Plain in the city

A plain Quaker folk singer with a Juris Doctorate in his back pocket, salt in his blood, and a set of currach oars in the closet, Ulleann Pipes under his arm, guitar on his back, Anglo Irish baggage, wandering through New York City ... in constant amaze. Statement of Faithfulness. As a member of the Quaker Bloggers Ad Hoc Committee I affirm that I will be faithful to the Book of Discipline of my Meeting 15th Street Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

How do we decide if Friends Seminary is a Quaker School?

I have been hearing this questioned raised at meetings for worship with an intent for business and in called meetings, and we never seem to get to a method of asking the question, often it comes down to yes it is no it is not.

Well, perhaps we might look at it this way, what if a Friends meeting, used the school as a model for operation? First of all, our clerk and almost every member of every committee which defines us, or does the work of the meeting would not be member ... or even attender of this or any other meeting, in fact would self identify as members of other religions or no religion. Then, as children came to First Day School, they would be divided into those who are intelligent enough to be Quaker, those who have learning disabilities, and the simply average. The simply average would be turned away ... simply turned away. Those with learning disabilities would be sent to a special First Day School where they are out of sight of, and held apart from the very intelligent. The very intelligent would define the meeting.
Well, being that we are running the meeting in this manner, we would also test and segregate adults in our meeting in general, all the while proclaiming that we are not an elitist faith.
Work on the meeting house would not be cleared through business meeting, but every element of the original building, at any moment, might be ripped out to keep up with the look of the modern age, while we, at the same time expand our buildings, buying any adjacent property we may, because expansion is much more important to a Quaker meeting that being a good neighbor, and using that which we have well, and with thought, bigger is better in the Quaker ideal.

Now, to be fair, we have to then ask, does Quakerism work in the "real" world? I think it can, but, we need to ask if we should not treat interactions in the real world as our faith proclames, simply, and in a spirit of equality.


At 11:44 AM, Blogger forrest said...

"Now, to be fair, we have to then ask, does Quakerism work in the 'real' world?"
Is "Quakerism", as it seems increasingly to be, "the worship of 'Quaker process'?"

"Quaker process" does not seem, in my experience, to be a good way of administering someone else's institution.

Examples: Pendle Hill is not under the care of any meeting; I don't know why but I suspect the founders wanted to have the place operating before they died.

The projected permanent meeting site for Pacific Yearly Meeting became the project of a group of dedicated Friends with dreams for various constructive uses of the place--who were utterly disappointed when the Yearly Meeting dumped the idea in a massive fuss-storm, opposed by 1) people with the notion that if we didn't spend anything on meeting facilities we would somehow develop the motivation to throw ourselves instead into Good Works in Latin America and 2) people from Northern California reluctant to travel to a hot place for yearly meeting. The project may still come to something worthwhile, but not if they depend on the meeting's support.

Or consider the AFSC. You have a Quaker idea staffed mostly by non-Quakers with personal expertise & concerns toward addressing particular issues--and hence they tend to be "too radical" for Friends who haven't looked into their issue at the same depth, and they have a hard time recruiting committee members from local Quaker meetings--while the actual running of the institution is increasingly organized on a "corporate" model. Considering the effort they go to to hire competent, dedicated, conscientious people, the centralization and lack of trust in the employees actually doing the work often becomes absurd, while the local committees that are supposed to provide oversight work as toy steering wheels, the actual decisions being made at higher levels. Whether the employees themselves could run things in a spiritually based process akin to the Quaker system--probably they could, but this is not how it's been arranged.

"Quakerism" as I understand it, is radical dependence upon the inspiration and guidance of God--with our testimonies and procedures growing out of that--but that isn't who "we" are anymore. The testimonies and procedures were not designed to work without that dependence, although they do still have the virtue of being relatively incapable of harm when done badly.

At 1:59 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Dear Friend Forrest:

Thee might be right, but Friend's Seminary is not supposed to be another people's institution. It was formed so that no child of a Friend in our meeting should have to go to a school where they would learn war. Now, we are less than 4 percent of the students, almost no teachers, or the school head. Worse yet, grand projects to change the meetinghouse are carried out in violation of Quaker process, and our children are turned down for membership and we have no process for the meeting to be informed why...

As a result our faith is dwindling rather than growing. When our schools were Quaker schools we grew, and passed our faith down to the next generation. Now, we seldom do, as many children are alienated by the rejection of a school that they see as being part of the meeting. It is more than tragic. We are like the Indian nations which gave a small bit of the North east to Euro Americans, and now each year still loose land and power. The same system we set ourselves apart from now runs our schools assimilating more and more of our resources each year, until soon we will just disappear. There will be the image of Quakerism in liberal Quaker named schools, but real Quakerism is being eclipsed.

At 1:59 PM, Blogger earthfreak said...

Hey Lor

I don't remember if we've talked about this before. My mom went to Friends Seminary in, golly, the 40s and 50s I guess. She wasnt' a quaker, and I think it already was simply a good "prep" school, and nothing more.

Following in that tradition, my parents sent me to Germantown Friends School in Philly. It's actually kind of how me (and my dad) got to be quakers today - so occasionally it still "grows" the society I guess?)

And I do, perhaps it's only Alumni pride (which I'm not generally overflowing with) but I do think GFS still manages to hold onto *some* of what it means to be quaker, but at the same time, in my class of 80 there were perhaps 3 or 4 kids who had family that regularly attended meeting, and another 3-4 who had some more distant claim to quakerism....

I was just talking to a f/Friend at the daycare where I work very part time, about the ties between the daycare and the local Friends school (which currently only goes through 8th grade) - and he mentioned that the one child there whose family would have chosen Friends School for kindergarten this year couldn't go because she didn't get a scholarship (she isnt' a quaker, apparently quaker kids get scholarships - I'm not sure how I feel about that)

At GFS there is a test to simply get in. I clearly remember our dean of students handing back PSAT tests and saying, to the class as a whole something about the national average, but, guffaw, of course no one here would do THAT poorly. I mentioned in a class later that that really offended me, and I was sure at least someone in the school had done that "badly" and another kid in the (very small) class said that he had (and seemed very hurt by it, I must say)

It didn't even occur to me that Friends Schools were about not teaching war. I wonder to what extent we "learn war" in public school? It seems like it would be pretty avoidable here in Minneapolis, but I'm not sure.

I worry that the very existence of Friends Schools teaches elitism. Even those that don't cut out the kids with average IQs and learning disabilities, by their very nature cut out kids who can't afford it.

In my first day school class last year, almost all of the middle schoolers were finishing up at Friends School, and their isolationism and elitism was horrific. There were a few times I felt sick, or near tears, as it became evident that they held public school teachers and students in complete disdain, not to mention that none of them seemed to know a black person.....

Years ago I worked for a woman who went from Minneapolis public schools to Haverford. She mentioned once that at the end of her time there she was asked to fill out a survey that asked how Haverford had helped her appreciate diversity. She said at the time she was simply stumped, and felt sort of dumb, but in retrospect, she went from an environment where diversity was normal, it was real-life, to one where mostly wealthy white people talked about it a lot. She hadn't learned a dang thing about diversity there.

oops, am I being a bit soapboxish???


At 11:50 AM, Blogger lunaparker said...

Hello Friend,

I came upon your blog rather by accident but felt compelled to respond to your query about Friends Seminary's role as a overtly Quaker school.

As an introduction, I attended Friends from 1 - 12th grades, from which I left to attend Swarthmore College (also of Quaker origin, but not actively associated within its curriculum.)Also, I am neither Quaker nor of well-heeled origin!

I've gone on to graduate school, to employment, and am working on a PhD but since graduating in 97 I have remained active in the community -- through teaching extended programs and substitute teaching throughout K-12 in a variety of disciplines.

The thing that upsets me most is not the change of the caliber of education but the school's obvious bending to the pressures of being a competitive prep school against the others in the city -- and while I support the added facilities and opportunities, I feel in the tenor a lapsed engagement with the Quaker ideals that so defined my time there.

Admittedly, I felt it moreso when I began Friends in the early 80's than even when I graduated, but there was still a decorum in the classroom that resonated with a certain respect for not only teachers but others that appears to have lessened. As the school bends under pressure so are its students less convinced that a seemingly archaic model of thought is feasible.

In higher education we question the social conception of "race" and "class" and "difference" - while I applaud the school's effort to openly engage in days of concern regarding these popular issues, it saddens me that the administration has lost sight of a Quaker vision that long ago allowed students at this institution to interact, learn, and serve regardless of these titles or associations. In this way the vision is hardly anachronistic but increasingly necessary, appropriate, and forward thinking.

The Quaker identity of the school need not be Christian or admit any over any other -- but it need hold to its ideals or the Society of Friends should not agree to association. I'd be eager to dialogue further. Best of luck working through this difficult issue!

At 11:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I go to a Friends and there ARE black people in my school and there is diversity! Further more we are not just stuck up snot nosed brats!


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