-12.
The Ideal Young Friends Group
The local Meeting thus needs to devise situations in which young members can find their place: the ideal Young Friends' group is not a class, but a team of workers. Older Friends, accustomed to waiting for the individual to offer his services under concern, may need to think with special tenderness of their younger members, and to make plans for their shapeless concern to find a form. A sense of concern may grow while the work is being done; and if it does not the experience will not be lost: most education proceeds on the assumption that by doing one thing we acquire readiness to do another.
Harold Loukes: Friends and their children, 1969, p. 93.
A Christian Community Open to the Young
We must, as the first act of our religious education, provide a Christian community open to the young. Not only must we offer the opportunity for young Friends to follow their own ends, but we must ensure that the adult community itself is alive and forward-looking. The forward look is different from the downward look: youngsters do not want to be humoured or talked down to, nor do they really expect their elders to know all about modern dancing. What they ask is that we should be looking forward into the world they are to live in, and show some awareness of their own problems as they enter it. Beneath their manifold frivolities they have two profoundly serious preoccupations: they want to make sense of the world as it is, and they want to see it better. They may not give this impression as they exchange their trivial chatter, but they are ready to listen to and be inspired by anyone who is profoundly concerned about the meaning and hope in the human situation.
Ibid., p. 86.
All Have Gifts of Teaching
In the Society of Friends we are members one of another in worship in a very particular way, and we rejoice that it is so, but often we take too lightly the responsibility that this lays upon us individually. We ought to see to it that we are ... equipped to be of use to younger members [and] to make the maximum use of the variety of gifts represented in the membership of our Meeting. Some Friend, for example, may feel rightly hesitant about teaching in the Children's Class or leading a discussion, but as a keen gardener, as a gifted pianist or as a skilled craftsman he may bring delight and interest to the younger members of his Meeting and enrichment to the life of the Meeting as a whole. There are many and varied ways in which we can become bound together as a family, helping one another and encouraging one another. We ought not to become stereotyped in our methods, or to be too timid to experiment; for boys and girls, who love life and movement and adventure, should find these qualities in our Meetings.
London Y. M., Friends Education Council: Growing up in Quaker worship, 1952, p. 35.
Truth Waiting to be Discovered
The prime object of Quaker religious education is this: that children should use it to arrive at the religion of their judgement, and not stay content with what they have received at secondhand. It is offered in the belief that there is Truth to be found, indescribable and incommunicable, but waiting to be discovered in the mystery of personal encounter.
Harold Loukes: Friends and their children, 1969, p. 127