Haddonfield Friends School is a Quaker school that takes its Quaker connection seriously. What are the signs of this connection? How does the school's Quaker roots and practices shape a student's experience here? Read on.
The Religious Society of Friends began as a radical challenge to the Church of England in the 17th century. The Quakers'simple realization that there is 'that of God in every person' led them to leave the established church and worship together in silence without ministers and prearranged prayers, to oppose all violence done by humans to one another, to refuse to pay their war taxes, and to challenge state hierarchies by refusing to 'doff their hats' to the authorities. These 'outrageous' practices brought persecution and martyrdom in England and here in America.
Friends today continue to try to live a witness of simplicity and social consciousness working for prison reform and economic justice, for peace both amongst nations and within families. They come together regularly for silent worship. Friends Meeting in Haddonfield is a lively mix of long-time Friends and new attenders.
Quakers from early times have been known for schools which seek to give a quality education in a context which respects and nourishes the students' emotional, social, and spiritual growth. HFS was started over 200 years ago and has been educating children continuously ever since. It is administered by a Board comprised of Meeting members, parents, alums, and other professionals.
Given even this sketchy introduction to Friends' ways, one can discern the philosophical roots of some Quakerly features at HFS:
When children call teachers by their first names, for example, they are following the original Quakers' resistance to social hierarchy: if we all are children of God, then the respect we owe each other should manifest itself in ways beyond mere titles.
When students and teachers shake hands at the beginning and close of each school day, they are addressing each other as Friends do at the close of their silent Meetings. Both this handshaking and the traditional mode of addressing teachers (i.e., Teacher Mary, Teacher Bob, etc.) combine the formal and personal in a characteristically Quaker way.
Children participating in playground activities are encouraged to play their best and fairly, with the knowledge that everyone will participate; undue competition between schools and teams, like competition between nations is downplayed. Quaker emphasis on religious and sexual equality means that all classes and sports events are coed.
In faculty meetings and often in the classroom, decisions are reached by consensus rather than by voting, with the intention of corporately seeking the truth rather than the will of the strongest faction. Visitors have remarked on the cooperative, supportive, and caring spirit among teachers and staff; this grows in part from the Friendly process of coming to decisions as a group.
Teaching methods and curriculum also reflect Friends' convictions.
Teachers work to minimize competition and 'put-downs.' Helping children to discover their own particular strengths and to appreciate the strengths of others is an undergirding goal of Quaker education. Students work to achieve their personal best in a curriculum that is designed to build skills, develop independence, and foster critical thinking skills. The hallmark of an HFS graduate is confidence!
Disagreements and fights between children get a lot of attention from teachers who begin teaching methods of solving conflicts nonviolently in the prekindergarten classes. Older children are trained in a formal process of peer mediation to enhance those skills.
Gathering in silence 'the Quaker mode of worship" plays a special role in the school. Faculty and School Board meetings begin and end with silence. Friends' understanding of silence is that it enables a person to get to a quiet place inside herself or himself. In Quaker language, it offers a chance for both the individual and for the gathered group to hear the 'still, small voice of God.' There is no attempt made at HFS to proselytize or convert students to the Religious Society of Friends. The respect Quakers have for 'that of God' in each person leads them to a respect for other religious convictions. And that respect is borne out in the school in various ways, including a serious effort to acknowledge major holidays of all religious faiths represented in the student body. The religious education curriculum, the holiday celebrations, the school's approach to recreation and discipline, and especially the silent Meetings for Worship all of these factors are designed to support students in their individual spiritual growth.