Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Testimonies and Education

Quaker testimonies to equality, truth and integrity, community and peace have a profound influence on Quaker approaches to education. They influence the ways in which all members of the educational community, whether teachers or students, try to interact with each other, inside and outside the classroom. Respect for everyone, non-violent approaches to disagreements, and support for the vulnerable, are aspects of this.

The equality testimony implies attention to the potential and gifts of every student. It also emphasises respect for everyone, personally and intellectually, and for the more vulnerable.

The testimony to truth and integrity entails openness to new ideas. Quakers are strongly advised not to assume that they (or anyone else) have the final answer to anything. ‘Think that you might be mistaken’ is powerful advice, given to all Quakers. This should mean thoughtful listening to the ideas of others, constructive questioning of currently received wisdom, and a great respect for rigorous and honest scientific inquiry. Schools typically seek to foster these qualities. But knowledge of currently accepted ‘truths’ and modes of inquiry is also important, and schools aim to give students a sound basis of understanding of current knowledge and the intellectual skills which they will need, to engage with some of these issues themselves.

The testimony to peace implies non-violent approaches to disagreements, and it means that bullying in any shape or form is unacceptable. It also entails treating each other with tact and care, and avoiding unnecessary provocation.

The Friends Council in Education has developed and promotes a memorable formulation of Quaker testimonies, used widely in Quaker schools to explain the Quaker ethos to students. It is 'SPICES' -S(Simplicity), P(eace), I(Integrity), C(Community), E (Equality) and S (Stewardship). They also talk of ‘seasoning’ their lives with these ‘spices’, which is an apt and very memorable way of describing the Quaker ethos.

Although many students and staff in Quaker schools are not Quakers they all aspire to a Quaker ethos with some or all of the above features. Of course there are many non-Quaker schools which aspire to similar approaches, but all Quaker schools, by definition, aim for a Quaker ethos, and are often known for it. A parent would expect such an ethos at a Quaker school.

Quakers also believe that education, like faith, should be relevant to daily life, and put to good use. Early Quakers concentrated on useful, practical skills - reading and writing, and the skills for various trades. Contemporary Quakers aim to translate this thinking into the complexities of the modern world and the challenges of education in the 21st century. What do our testimonies imply for our education with regard to sustainability, inequality, and conflict?

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Further Reading and Credits

Photograph reproduced by kind permission of the copyright holder Ann Floyd