Whittier Friends School
A Quaker School
6726 S. Washington Avenue
Whittier, CA 90601
A Brief History of Quaker Education
It seems to me that this Quaker attitude of sitting open to the truth is one
of thespiritual foundations of Quaker education. The 300 years of the Quaker
story is shot through with bold probes into truth andshafts of new light, such
as the early Quaker cry for worship rather than ritual, the direct God/person
relation, the huge social effect of insistence on absolute integrity and
simplicity, the witness against violence and war, the decision-making process,
radical concepts regarding slavery, careful use of natural resources treatment
of criminals, mentally ill, the refugee, the rejects of society, and the long,
long tradition of Quaker education, including the first schools for black
Americans, and Pennsylvania's eighty years of peace with the Native Americans.
—Colin Bell, 1971
The Religious Society of Friends was originated by George Fox (1624-1691) during a period of political upheaval and social change in England. The established churches, Catholic and Anglican, were at a low ebb at this time, caught up in conflicts and preoccupied with forms and power struggles rather than religious witness. Neither provided much help to the victims of upheaval in a violent century, and so there were thousands of "seekers", who wandered over England looking for something that they could believe in and that would give meaning to their lives. One such seeker was George Fox, who after years of emptiness and desolation, had a revelation on Pendle Hill, in the heart of England's Lake District - a revelation that led to the birth of the Society of Friends and has been at the heart of its life and witness ever since. This epiphany came to Fox in 1646 in the form of a voice saying to him, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition". From this, Fox derived his essential insight which was that there is "that of God" in everyone, and that one can gain access to the God within through stillness and the practice of silence. The belief that there is that of God in every person led as well to the Quaker practices of careful listening, compassion and non-violence, the full equality of women, the practice of silent worship: a time in which any worshipper may have an inner leading and share his or her message. Fox also ascertained that decisions should be made by the "sense of the meeting," a spiritual step beyond that of secular consensus and voting. 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 a Holy Experiment, a colony governed on the ideals of the Religious Society of Friends. When Friends arrived in America, they immediately founded schools to educate their children, both boys and girls. Friends schools were founded in Philadelphia in the late 1600's, long before the establishment of public schools. Believing that spiritual, social, and intellectual development are closely linked, Friends have always stressed the importance of an education which supports the overall development of the child.
These are some of the beliefs which guide Friends schools in carrying out the awesome, but joyous, responsibility of educating children in the manner of Friends:
Philosophy of Quaker Education:
"The fundamental principle which Friends stress, that in every person, there
is something of God, capable of receiving direct illumination from God, must
apply equally to children as to adults, and must, therefore set the tone for the
whole of life in the school. The whole community should live together in
friendship, each one recognizing the special position held by the others, and
the contribution required from each for the perfection of the common life."
—London Yearly Meeting, 1946
Friends see all education as inescapably religious, regardless of age, subject matter, or setting. For while these Friends school communities are searching for understanding in sets and numbers, poems, animal reproduction, party platforms, ethics, and racial tensions, they are also seeking to know more clearly the Truth which sets us free and gives us the more abundant life. 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. In Quaker education, teachers are partners with their students in a cooperative search for truth within and beyond the classroom. Work on individual skills and knowledge is balanced with group learning, in which each person's unique insights contribute to a collective understanding. 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 a competitive search for knowledge. 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. 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 inward and outward in nature, may bring forth in each a deepening awareness of the presence of God.
Since Friends education is religious at heart, it therefore tends to be socially responsible. Peace and war, racism and brotherhood, ignorance and poverty, injustice and law, and violence and non-violence, all these are both subjects for study and issues for commitment, now as students, and soon as 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 concretely in the life of the school. Students grow into compassionate and responsible adults who recognize their interconnectedness with the larger human family.
Meeting for Worship:
"A Friends Meeting, however silent, is at the lowest a witness that worship
is something other and deeper than words and that it is to the unseen and
eternal things that we desire to give the first place in our lives."
—Caroline E. Stephens, 1908
Usually, each week, the school community at a Friends school gathers for Meeting for Worship. The form of worship is simple: believing that each person has within 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, 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 which is unique in Quaker education.
Aims of Quaker Education
"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, respect for others, and a strong sense of self worth so that they
have the power needed to succeed."
— Marisa Edmund, Graduate of Friends School, 1994
A Friends school hopes to offer a community that cares very 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 the techniques and knowledge, but also a vivid relationship to reality, a hunger for worship, a passion for truth, and the experience of growth, both in the Light and toward the Light. Quaker education does not seek to inculcate a particular set of beliefs or doctrines; it seeks to nurture a particular sort of person: a person who knows deep down that what we see, taste, touch, smell and hear is not all there is to life; a person who, in an age of rampant materialism, has first-hand experience of the reality and importance of 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 the capacity for reverence, and who is as well equipped to worship as to work. 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 capacity for love and goodwill 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.
Special thanks to:
Thomas Brown, Samuel D. Caldwell, Stephen Cary, Moorestown Friends School, New Gardens Friends School, Only Friends School, Thorton Friends School.