Education and Spiritual Formation
Since its beginnings, the Religious Society of Friends has emphasized the importance of education both for its own members and for society generally. Friends believe that education is especially beneficial if it instills a concern for others and strengthens a commitment to live faithfully.
For guidance in word and deed, we look first to the Spirit, recognizing that formal education in itself may not lead to a deeper spiritual sensitivity. Many who contribute significantly to the life and ministry of the meeting may not have extensive formal education. We know from experience that a broad education helps us to identify what is faithful to the Light in our own leadings, to interpret and communicate those leadings, and to weigh the leadings of others.
Friends regard continual spiritual growth as essential. Such growth is nurtured by receptivity to the Inward Teacher, by participation in meeting for worship, by studying the Bible, other sacred texts and other literature, and by the inspiration of exemplary lives. Although Friends emphasize spiritual formation, we do not neglect the acquisition of intellectual, aesthetic and practical skills and understanding. Within the family, the Friends meeting, and the various levels of formal education, Friends are committed to balancing heart, mind and hand in spiritual wholeness.
Friends who are called to careers in education of every kind and at every level, public and private, see this service as an opportunity to lead themselves and others into spiritual growth.
Friends and Public Education
Friends have a responsibility, as do all citizens, to be informed, concerned and active supporters of public education. As parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, consultants and taxpayers, Friends can be important advocates for all children in the community. Friends are also expected to give informed, active support to Quaker children who attend public schools and to those Friends who devote themselves as teachers and administrators in the public educational system at any level. Such support is of particular importance to those children and adults who, through their commitment to Truth and the quality of their relationships, seek to maintain a Quaker witness in situations where others might not share our testimonies such as opposition to military recruitment and to the introduction of weapons in educational institutions.
Friends Educational Institutions
Friends have founded a substantial number of educational institutions in the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting region. These include colleges, a study/retreat center, and more than 40 nursery, elementary and secondary schools. Today, the colleges are independent and the schools have a variety of governance arrangements. The schools now serve substantially more non-Friends than Friends and are an important way that people learn about the Religious Society of Friends. The schools continue to seek to provide a community life and experience guided by Friends principles.
A meeting may be asked to assist its members and attenders who seek financial and other practical support in order to attend a Friends school. It may be asked to help special needs children attend a Friends school established to serve those with learning differences. Occasionally, it may be asked to provide guidance for families that choose to instruct their children at home. A meeting may consider the challenge of forming and sustaining its own Friends school, especially when the children of its members and attenders do not have access to an existing Friends school.
Ideally, Friends educational institutions seek to create intentional community and prepare participants for engagement in the work of the world. A Friends educational institution is more likely to incorporate spiritual values throughout its programs if it has a solid core of students, parents and graduates who understand and actively support Quaker principles and practices. The effectiveness of a Quaker witness in our schools and colleges also depends upon the spiritual depth and commitment of the members of the governing body, the administrators and the staff.
People who have experienced Friends concerns for simplicity, equality, justice and compassion in our educational institutions often have a significant, positive influence in their wider communities. Because these institutions embody our ways of worship, our social testimonies and our commitment to service, they are an important form of outreach to the wider world. Such beneficial influences motivate Friends, as individuals and as meetings, in their ongoing support of Friends educational institutions.
Friends schools and colleges today seek to include students and staff from widely varied economic and ethnic backgrounds. Bringing together various traditions, experiences and perspectives in a common search for truth requires time, thought and genuine willingness to change, and offers the rewards of deeper understanding and a vital and inclusive community.