An Overview of Quaker Pedagogy – The Idea of Friends’ Education

The Woolman Semester is a Friends’ school on many levels. Superficially we teach subject areas that are common themes in Quakerism – peace, social justice, environmental sustainability, and service – however the reality of Friends’ education is so much deeper than content. Students learn how to ‘let their lives speak’. The guiding principle of Quaker pedagogy is to approach each student as an individual – to start from where you are. Students are encouraged to listen to their internal reality, to speak and formulate their conceptual knowledge from the base of their own experience. We are a Quaker school, not just in name, but because we respect the truth that each individual shares, and we learn from the collective truth. This is the hallmark of Friends’ education.

One of the practicalities of Quaker pedagogy is that students, teachers, and indeed all members of the greater community, learn through active inquiry and reflection. While grades are a part of the formal assessment, one of the outcomes of Quaker pedagogy is to highlight the individual’s appreciation of their progress. Friends’ education is not so much about externally imposed benchmarks and standards but about the student gaining an appreciation of how their experiences here at Woolman have changed them and supporting students in exploring how they feel empowered to use their education.

The word ‘education’ is rooted in the Latin educare – to draw forth from within. At Woolman we actively practice this understanding of real learning through acceptance of ourselves and each other, and in a community of mutual support and cooperation. Another important characteristic of Quaker education is learning through collaboration. It is common to see a myriad of opportunities for informal education with seekers of all ages over meals, during community gardening, cooking etc. The best type of learning is experiential and as a Quaker school we actively promote experiential learning through exposing students to a wide range of learning opportunities. Students study a range of subject areas in academic, experiential and creative contexts. A guiding principle of Quaker pedagogy is not to reject the wisdom of conventional education but to rekindle students’ passion in life and learning by reciprocal education in the context of the community, and integrating the student’s education in the context of the whole person.

Other characteristics of a Friends’ education include the teaching of practical skills – from design and building skills in sustainability projects, to NVC (Non-Violent Communication) conflict resolution skills, and individual and corporate discernment in decision making. The integration of all these learnings in the whole person is an important consideration in Quaker pedagogy if students’ experiences here at Woolman are to be sustainable.

Quaker pedagogy is authentic. Alumni of The Woolman Semester share that the singular most powerful experience from their time here is the permission and encouragement to be authentic. Students often choose to attend a Friends’ school because they are passionate about peace, social justice and the environment, and disillusioned with society and the education system. At Woolman they seek to discover who they are – to let their Light shine. A Friends’ education emphasizes a fundamental tenet of Quakerism – listening. Students often experience hopelessness, fear, and empowering activism. They question their lives and their place within the world. And we aspire to listen to them. As a learning and living community, we stand at the edge of awareness and action. We actively practice the nurturing of compassion for the process of understanding the world and how to live authentically in it. As adherents to the wisdom of Quaker pedagogy, we aspire to support young people in integrating truth as it is revealed to them. We show young people that there is a way forward.