On November 18th and 19th, I went to Quaker retreat center, Pendle Hill for a retreat and training for “Educators New to Quakerism”. Thirty-three adults that work in various capacities at Quaker schools gathered together to learn the basics of Quakerism and to collaborate with one another. I’d like to share two things that I learned while I was there.
First, I learned that Quaker schools within our council are diverse in every sense of the word. There are less than 100 Friends schools in our council, but they are on 4 different continents and vary in student population and purpose. I learned that Chicago Friends School is much smaller than other Quaker schools at the retreat – most schools at this retreat had hundreds to thousands of students. Also, that different Quaker schools had different purposes and curricula. One was a dual language immersion school, one specialized in students with learning differences.
But beyond the differences, we also learned about what unites us. I now have a much deeper knowledge of the Quaker testimonies. Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship/Service are infused in all Quaker schools in various ways. While I understood the basics of these testimonies before going on this retreat, I really dove into simplicity during one of our sessions. Simplicity is often associated with material goods- we should only have what is necessary, without frivolousness or excess. This is a common association due to the roots of Quakerism- the simplicity testimony originated as a protest against extravagance and snobbery. What was new and stood out to me was the idea of simplicity being related to mindfulness and intention- the simplicity of thoughts and actions. One piece of text that resonated with me comes from a North Carolina Yearly Meeting in 1983: “In whatever forms [the simplicity testimony] is maintained today, it must still be seen as a testimony against involvement with things which tend to dilute our energies and scatter our thoughts, reducing us to lives of triviality and mediocrity.” In a school setting, simplicity can be related to reducing the amount of multitasking and devoting your mind and energy to one task at a time. Simplicity can be related to being more present when engaging with a peer at lunch or recess. Simplicity can be related to clearing your mind entirely during Meeting for Community.
Since I have returned from this retreat, I have been striving to include more simplicity across many contexts in my life- especially coming into this holiday season.
Overall, I’d say the hours spent learning and collaborating over two days were very worthwhile and meaningful. I learned so much about Quakerism, my teaching practice — myself! I look forward to looking at this new term with a fresh take on Quaker education.