Tag Archives: Friends

Friends Council on Education Statement – August 15, 2017

The violent expressions of hatred, racism, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism in Charlottesville, Virginia were directly opposed to the values our schools stand for. These events serve to deepen our commitment at Quaker schools to teach our students habits of heart and mind that insist upon a disposition of openness and respect for every member of our community regardless of race, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, place of national origin, gender identity or gender expression.  

As we wrote in November:

William Penn founded the first Quaker school in 1689, one hundred years prior to the formal addition of the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution.  Penn directed that the school educate students from all walks of life, genders, religions, and ethnicities to prepare them to be moral leaders within the Commonwealth no matter what profession or trade that they might someday pursue.

Penn’s school created a program of study through which these young people might together imagine a more ideal society. Today all Quaker schools strive to serve this critical public purpose just a Penn imagined it in the earliest days of what would become the United States.

In time of uncertainty, and deep distrust, Quaker school communities turn to the Quaker values of peace, integrity, equality and community, as well as the longtime practices of peaceful conflict resolution and nonviolence, as touch points for navigating these turbulent waters.

It is our sincere hope that as children everywhere return to school that they may come together, in the spirit of respect for all, to find a way to listen deeply to one another, to value the gifts that all students bring with them to school everyday, that they might, together, imagine an ideal society.

Each of the 78 Quaker schools across the United States is founded on core Quaker values and practices. These principles strive to address issues of societal injustice. Friends schools seek to create inclusive and diverse communities and to live into the Quaker values of peace, equity, and social justice.

Friends Council on Education supports schools in their efforts to teach for justice and equity. To that end, we lift up just a few examples of how Quaker schools and Quaker school educators are actively working to provide students with skills in mediation, conversations about differences, and peaceful ways for resolving differences.

Upper school students have a social justice collective where they meet weekly to engage in conversations utilizing the model of Intergroup Dialogue. (Germantown Friends School)

Students participate in a Peer Facilitator Training Program that strives to provide students with skills in asking open ended questions, clarifying and summarizing what you have heard, giving respectful feedback – all with the goal of preempting conflict. (Media-Providence Friends School)

The social curriculum serves as a foundation for a Social Justice Unit as early as preschool focusing on fairness, inclusion, and community. (Friends School Haverford)

Upper school students team up with students at other independent schools to host a student-led Mid Atlantic Regional Diversity Conference. Students explore issues of identity (sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, age, ability, socioeconomic status, gender, and religion) through activities that encourage building community and leaning into discomfort. (Abington Friends School)

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An Ongoing Commitment

by Sam Houser

At a time when transgender rights are again in the news, I am writing to affirm George School’s own commitment to welcoming and including students and employees who are transgender or gender non-binary, or whose families may include members who identify as transgender or gender non-binary. Similarly, we welcome the presence, active engagement, talents, and support of our graduates who identify as transgender or gender non-binary.

In April of 2015, the George School Board approved a policy stating the school’s intention to welcome and include transgender students in our community. This included providing appropriate accommodations and a supportive residential environment for those who are boarders.

In February of 2017, the Friends Council on Education issued a statement affirming that, consistent with the Quaker testimony of equality, Friends schools strive to create communities inclusive of all students, including transgender and gender non-binary students.

Last spring, the Friends School League (FSL) also adopted a similar policy regarding the inclusion of transgender and gender non-binary students into athletics programs among FSL schools.

All of these developments reflect a deep commitment on the part of George School and other Friends schools to foster healthy and diverse educational communities by valuing, respecting, and drawing upon the richness of differences to strengthen our education. This commitment stems from the very underpinnings of Quakerism that include teaching there is that of God in every person, that all people are equal and deserve equal respect and treatment, and that healthy communities are those that accept and nurture differences.

George School is a rare place. Here, people of many identities, from around the world, live, learn, and play together. Being a George School community member entails engaging with new and sometimes uncomfortable perspectives. This can be hard work, but the effort is an important one that will help us diligently mind the Light and prepare us to do good inside our school community and beyond.

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A Note on the Need for Civil Discourse


By Head of School Sam Houser

Anyone paying attention to this election season, regardless of party affiliation or ideological orientation, would probably agree that the quality of much of our political discourse is not what a healthy democracy deserves. Across the political spectrum, we have heard presidential and other candidates—and their supporters—make claims and statements that are sometimes shocking, disrespectful and insulting to individuals and groups of people. Often, such claims and statements shed little light on issues confronting the country and the world and therefore are of limited value to the electorate.

I write to remind everyone at George School that as an educational community, we are obliged to model in our own behavior and cultivate in others the ability to engage in honest and well informed but also civil and respectful discourse about a range of topics, political and non-political. We do this in order to increase our understanding of one another, of humanity generally, and of the wider world. As a Quaker school, we are devoted to seeking the Light of God together and discerning and honoring the inner Light in each of us—all in the manner of Friends who prize respect for the individual, intellectual and personal rigor, integrity, and the health of our community.

We need to remember that our community is comprised of people and families holding a variety of political perspectives, who support various candidates for office and policy proposals for many different reasons. In light of this, we should be careful to treat each other with respect and avoid the temptations of snap judgments, name calling, and dismissiveness. If we choose to discuss politics (as with anything else), let’s talk honestly, thoughtfully, and responsibly about our interests and commitments, and the worries and hopes we have for the world. We may not agree on what we discuss, and we might not persuade others to our own point of view. But I firmly believe that substantial, respectful, and civil conversations strengthen our community as they advance our understanding of one another’s life experiences, concerns, and animating passions. At their best, they mobilize us to improve the world without being held back by our differences.

Thank you for keeping George School safe, strong, meaningful, and good.

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Why We Offer Both–Justifying the IB and the AP

by Ralph Lelii, English department

When I speak with parents of prospective IB Diploma candidates, I am asked this question most frequently: “What is the difference between the IB and the AP?” My answer reflects differences in assessments, curricula, and philosophy, but I do not think it is the most significant question one might ask about the two programs. I believe instead that a far more interesting query might be centered on what justification we might offer for featuring both programs here at George School.

The respective histories are worth mentioning first. After WWII, the Ford Foundation supported the formation of a committee to study innovation in secondary education. It was called the “Kenyon Plan” because it originated at Kenyon College. The first study was conducted by three prep schools—the Lawrenceville School, Phillips Academy and Phillips Exeter Academy—and three universities—Harvard University, Princeton University and Yale University. They concluded it was possible to teach rigorous, college level material at the secondary level and offer college credits. The Advanced Placement program has been in existence continually since 1955.

The IB has a more complex genesis. Though the idea for the IB began in 1948, it was at an international conference in Geneva in 1962 that the plan gained traction. It was actually an American history teacher, Robert Leach, who organized the Geneva conference. UNESCO became interested and funded the ongoing development. Coincidentally, a Ford Foundation grant funded the final study at Oxford University in 1966. The participants looked at the A level system in the UK and studied the Advanced Placement program as well. In 1969, the IB began its Diploma with a six year test program, and the IB Diploma was formalized in 1975.

Both the AP and the IB stress academic rigor above all else, and interested readers can explore their respective philosophies and curricula readily online. For me, the justification for our participation in both programs resides in two ideas about human nature and our existence as an International Friends School.

The term “confirmation bias” was coined in a paper published in 1960 by British psychologist Peter Wason.  It stated that people will tend to support their own hypothesis in a one-sided way by searching for evidence which supports their beliefs, and selectively excluding evidence which tends to disprove it. This idea is hardly new; Aristotle spoke of our desire to select our side in an argument on the basis of what we already believe and to eschew principles which seem to contradict them. These studies have been repeated again and again with similar results. Because any teacher worth his or her salt has a passion for the job, it seems likely to me that we will at least occasionally see things in ways that reinforce what we want to be true in our pedagogy. For me, the IB and the AP are like referees on a basketball court. Left to their own devices, players might begin to justify their own fouls and diminish the claims of the opponents. These two programs provide an outside pair of eyes, not perfect by any means, but rigorous and standardized.

The second idea about human nature that I reference is the “observer effect” first stated about physics. It suggests that by the mere act of observation, we change in some degree the things we see. In a small, highly personal school community, it seems at least possible to me that our perceptions of our students’ work, by virtue of our constant close observation, might influence the production of it and our evaluation as well. Having the outside assessments of the IB and AP on hand give us a way to balance our own perceptions. Again, it is not that one is right and the other wrong. It is a system of checks and balances, I believe, that can lead to a greater level of intellectual accuracy concerning our notions of what students actually learn. I would never be in support of a school curriculum composed entirely of AP or IB classes. Here at George School, students who take these externally assessed components still receive the full GS experience and most of their classes are mixed right through senior year.

Finally, George School is an international Friends’ institution with young people in attendance from forty-eight different countries. That staggering number is a testament to the extraordinary ambition and energy of our Admissions Department. For me, it seems right that we acknowledge and reward the trust of those parents around the world by having the humility to temper our academic autonomy at least a bit with assessments constructed internationally and administered in all of the their respective homelands.

In 2007, I was a guest examiner in Cardiff, Wales at the IBO assessment center. The supervisor of my discipline, English Literature A1, was a Moroccan educated in Moscow and London. There was a Peruvian on my team, as well as a Canadian and a Saudi. I was the sole US representative, and I was not afforded any special status. I was treated equitably, charitably and professionally as was everyone else, and I came away with a sense that this collaboration was something worth modeling for our students, destined as are we all, to live with empathy and compassion in a world they never made.

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