Tag Archives: Quaker

Students Don’t Mind Minding The Light

Curious George Poll: Students Bring Quaker Values Into Their Lives

by Julia Carrigan ‘20

The George School Mission Statement claims that Quaker tradition is the school’s “touchstone”–the testing point for any discussion of values or policy that goes on here. Quite simply, at George School, Quaker values are essential, including Quaker practices and, especially, attendance at Meeting for Worship.

George School’s website claims, “We don’t try to turn students into Quakers,” but the importance of Quakerism at George School was reaffirmed by students themselves recently, when sixty-six percent of students polled by The Curious George said their desire to be involved in some way in Quakerism has increased since attending George School.

One student even stated that the strong Quaker vibe at George School was “one of the major reasons I chose to go to here instead of Westtown.” Overall, it is clear that George School’s strong Quaker program has influenced the spiritual lives of many students.

However, George School is not the Bodhi tree, and let us not pretend that every student has been spiritually enlightened sitting on the firm wooden benches of the eighteenth-century meetinghouse.

What is important is that every student has sat there.

During the school year, day students spend thirty minutes a week in Meeting for Worship, and boarding students usually spend an hour and fifteen minutes. In addition to Meeting for Worship, we often pause for moments of silence and use Quaker consensus in meetings. In addition, many of our religion classes also focus on Quakerism.

Overall, it is pretty fair to say that Quakerism is central in the lives of students during the school year, but how does it affect their lives during the summer?

Fourteen percent of respondents told CG that they attend meeting over the summer. Even more significant, about a third of students take time out of their summer to practice Quakerism on a smaller level. For example, they might pause in their day to take a moment of silence.

This is incredible given the busy lives of teenagers in the summer, the relatively low number of Quaker identifying students, and the growing rate of non-religious teenagers. According to a recent study done of teenagers in Chicago, for instance, thirty-six percent of teenagers are “religiously unaffiliated.”

The approximate third of the George School student body who practice Quakerism in different smaller ways throughout the summer shows that while they may not be able to drag their families (or themselves) out of bed every Sunday morning, “Quaker tradition,” as the Mission Statement puts it, has a profound spiritual effect on them.

Although a hundred percent of those who answered the survey attend a Quaker school, only six percent attend or work at a Quaker camp over the summer. Some Quaker camps George School students spent time at over the summer include Camp Dark Waters, Camp Onas, and The George School Day Camp, which “emphasizes Quaker philosophies.”

Three George School students also attended Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s annual session, a gathering of all Quakers in the Philadelphia region.

While George School does not try to “turn students into Quakers,” apparently the school does a good job of exposing them to the values and practices of Quakerism. The students themselves decide how much of it they want to bring into their lives outside of school.

That’s a win-win proposition!

 

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Why I Selected George School

by Sophia Guo ’18

I had no idea what a Quaker school would be like when I first came to visit George School. Instead of perceiving Quakerism as a religion, I perceived it as a set of spiritual values that continuously influence this school community. George School left me the impression of being the most open, friendly, and caring among the eighteen schools I visited in the US, and thus I spontaneously attribute the community’s unique aura to the biggest difference it has from other high schools, that is, Quakerism.

I always learn about the environment from people who live in it. Holding firmly to the belief that a school should not be approved until its people are worth trusting and being friends with. I was not committed to George School by its beautiful campus with squirrels running around, its two-floor library filled with natural light and over two thousand paperbacks as well as ten thousand electronic books, or its modernly designed Fitness Athletics Center with a homeothermal swimming pool, wrestling rooms, yoga rooms, and a supervised fitness center.

Instead, I was gradually convinced to select George School as my first choice through my talk with my tour guide and the community I observed in a very short time period. What surprised me was that people called each other by their first name, even a student to a teacher. It was one of the “SPICES” in Quakerism: simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and service. “People feel that they are responsible for the community,” explained my tour guide, “because everyone is equal.”

I was impressed by the rigor of courses that George School students take. George School provides over 20 AP courses, as well as a full IB program for students who want to challenge themselves academically. Challenging oneself and trying to achieve a higher academic level seems very normal. Not to mention that students also pursue scores of leadership roles and passions. When I told my tour guide that she was very excellent, she blushed a little and told me that she thought “excellence should be a habit.”

It was not “love at first sight” between me and George School. It was the relationship between the kinds of lovers that the more they find out about each other the deeper their love is. Community, culture, and academics were all great reasons why I selected George School.

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How We All Live To Let Our Lives Speak

2004_Jessica (Jess) M. Klaphaak

by Jess Klaphaak ’04

In recent years, I have come to be a rather active member of the Quaker meeting here in Copenhagen. Every Sunday I sit with Ulla and Mogens, both are over 90 years old, who lived through World War II and took part in the Danish resistance against the Nazis. It is quite an experience to listen to their stories of vandalizing fighter jets and sewing dresses from fallen parachutes to hide the evidence of soldiers escaping from battle. We have about ten regular members and at 30, I am the youngest of our little group by about three decades.

At the beginning of July, my family and I went to the Scandinavian Yearly Meeting in Gothenburg, Sweden. There were over 120 participants from Norway, Sweden, and Finland. The three of us went as the only participants from Denmark. One afternoon, I sat with the executive secretary of FWCC-EMES and we had a-one-on one conversation about the challenges that face all Quaker communities across Europe. I voiced my concern that our biggest challenge in Denmark is building community, getting people to stay and take on responsibility and that I personally struggle with a feeling of hopelessness for our community that has recently been affecting my motivation and drive.

Being a Quaker and going to Yearly Meeting and other Quaker retreats was such a big part of my childhood and teenage years, and subsequently my adult life, that it is difficult to witness the community that always seemed to sail so smoothly, struggle so hard to keep afloat. Here in Copenhagen, I often feel like I am alone on the mast of a sinking ship. What should I do? Should I jump into the lifeboat of mindfulness or Buddhism or should I climb down and repair the holes myself? For now, I choose to patch the holes. Quakerism offers something more than mindfulness and obviously something different from Buddhism.

As a whole, my experience in Gothenburg left me with the sense that we are all delicately connected—a connection that exists because we, as Quakers, reach out beyond ourselves to actively create community. Perhaps Quakers are particularly good at this because, in my opinion, a true sense of community is formed when we answer that of God in others.

Community is by definition something bigger than one’s self. It is a network of connections to which we belong. Even though un-programmed meetings face dwindling membership across the planet, the few who stick around often accomplish great things through service efforts and lobbying activities. Silence is merely a tool we use to listen to our inner Light, but it is what we do with the messages we receive that defines us, both as individuals and as a group. When a group of over 120 active and engaged Quakers meet, in spite of cultural and language barriers, it is impossible not to feel how we all live to let our lives speak.

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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 Conversation with Kathy Coyle

An interview with Kathy Coyle conducted by Chloe ’16. Check out some of Chloe’s other posts on the blog including: Pumpkin Spice Oreos, Filling Your Empty Canvases (Making a Dorm Room Feel Like a Home, Not a Box), and Speaking of Squirrels.

Hey Kathy!

Hey Chloe

You excited? You look super excited.

I’m so pumped! Continue reading

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A Conversation with Stephen Moyer

An interview with Stephen Moyer ’82 conducted by Chloe ’16. Check out some of Chloe’s other posts on the blog including: Pumpkin Spice Oreos, Filling Your Empty Canvases (Making a Dorm Room Feel Like a Home, Not a Box), and Speaking of Squirrels.

Hi Stephen!

Hi Chloe.

Whats your position here at George School?

I am a member of the Religion Department teaching Essentials of a Friends Community and Holistic Health. I have taught Spiritual Practices and Quakerism as well. I’m also the faculty sponsor to the Model United Nations club. I coach all of the running sports–boys and girls cross-country and boys and girls indoor and outdoor track so I’m coaching all three seasons and I’m the head of Drayton Dormitory with my beloved wife, Laurie. Continue reading

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The Examined Life

by Ralph Lelii, English department

On the Sunday before Christmas, I sat in worship with my two grandchildren in the Abington Friends Meetinghouse. It had been a festive and blessed morning, complete with caroling, a roaring fire and general good cheer. Out of the silence, a Friend stood and spoke. He said that he had been angry earlier that morning and had acted in ways that made him feel ashamed. Before sitting, he said it was important that he remember that if there is to be peace on earth, it needs to begin with him.

In that ancient room, there was a feeling of gathered spiritual commitment. The spoken ministry had seemed earnest and timely, and the assembled Friends, myself included, were united in that vision of the world, one in which spiritual contemplation and its resultant action could result in a better, more ethically coherent world. It is a vision of human existence I hope my grandbabies will share, one where there is the possibility of peaceful coexistence and cooperation. Spiritual reflection often brings such hope and such rewards, but as the silence returned, my thoughts wandered away from this tranquility. Continue reading

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Tour Guides: A Glimpse of Life at GS

by Ashley Pettway, Admission Office

First term is in full swing and our campus is buzzing with visitors. It gives us great joy here in the Admission Office to share our campus with you and it takes a lot of people behind the scenes to make your visit special. Last week, I introduced the ambassadors, a select group of students who blog, take pictures, and talk with families during visits. This week, I’d like to introduce you to our tour guides. Each year, the Admission Office selects outgoing sophomores, juniors, and seniors to serve as student leaders in our office. These students have shown a love for George School and often hold additional leadership positions on campus.  They are the heart of our office and we could not function without them. Continue reading

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Pumpkin Spice Oreos

Hello, all.

By now we can agree that the George School academic year is in full, Cougar Crazy swing. We are all getting to know our new teachers and excitedly greeting our old ones in the happy halls that make up our friendly establishment. Yes, Friends, the year is on, and we are ready to take it in with open arms, hearts, and minds.

I know I’m super excited for the rest of this year, though I have to admit that I am amazed at how quickly summer flew by me. Only about a month ago I was lounging on my couch with a fuzzy blanket wrapped around my torso and Netflix reflected in my retina. Just before that, I was a whimsical sophomore coasting on the gentle waves of my then minimal workload. Answer me this: what happened? Where’s my Netflix? Where’s my blanket? Where did all this homework come from? Continue reading

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Peace

by Ralph Lelii, English department

On January 18, 1991, I was sitting in the faculty lounge grading papers with a colleague when it was announced on the radio that Saddam Hussein had launched SCUD missiles against Tel Aviv and Haifa. My acquaintance, whom I knew as a faithful Quaker, pumped his fist and said, “Yes.” One can understand his response in a number of ways, and I knew him to be deeply committed to living out the Testimonies of Friends’ Practice. War, its indiscriminate violence and cruelty, challenges us in multiple ways, and he had a deep political allegiance in that part of the world. That memory, viewed in the context of our current world crises, prompts me to reflect on our Peace Testimony and its particular challenges.

This ideal is historically grounded in our record of Margaret Fell’s declaration to King Charles II in 1660, uttered in challenge to the imprisonment of George Fox. He had been arrested in response to an armed revolt by religious radicals, and she wanted the King to know that he could have had no part in the violence.  With utter conviction Fell claimed that “All bloody principles and practices we do utterly deny, with all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole world. That spirit of Christ by which we are guided is not changeable…” There are no qualifications in the statement, no conditional clauses, no caveats of exemption.

Many religions have as part of their theological scaffold a commitment to peaceful coexistence, forgiveness and redemption, and a recognition that there may be times that call for spiritually righteous participation in armed conflict. In some creeds this has been called the “just war” condition.  The pacifist claim, of Margaret Fell, however, is unconditional: her claim is a denial of all war, all weapons, all strife, and therein lies the rub. Our species has evolved to construct systems of meaning which rely heavily upon abstract qualifications, subtle distinction, intellectual ambiguity and the relative merits of ethical, spiritual, and political hierarchies. This particular Quaker testimony, however, permits no sliding scale. As I read it, one cannot be a partial Pacifist, a sometimes absolutist. In a pure sense, one either is or is not a pacifist.  I think, however, that perhaps many of us struggle toward that as a spiritual goal, her words a map which is not necessarily yet the territory.

My friend and sometimes mentor Kingdon Swayne, former Clerk of Philadelphia Yearly meeting and George School historian and archivist, participated in WWII as a combatant, as did several other members of Friends Meetings to which I have belonged. Many other Quakers refused to participate in that war, either removing themselves completely or serving as medics or in other non-violent capacities. To say that all Friends are pacifists is to make, I think, a complex and inaccurate claim. I asked Kingdon once in his office if he would serve again in the military against Hitler. He said, with his usual philosophical subtlety that he would, but neither gladly or willingly, because he felt that was an evil to which he could not respond otherwise. As a caveat, he added that he still struggled with the question, probably always would.

I assume that just about every nation which has ever gone to war has had a long list of ethical, moral, and economic justifications. The Peace testimony is very difficult for me because as soon as I lay claim to it, some particular conflict comes forward and  seems to ask that I  adjust the ideal. The moment I admit an exception, though, I am no longer capable of making the claim for pacifism. The world intrudes, and in fact some peoples and cultures seem to us more violated than others, more the subjects of injustice and horror and exploitation than others, and we want, in our human essence, to right those wrongs. Fell, I think, knew that, and what she said is haunting and terribly difficult to do. There is no caveat in this testimony, no exception to the rule, and hence as a Friend I can only say that I aspire to that particular ideal, that I hope to evolve to a place where it can be simply the case.  Much as I would wish it otherwise, I am not yet there, plagued as I am by the lessons and mysteries and repetitions of history. It is also the case that I have lived my entire life free of the physical experience of war, privileged to have the time and the peace to raise my children to adulthood, to read books, to contemplate the meanings of such questions in solitude.

Margaret Fell’s words and their implications are haunting. No matter how deeply our sense of justice is affronted, no matter how cruel the hand of history or culture or national or ethnic violence, we can never be justified in responding in kind. One must wear this suit of clothes in its entirety, sans personal embellishments or omissions, yielding fully at the last to its particular and unyielding insistence.

As the human paleontologist and naturalist Loren Eisely wrote in The Night Country, we are likely still nascent in our evolutionary history, and God willing, we may a hundred thousand years hence, embrace by inclination or necessity the logic of Fell’s position. Until then, many of us will struggle in the dark night of the soul to find our way fully forward and into her Light.

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