📚 Reading Notes: A Quaker Book of Wisdom by Robert Lawrence Smith, Chapter 9, “Education”

…a good school is one that is constantly engaged in self-examination, in improving itself, in becoming wiser in its ability to both teach and inspire.

Smith returns to this idea many times in this chapter. Every school I’ve worked at had some sort of process for this, but Smith says that in a Quaker school, everyone in the school is involved in this process. In the public schools where I’ve worked, there was always a School Improvement Team (PDF). This is basically a committee and it consists entirely of adults. Students aren’t on the SIT. Further, as you might expect in a public school, the success of the School Improvement Team and the School Improvement Plan is evaluated based almost entirely on students’ scores on standardized tests, which to my mind is an incomplete measure of learning.

It’s a school that is intent on turning out good people who will help make a better world.

At the beginning of every school year, M’s teachers have us complete a survey and one of the questions is always about our hopes for the school year. We always answer that we want him to grow into himself and to continue to learn how to be a caring member of our community. I love this idea. While I suspect most teachers in most schools have this in mind as their intention, the systems and structures of compulsory public education, at least in North Carolina when I was working in public schools, tended to focus on performance in a few academic subject areas and compliance with school policies. I like the idea of a whole school taking this approach, rather than only individual teachers.

It’s the soul of a school—its intangible persona, its character, its principles, its daily life over time, the impressions it makes, the efforts it inspires, and the moral authority it possesses—that helps mold a child into an educated, assured, humane, and caring adult.

Yes! Especially the daily life over time: how we spend our moments is how we spend our days is how we spend our years is how we spend our life. The life of a school is in the day-to-day.

At a good school teachers and students are jointly engaged in a search for truth…

This jibes well with a school librarian’s focus on inquiry-driven learning.

Teachers… work to provide a climate of sensitivity to the human condition.

This is so critical. When I was a student teacher and first set foot in my mentor teacher’s classroom, I was appalled by what seemed to me to be an out-of-control class with absolutely no attention paid to Latin, the class’s subject matter. (I was 22 and I like to think I’m less judgy now.) By the end of my four months in student teaching, my perspective had totally transformed: I saw that my mentor teacher was more concerned with supporting her students than with a laser focus on their academic achievement, and that her love and support was a critical foundation before they could have academic success.

Without input from people of differing life experiences and cultures, a school quickly becomes insular and intellectually stagnant.

It seems obvious but it’s absolutely necessary to say.

…moments of silence help students center themselves amidst the hubbub of the school day.

To quote the Carolina Friends School website:

Settling In and Out
We use this Quaker practice of shared silence as a meaningful way to make oneself present in the moment, focus or redirect attention, and create a shared energy and sense of intention with a community.

Back to the book…

Another characteristic of Quaker schools is that they have involved students in community service at all grade levels.

Experimental education is the name of the game in Quaker schools, and they are constantly cooking up new ways of doing things.

And what’s probably my favorite quote from the chapter:

There is no formula for imparting love of learning. Despite new methodologies, there must always be reliance on the old virtues of skills, care, love, patience, and time.

Care, love, patience, and time are all things that the structures of public schools make it hard for teachers to prioritize, though I bet most teachers would love to be able to prioritize them.

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