The Impact of Quaker Philosophy on Curriculum

At Friends’ Central, School life and curriculum are steeped in Quaker values. At every level, we promote a commitment to learning through inquiry, reflection, action, and discovery, an approach that stems from the Quaker belief in Continuing Revelation. A simple concept, Continuing Revelation is a foundation upon which the Quaker faith rests. It is the belief that, rather than limit spiritual study to a fixed canon, learning should be an ongoing and never-ending process. Continuing Revelation thus calls Quaker educators and students to a life of ongoing, joy-filled discovery.

The daily impact of this philosophical grounding cannot be overstated. It informs the shape of curriculum, but more importantly, the way curriculum is delivered by faculty and embraced by students. Teachers are respectful and nurturing of students, and students are respectful of each other and their teachers.

Imagine a classroom where questioning and inquiry feed a sense of wonder and progress, where teachers acknowledge their own continuing growth, and discovery can be collaborative. The collegiality that emerges between “student” and “expert” is one important factor in shaping the powerful and unusual quality of student-teacher relationships at Friends’ Central School. In every grade, the curriculum asks that students stand up for what they believe and behave respectfully at school and when they are out in the world.

Friends’ Central teachers believe in and model a joy for learning. Almost a quarter of Upper School students participate in extensive, regular, not-for-credit study in our annual Science Core Team, Humanities Core Team, and STEAM, or Makerspace Studio. These are collaborative experiences; though guided by the teachers, the atmosphere is one in which the students and the teachers approach the work with equal desire for insight from one another.

At times, our teachers make the connections between curriculum and Quaker testimonies explicit. At other times, the connection is present but less explicit. In fact, it would be difficult to find a moment in daily life at school that has not somehow been affected by the Friends philosophy.

Below are just a few examples of the ways that Quaker principles – or testimonies – guide daily life at Friends’ Central School.

Simplicity

Each Fall, the Lower School creates a school-wide Harvest Show, during which students exhibit and share homegrown vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, and pictures/drawings of their gardens or of anything in nature. We take this opportunity as a community to pause, acknowledge, wonder at, and give thanks for the work of so many and for the bounty of the earth.

Every Friends’ Central student attends Meeting for Worship every week. This time of silent reflection and shared messages is a time cherished by our community as it offers a rare opportunity to let go of life’s complicated demands and focus on what is essential.

Click here to read an article by 4th grade teacher Christine Ramsey about "Devotions" in the Lower School.

We teach a 12th grade elective, Capitalism and Consumption, which encourages students to examine their roles as consumers, and the impact of their choices in the market.

Peace

Each year, the entire School celebrates the International Day of Peace with special programming for each division. This year, our celebration centered around the unveiling of our new Mission and Vision statements:

Our Mission:
We cultivate the intellectual, spiritual, and ethical promise of our students.

Our Vision:
To awaken courage and intellect - and peacefully transform the world

In the Upper School Peace Studies elective, students learn about varied nonviolent activist movements and investigate ways to take action themselves.

In Literature and Composition I, our grade nine English class, the reading of Persepolis allows for examination of the way religion shapes individuals and how storytelling enables understanding of culture. Greater understanding of cultural difference leads to empathy and a recognition of what unites people across cultures.

In grade nine, students in World History spend half of the year focusing on world religions with the intent of becoming more aware of the variety of religious experiences and their richness and effect on world history.

In Middle School, students study the role of Quakers in the American Revolution and consider their decisions with respect to participation in the conflict.

Integrity

The Upper School Honor Statement, created by a group of students and faculty, hangs in each Upper School classroom, followed by queries framed by the Quaker testimonies to help us reflect on the implications of our decisions. The statement reads:

As a member of the Friends’ Central community, founded on Quaker principles, I promise to act with integrity and to treat others and our shared environment with respect.

In 20th Century Global History, asking the question, “what are we called to do?” is a major theme of the course, strengthened by discussions and role plays on treaties, crises, and truth and reconciliation commissions.

For the Lower School teachers, Morning Devotions is a key part of the day. There is time set aside each morning for a devotional period – a time to reflect and share.  

Information and Digital Literacy in Grade 9, which includes lessons on ethics, participation, and identity online. We have used the Honor Code, among other frameworks, for thinking about the ways we behave online and offline.

Community

Community extends to the arts courses, as it does to every area of Friends’ Central. Students work and learn side by side, sometimes engaged in individual projects and often collaborative projects, especially in the performing arts.

In the Concepts in Art rotation course, students think about how art (including that of Quaker-raised James Turrell) can be used to express spiritual and/or political messages in an environment that encourages respectful and thoughtful debate.

Middle School students actively work to clean the neighboring Indian Creek watershed. This benefits not only our school but the entire surrounding community.

Equality

At Friends’ Central, we believe that no one voice is more important than another, and that each idea, voice, and perspective should be valued equally. Each division gathers weekly to participate in Meeting for Worship. In keeping with the Quaker tradition, any member of the community is welcome to stand and deliver a message if so moved.

In the classroom, “the idea of equality creates an atmosphere where learning does not come solely from the teacher, but rather it comes from the ideas of all the students." (Nate Willis '13)

Stewardship

Middle School students and faculty spend two hours each Wednesday engaged in a program of service. Faculty members serve as advisors, organizers, and participants, and students serve as leaders and participants – choosing from one of 16 projects currently offered. Some students choose a new project every trimester, some stay with the same project all year, and some students build such strong connections that they serve in the same project throughout their time in the Middle School.

Our expectations of the students are both rigorous and individualized. These expectations include social and emotional as well as academic growth. We provide a nurturing environment that supports individualized learning styles. The Quaker notion that every voice has value and should be heard carries through our discussion-based classrooms to our curriculum, where our students are exposed to an unusual number of primary source documents.

In Physics, Upper School students explore the way scientists approach a search for truth by means of a study on sustainable energy sources that lifts up the testimony of Stewardship.

In Middle School, weekly community service takes students into the community, where their understanding of the world and human behavior is further shaped by exploring new contexts. Many students return to these service projects once they are in Upper School.

In grade 8, all students participate in Earthforce projects, which have both an educational and a Stewardship component. 

Recently, Middle School students discovered a bridge that had been washed away in Morris Park. They designed, built, and installed a temporary flood-proof bridge, and then worked with city officials to find and fund a more permanent solution.

 

Quaker Study

 

To ensure that students have a shared understanding of Quakerism and its importance in daily life, students in grades 6 and 9 take a Quakerism course. These rotation courses inform students about the foundations of the Quaker faith and practice. The grade 9 class explores silent worship, Spirit, mindfulness, identity, and social justice awareness and education through the lens of Quaker testimonies, principles, and practices. Students who come to the school after the 9th grade year have a 6-session cohort experience led by our Quakerism Coordinator to orient them and to support their understanding of spiritual life in a Quaker school.   


 

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