Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Do we pit Quaker children against Quaker education?

Do we pit Quaker children against Quaker education?

Ann wrote the following comment:

"I was told that to favor Quaker children, by offering them places first, and scholarships (for Quakers only) was against the equality testimony. Well, I'm trying to wrap my head about elite schools that cost more than college (well over five figures) meshing with simplicity!

Plus, a family with a stay at home parent was penalized when evaluating the need for financial aid. They were given an amount they 'could' be making, if they worked.

It's funny. Quakers have such difficulty with outreach, for fear of turning people off, or being pushy, or attracting the wrong sorts of people (not genuine 'seekers', might get some simple folk who just like the message) and so on, but they also have problems supporting a FULL Quaker lifestyle, including education."

What do you think? This post resonated with me, because, frankly, it sounded familiar. I know most Quaker schools charge what they do because, the way the system is currently set up, they have to. They also often (but not always!) lack the big endowments that allow liberal disbursement of scholarships. But still I can't help but see a conflict between the Quaker testimony of simplicity and the high cost of a Quaker education.

Sometimes when someone mentions that the high price of a Quaker education excludes some Quaker children, someone else will bring up the need to charge high tuitions to pay teachers a decent wage. Since most Quakers don't approve of exploiting workers and as nobody wants to look selfish and say, "I don't care how much teachers make as long as my child gets a Quaker education," teacher pay usually stops the conversation.

Clearly, we do want to pay educators as well as we can. And from what I can tell, because of the way the system is currently set up, most Quaker schools charge what they do as a matter of survival.

However, I can't help but think that rather than set parents and teaching staff in opposition, there must be a way to find a "win-win" solution.

I'm very sympathetic to the plight of Quaker schools. Having been "up close and personal" with one for almost a year, I know that they're, at least in one case, running on slim margins and need tuition money to survive.

How can we balance the needs? How important is it to make Quaker education affordable for Quaker families?

First, I've seen very few people embrace simplicity without lowering their incomes. High-pressure, high-paying jobs are seldom compatible with a simple heart. Often, one way or another, what people do when they embrace simplicity is free up time for themselves so they can serve. John Woolman is a good example of this. Yet, it appears as if at least one Quaker school wanted to penalize parents who were living on one income. I can understand a family in which the non-working spouse took a job to pay for Quaker education feeling it was unfair to give financial aid to a family that didn't do the same, but I also have to wonder at system that pressures people to take on a second job. It seems to buy into the notion that the answer to everything is to earn (or get) more money. And why stop at valuing in the cost of what a spouse "could make?" Why not penalize the two-income families that have not chosen the highest-paying use of their educations? Why not penalize the lawyer working for a social services agency who "could" be making five times as much in corporate law? Or the medical researcher trying to find a cure for cancer who "could" have become a plastic surgeon at a far higher rate of pay?

Assuming they can, should Quaker school cut amenities to become more affordable? Should they offer a preference to Quaker children in scholarship money? Where does the true value of a Quaker education lie?


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this thoughtful post. I've always wondered why this particular subject seems so silent within Quakerism. In my meeting, a substantial portion of the budget is directed towards tuition support for the families who send their children to Quaker private schools. Yet the amount given is a fraction of what one would need to pay, and what baffles me more is that Meeting provides the exact same amount to every family. There is no consideration of actual financial need, and in some cases, I suspect that the children would be able to attend with or without this assistance. When I have suggested that the amounts given out should be proportional to some kind of application that indicates financial need, there is great discomfort and no response from the Meeting. There is also the phenomenon in my Meeting of a clear social class split between those who are publically educated and those in private Quaker ed. It really is unfortunate that Quaker schools, in most cases, have not made any commitment to address the concern you have raised.

Diane said...


Thanks for the comment. In my experience too, the way Quakers deal with financial aid can seem strange; it seems as if by not taking into account need, the meeting was trying to sidestep any accusation of favoritism, but to what end? I think the price of Quaker schools is an extremely important issue and the main reason most Quaker schools are not populated by Quakers. I also think that Quakers could start modeling an alternative of very simple low cost schools.

Hystery said...

Diane, this question has been with me and I sincerely appreciate that you have been writing about it.

I think homeschoolers can offer lots of ideas of how to trim the fat in educational budgets. Simplicity and creativity are key for us with our limited time and resources. We educate outside the box both in answer to the demands necessity and to our own joy of learning.

However, because I do educate at home, I don't really understand all the costs that go into a brick and mortar school. I also do not understand how Friends' schools are connected to Friends' meetings. How much input do Friends have in the ways the schools function? Where do the schools turn for funding when tuition is not enough? How are new Friends' schools founded and why do we have so few in rural areas like my own? (The Mennonites have dozens in this area). How come the cost is so high compared to Catholic schools? I noted that the local Catholic school costs about a quarter of what a Friends' school would cost.

My interest is great but my understanding is too limited. I'd really love to learn more about these issues and wonder if you or some of your other readers could direct me toward resources.