I'd like to talk about Quaker education. What makes a school Quaker?
I recently heard a prominent Quaker who is not in education mention Quaker schools as the face of Quakerism for the wider world. He cited a school started by non-Quakers in a major city and called a Quaker school. In this city, he said, the school IS the face of Quakerism, because the meeting for worship there is so small. Ironically, the most visible Quaker institution in that city is run by non-Quakers.
This Quaker went on to wonder: If schools, because of their visibility and good reputations, are the chief means of Friends' evangelism should the Quaker community do more to support them? And should Quakers do more to encourage Quaker attendance at these schools, which are largely filled with non-Quakers? And should they do more to encourage Quaker staffing, another area dominated by non-Quakers? (In both cases, the small size of the Friends denomination is a limiting factor.)
I'm an interested and undoubtedly biased party, as for the past year, all three of our teens have attended Olney Friends School in Barnesville and my husband works as technical coordinator (aka compute geek) for Olney. I have been impressed with both the quality of the education and the values of simplicity, integrity and community practiced at the school. I'm also saddened at the struggle it and other small Quaker boarding schools have in attracting students. I believe many Quakers and others are missing out on the opportunity for a rich educational experience.
Reasons I have heard for Quaker children not attending Quaker schools:
1. Desire to support public education. (This was a model my husband and I operated under for years.)
2. Expense. Quaker day schools in the Baltimore/Washington area, from which we come, are prohibitively expensive for the average person, especially if you have more than one or two children.
3. Exclusivity: I have heard of at least one Quaker who was turned down for a Quaker day high school because, although he was a decent student in the public schools, he did not score high enough on the school's entrance exam. I have also heard--without having any personal evidence--that some Quaker schools have lost much of their distinctiveness and become more like other private schools catering to the rich.
4. Stigma attached to boarding school. Helicopter parenting not amenable to sending children away from home.
I've watched my children thrive in a Quaker school environment. What I like about my children's school is that it is NOT dripping with every amenity. Simplicity is emphasized. Students have genuinely small class sizes--4, 5, and 6 students is normal, though some rare classes go as high as 19--and students get a well rounded education that includes raising chickens, collected maple syrup sap and tending to goats as well as a college preparatory curriculum. The school holds meeting for worship daily for 15 minutes at the beginning and end of the day, and in addition, has two longer meetings for worship each week. I've also found during the past year, that, contrary to popular opinion, it's good for many teens to have the independence from parents that a boarding school provides. The school builds service into its life and emphasizes living to serve.
A key factor enriching the life of the school is the tradition. From GymEx, a gymnastics event that goes back to 1910 to self governance committees, the school draws from a deep history of ideas and inspiration.
I would hate to see this or any other rooted Quaker school fail in the current economic climate. I imagine it would be impossible to replicate overnight the more than century long history that makes a school like Olney what it is.
Quakers schools, like other schools, are faced with the tricky prospect of pricing and resort to the common practice of offering a "list" price that is higher than the real price most parents pay. This is done to help underwrite aid to needy students. I wonder what would happen if Quaker schools went back to traditional Quaker business practice and offered a list price that was the real price of education, did not negotiate, and used endowments, scholarships and other donations to support financial need. Honestly, this would take a huge leap of faith as I don't see how that model could work. But it has worked for Quakers in the past.
The Jewish community has a strong tradition of fundraising to support Jewish schools. Should the Quaker community do more to support its schools? Should it do fundraising to be able to offer more scholarships to Quaker students? How important is a Quaker school education to Quaker children and the world at large? Should Quaker schools lower costs by sticking to values rather than going after every amenity? That seems obvious, but how then do we get parents to look past packaging?
Finally, why do you or don't you send your children to Quaker school?