As I’ve mentioned, a number of Quaker meetings spend one Sunday morning a month discussing that month’s set of questions, or queries. The purpose is to provide a focus for sharing about our spiritual beliefs on the subject. This month’s queries are about education. My response follows. Then the selected responses from the meetings in Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) for a number of previous years are included for a historical perspective.
Friends seek an education which integrates our intellectual, emotional and spiritual dimensions and enables us to face difficult moral issues with courage.
While the religious education of our children is primarily the concern of parents, everyone benefits when the entire meeting is concerned with nurturing them. If a spirit of common concern is present, children will gain a sense of belonging to the larger community, and, knowing they are loved and respected, will be able to face the mysteries of life with trust.
Friends promote learning throughout life and encourage freedom of thought and inquiry in all educational pursuits. Our complex and changing world demands that we learn to think and act creatively to meet its challenges.
- How can we most effectively foster a spirit of inquiry and a loving and understanding attitude toward life?
- What effort are we making to become better acquainted with the Bible, the teachings of Jesus, our Judeo‑Christian heritage, the history and principles of Friends, and the contributions of other religions and philosophies to our spiritual heritage?
- In what ways can we encourage an educational process that is consistent with the values Friends cherish? How do gender‑based expectations affect the goals we set and the way we learn?
- Do we take an active and supportive interest in schools, libraries and other educational resources in our communities and elsewhere?
- How do we prepare ourselves and our children to play active roles in a changing world?
For a participatory government to work, the citizens have to have a broad understanding of history, and of how government works. It is painfully clear not only do a great many citizens not understand how our government should work, but neither do a number of political candidates.
It saddens me to see so many people get so upset about issues which they obviously don’t have a good understanding of. People who feel they have to intervene against people who don’t share their views do not understand rights, and tolerance and respect.
Finally, if the public had at least a rudimentary understanding of science, the fossil fuel industry would not have been able to stagnate needed environmental policies for decades.
Education in all its forms and everywhere it occurs is essential if we are to be able to tackle the global problems we are facing that threaten our very survival.
Education is essential for peace.
SELECTED RESPONSES 1998 Friends identify themselves as seekers. We are drawn to books, magazines, newspapers, and media that express broad and diverse points of view. We believe we teach openness to new ideas by example, and support each other in a thoughtful search for meaning and truth in the events of our time. Our meeting’s diversity in age, gender, class, background, experience, and beliefs is a gift we greatly appreciate. No one present was involved in regular Bible study. Several Friends agreed that the truth as found in scripture might have great personal value to a seeker, but it is difficult to quote scripture without getting tangled in arguments about interpretation. Rufus Jones’ description of George Fox as “one who translated scripture into daily life” prompted one Friend to observe Friends’ actions are more convincing arguments for spiritual truths than learned pronouncements. We are heartened to have so many successful young adults who were once children of the meeting visiting this holiday season. The parents of the meeting are doing something right. There is also a concern that our religious education program is haphazard. One Friend pointed out that the convinced Friends of our meeting are often well versed in the Bible because they had the advantage of strong religious upbringing in other denominations. There is concern that the meeting’s children are being short-changed. Regardless of your philosophical stance on the Bible, you can not deny its importance in our culture and the need to know what the Bible says when evaluating appeals based on scripture. There is a feeling of urgency on the need to move ahead with religious education. On the question of gender-based expectations, a Friend expressed tongue-in-cheek concern that the children may believe males do not clerk Quaker meetings. On a more serious note, a member of the Religious Education Committee noted that it is very difficult to find teachers for our early elementary children; she felt one reason is that they are all very active little boys. The phrase “active roles in a changing world” seemed very appropriate to how we see ourselves as honoring the truth we seek. We put a high premium on being involved in the changing world in accordance with our values.
2000 There is a fine line between sharing knowledge and being able to still foster inquiry. Keeping this in mind will help the process of education within the Meeting, especially with the young Friends. To grow spiritually and intellectually, an exchange of ideas is welcome but can be difficult. Our small size tends to lend itself to a sense of limitation in this process of exchange since diversity could lead to unwanted conflict or a sense of alienation. Recognizing the need for establishing a foundation in religious study, we see the Meeting lacking success in this area. An attempt was made for some time to hold a worship sharing midweek, but there was a lack of commitment by attendees. The Bible, while not the only religious text worth study, is the foundation of Christian-Judeo teachings, central to our culture. Understanding the Bible’s teachings would be an appropriate tool by which to improve our religious education studies. Educational outreach goals could include approaching the schools where our young Friends attend to see if books about Quakers are in the libraries. The same can be done at local public schools.
2001 Realizing that teaching by example is an effective way in which individuals learn, it is important for us to be constantly aware of the many questions of our children. We feel there is an over-emphasis in our schools on the intellectual side of learning causing the emotional and spiritual sides of our children’s natures to often be neglected. Schools sometimes instill a lack of trust in children when teaching safety to them in situations where they may potentially be confronted by people who would abuse them. We need to nurture within them a healthy balance of trust and common sense. It is important for everyone to help children cultivate curiosity, compassion, and caring for other people and for the world of nature.
2002 One person pointed out that the word education comes from a Latin word meaning draw forth, bring out. He understands education as a challenge to draw forth what is already in the student, to help develop the ability to ask questions, find answers within themselves. He suggested that we seek to educate, to connect that of God in us with that of God in the other and draw forth that light. Thinking in either/or terms, labeling, thinking within closed boxes does not lead us to walk in that light of God. Another person suggested that we must learn to face moral issues with courage and creativity. What do we “pour in” to “draw forth”? As teachers, parents, adults, we inform and introduce possibilities to our young people. He finds this a stimulating and difficult balancing act. We are examples to/for our children in our homes and at meeting; our own efforts to understand, inquire will teach our children. The query also makes clear the importance of children and adults sharing experiences, getting to know one another through such activities as leaf-raking, canoe trips, and washing dishes together. We might benefit from more of such activities. We are aware that our meeting has been strongly influenced by our relationship and geographical proximity to Scattergood Friends School, in that many of our members and attenders have been or are part of that community. We are grateful for this on-going influence among us. That of God within each person is central to the spirit of inquiry and reverence for life. Equally central is the belief that Truth exists, that we can know that Truth, and commit ourselves to seeking it out. Determination to seek that Truth drives our spirit of inquiry. To know that what we are doing is right, true, that it is in harmony with the will of God is central to integrity in education. At the same time, someone suggested the difficulty of knowing the difference between our own occasional stubborn adherence to ideas that may not in fact be related to the divine Truth that we seek. For this reason, it is important at times that the meeting consider such ideas in the spirit of worship and seeking the Light.
2003 Our First Day School regularly studies Quakerism and the Bible, and we are pleased that some of our grade school children are standing up at school as Friends and against war. It would be a good idea to donate books in which Quakerism is explained to public and/or school libraries. We recognize that our kids are still exposed to gender and sexual preference prejudice in society, and we need to provide an alternate view, especially for young teens who are forming their gender identities. Some of our children are concerned about homosexuality and not wanting to appear to be gay. We need to be aware of our children’s adult role models, of the attitudes they’re exposed to and taught in school. We do encourage our children to question the status quo, in First Day School and in discussions at home. We talk to our kids about what we, and those we admire, have done. We ask questions and challenge authority in front of and with our children. Our children participate with us in service projects such as Brush Up Nebraska, directly learning that we value giving of ourselves. Some of us remember rebelling against our parents and their churches when we were young. Often the problem was hypocrisy or inconsistency. When we discuss our ideals and admit our shortcomings it might be easier for children to understand and accept both our religious principles and our human flaws. Second selected response: We feel the need to nurture within our children a wholesome balance of trust and common sense in this sometimes unsafe world. One of our members mentioned seeing a T-shirt that read, “children need to be seen, heard and listened to.” We support programs in the school that teach conflict resolution and mediation skills. A law student in our group raised a concern that higher, as it exists today, often promotes hierarchical rather than democratic values. Children need to have a healthy balance in their lives of activities that nurture their bodies, minds, and spirits. In order for children to gain self-esteem, they need to experience success. We feel the public education frequently places too much emphasis on competitive athletics, causing children who aren’t skilled in athletics to experience rejection. We were reminded that meeting First Day School needs is the responsibility of everyone in the meeting. A suggested learning experience would be to have children interview adults in the meeting in order to learn what adults do in the world.
2004 We assume our second hour discussions foster a spirit of inquiry among adults. Children in religious education classes seem eager to learn. A spirit of loving and understanding is learned by example. Several times religious education classes from other churches have attended meeting. We wondered whether we’ve missed an opportunity to ask them about their beliefs. Quakerism 101 classes were held last year in pre-meeting sessions, and are being continued once a month this year. One recently was about the book of Thomas, which is not in the Bible. People who read about other religions sometimes share in meeting. We’re struggling with providing an education process consisted with Friends’ values for our young Friends, and in decisions about the educational needs of our children. One of our members was elected to the school board and exposed the school system to Friends’ values, but decided not to run for re-election. We spoke to the issue of gay and lesbian youth at a special meeting of the Des Moines School Board several years ago. Several members teach in the schools and bring values with them. None of our students attend Scattergood at present. Quite a few attend Camp Woodbrooke, where they’re exposed to Quaker values. We ordered Quaker book covers for our students to use at school instead of the ones the military services provide. Friends whose children are grown serve as role models – perhaps unconsciously – for young parents. The activism of some Friends also provides a role model. Preparation for a changing world requires prayer.
We moved slowly into the discussion of the Advice and Query on Education, considering various ways in which we try to live our values in this area. It was not difficult to see that many of us are active as parents and citizens in our local public schools, that we are working to strengthen our relationship with Scattergood Friends School (a process, we noted, which results in their giving to us also), and that some of us have been active with the local television program, “Conversations,” which focuses on issues of peace and justice and involves high school students in the production of the show. The Library Committee is glad to report that the library is being well used. We recognized that the spirit of inquiry that the advice suggests we foster is a natural trait in our young children. Early in their development, our work may largely be to step out of the way to effectively enjoy, and avoid squelching that natural inquisitiveness. As children grow, we ruefully agreed, their spirit of inquiry can lead them to places we prefer them not to go. Guidance always has its place. We remember that, not uncommonly, adults too can use guidance. As we considered how central it is to our Quaker beliefs to teach by living our testimonies, we encountered the tension that exists between teaching by example and the need to sometimes articulate our values to our young people. Friends shared doubts about not having been clear enough with their children about the reasons behind their decision to live simply. We are perhaps reticent about talking about why we choose the way we live. We also remembered that our young people are astute in their understanding of our values, spoken or not, and that we respect and trust them as they move into adulthood. Implicit Quaker values may teach our young people how to consider who they wish to become. We must release them with grace as they find their own ways with the world, remembering that as we have found our own paths, so shall they. It became apparent in our discussion that we especially search for ways to teach simplicity, and that we are not sure we have been successful. It helped us when a Friend reminded us that the complications in our lives can interfere with our awareness of the presence of God. A simple life better enables us to be in harmony with the Spirit. We were grateful also for the reminder of one Friend that God’s love and generosity are in great abundance everywhere around us, and that our search for simplicity needs to focus on that very abundance, not simply on our response to materialism. We strive for simplicity within the experience of God’s abundance.
2006 Education continues throughout life. People here are always investigating some topic. We share things we read. This encourages others to keep growing. Some worry that our children don’t get the biblical background they did. We have a small number of children and struggle with the challenge of exposing them to the love of God. Other churches can go to a religious bookstore and pick up a packet for the semester. There are Quaker curricula about various subjects, and for different lengths of time. One told of having rejected Sunday school because of dogma. Teachings of Jesus on loving kindness, connected to experiences each week, could be discussed and could stimulate curiosity. Two of our members attended divinity school, where students get involved in studies about Jesus. One of them said that answering queries helps his spiritual development. A member who transferred from another meeting said people there shared their spiritual journeys. We’ve had new people do that, but then they want to hear ours. We used to take turns doing that with the children. Doing this kind of sharing was suggested. We do some of it as a by-product of discussing sections of the Faith and Practice revisions.