Quaker Education: What’s Different about a Friends School?

Published April 17, 2008
Quaker Education:  What’s Different about a Friends School?
Learn about the benefits of attending a Quaker boarding school.
By Lynette Assarsson - Westtown School
While each Friends school has its own unique style and personality, they all have a common purpose: not only to provide a rich and challenging education but also to foster the ideals of community, spirituality, responsibility and stewardship. A hallmark of the Quaker school experience is the basic beliefs that we are all teachers and learners and that each child has unique gifts and talents. Students are called upon to discover their own voices and interests within the framework of rigorous, college-preparatory academics.  The foundation of the educational experience is built upon the ideal that students’ quality of character – what kind of people they are becoming – is as important to their lives and to the world as their intellectual growth and exploration.
Because a Quaker education endeavors to be a socially responsible one, Friends schools’ curricula emphasize service, social action and experiential learning. Can an education be socially responsible and academically rigorous at the same time? Educators in Friends schools believe that one is not developed at the expense of the other; instead, they work in tandem to prepare students for college and for life. 
How do students learn community, responsibility and stewardship?  By living it! The Quaker belief of the “Inner Light” or that of God in each of us creates an atmosphere of tolerance and openness. Students are led by example not only to respect the perspectives and talents of others in the community, but also to learn from them. Friends schools campuses are culturally, religiously, racially and socio-economically diverse and are deeply enriched by this diversity. A Friends school education is not limited to campus life, but is enhanced by getting out into the local community for service projects or traveling to far-off places like China or Peru to learn a language or build a school. This focus on preparing students to be citizens of the world is a unique feature of all Friends schools and reflects the heart of Quaker principles.  Friends schools have a deep commitment to environmental sustainability and you will find eco-friendly policies being put into practice, not just talked about. 
The best way to understand why Quaker education is unique, is to understand the basic principles of the faith itself – the ones from which all Friends schools receive their inspiration and guidance. You have to ask this question: 
What is Quakerism anyway?
Quakers reject the idea of creeds but do agree on certain principles that guide the Society of Friends. 
*There is that of God, or the “Inner Light,” in all people.
*Through this personal, direct relationship with God the Truth can be revealed
*Divine Truth cannot be confined by creed
*God’s creation must be respected and preserved; we are stewards of the earth
*Faith should be evident in daily actions – a way of life.
What are Quaker testimonies?  
Simplicity. Peace. Integrity. Community. Equality.
As a result of acting on these basic principles and testimonies, Quakers became known as champions of progressive social movements: pacifism, abolitionism, the equality of men and women, humane treatment for prisoners and the mentally ill, the eradication of poverty—and, education.
Do I have to be a Quaker to go to a Friends School?
No! Futhermore, Quaker schools do not seek to convert others to the Friends religion. Quakers do no proselytize. In fact, they deeply value a religiously diverse atmosphere: at most Friends schools Quakers make up only a small portion of the student body. Students gather for Meeting for Worship (what you might call ‘chapel’ elsewhere) and sit in silence. All those present are welcomed to stand and speak if they feel so moved or inspired. There is no minister or sermon. It is through this quiet reflection and communal sharing that people of all faith traditions can worship together. 
Want to explore a Quaker School yourself? 
We invite you to challenge your mind and nourish your spirit. Friends schools offer preparation for the whole of life: intellectual exploration, spiritual growth, social responsibility. Westtown School, the oldest co-educational Quaker boarding school in the country, has been providing a spirited Quaker education since 1799. We continue to provide a rich and varied curriculum embedded in and informed by Quaker principles in the 21st century. We invite students to participate in essential education: thoughtful, thorough preparation for college; the discovery and use of individual voice and gifts; an active and informed sense of social responsibility; exploration of the Spirit and the experience of living and learning in a diverse community of equals – everything that matters most. Visit our website at www.westtown.edu to learn more. 
For information about Quaker education and to see a listing of Friends schools in the United States, browse this website or visit the Friends Council on Education website at www.friendscouncil.org.  

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