What Is a Quaker School?
Quaker (Friends) schools have been a part of the American educational landscape since 1689 when William Penn Charter School was founded in Philadelphia. Today, as Quakerism has become a modern faith, the tradition of Quaker schools continues to be true to its roots but also evolve in the modern world. Today there are seventy-eight Quaker, or Friends Schools in the United States. These schools enjoy a reputation for providing an excellent education that prepares the whole child, academically, spiritually, and interpersonally.
This emphasis on educating the whole child comes from the heart of Quakerism. A founding principle of Quakerism, expressed by George Fox (1624–1691) is that there is “that of God” in all people. For that reason, Quaker schools have put the development of the whole child at the forefront of education. Rather than focusing narrowly on academics or a closely proscribed set of outcomes, Quaker schools take seriously the idea that each student should be cherished for their own unique gifts and that all aspects of development be supported. At Friends schools, the idea that truth is available to all is reflected in an open-minded approach to curriculum and teaching, an emphasis on critical thinking skills, and a developmental approach to children and learning.
Stemming from the idea that all people have worth, Quaker schools have been leaders in providing equal access to education. For example, after the founding of the first Quaker school in the Americas in 1689, scholarships for the poor were introduced in 1701, girls were admitted in 1754, and all races were included beginning in 1770. Most modern students at Friends schools do not come from families who are Quaker. Rather, they come from families that represent many faith traditions and some who do not follow any faith tradition. However, families find the values that are taught in Friends schools to be compatible with their beliefs and values.
Core values of friends, such as simplicity, peace, equality, integrity, community, and service are reflected in the curriculum and culture of Quaker schools. Many engage in school-wide community building activities and community service. Teachers and students are often on a first-name basis, and many schools emphasize nature and conservation. Many Quaker schools have an emphasis on social justice in their curriculum.
Quaker schools also incorporate some of the practices of Quakers. These include the tradition of silent meeting, and the tradition of shared, anti-authoritarian decision making. Just as early Quakers developed the practice of coming together to wait in silence for guidance in silent meeting, many modern Quakers and most Quaker schools continue the tradition of gathering together in silence.
Chicago Friends School is a member of the Friends Council on Education, a national organization that supports Friends schools. Their website has many resources for families seeking to understand what a Friends school has to offer.