So here it comes again: on another list, a complaint about expensive Quaker schools. Are they really “Quaker”? Don’t they sow division in meetings? Don’t they perpetuate all kinds of bad class stuff??
For the record, I never worked at one of the fancy Quaker schools; but I was briefly on the “faculty” of the fledgling (and now gone) Friends World College some 45 years ago, where I earned room, board and all the luxury a couple hundred bucks a month could buy.
Still, I’m wondering how many times in the forty-plus years of my involvement with Friends that I’ve heard this complaint. Dozens? Hundreds??
Anyway, lots. So many times, that it gets hard to take it at face value. Like, does the complainer not know enough basic Quaker history to realize that Friends from the earliest times were just fine with inequalities of wealth and class? (Read Fox & Barclay, if thee doubts this.)
No, wait: let’s read a key passage from Barclay right now, from his “classic” Apology for the True Christian Divinity, the foundational Quaker theological text for 200-plus years:
On “Equality” and early Friends. This is from Barclay’s Fifteenth Proposition, about early Quaker social “peculiarities,” (e.g., refusing hat honor, bowing, saying “thee” & “thou” to superiors, etc.) with a link to the full text online. Emphasis added, and I’ve divided some of his long paragraphs:
“Before I enter upon a particular disquisition of these things, I shall first premise some general considerations, to prevent all mistakes, and next add some general considerations, which equally respect all of them.
I would not have any judge, that hereby we intend to destroy the mutual relation, that either is betwixt prince and people, master and servants, parents and children, NAY, NOT AT ALL.
We shall evidence that our principle in THESE THINGS HATH NO SUCH TENDENCY, and that these natural relations are rather better established than any ways hurt by it.
Next, let not any judge that from our opinion in these things any necessity of levelling will follow, or that all men must have things in common. . . .
And further, we say not hereby that no man may use the creation more or less than another. For we know that, as it hath pleased God to dispense it diversely, giving to some more, and some less, so they may use it accordingly.
The several conditions under which men are diversely stated, together with their educations answering thereunto, do sufficiently show this: the servant is not the same way educated as the master, nor the tenant as the landlord, nor the rich as the poor; nor the prince as the peasant.
(This plaque is for the Levellers, a truly radical redistributionist group in the days of early Quakers. The ones noted here were shot for their trouble by Cromwell’s army.)
Does the complainer also not know that many early Friends started small and then made lots of money, becoming, some of them, among the wealthiest people in the US colonies?
And have they missed the abundantly established fact that these wealthy Quakes were concerned about “those less fortunate” both in and outside the RSOF, and expressed this via old-fashioned “charity,” for the “deserving” poor — the kind that all us good liberals today so love to hate??
(For example, There was til recently in Phila YM a Fund For The Relief of Elderly Women Friends In Necessitous Circumstances, if you get my drift; may still be there.)
Were they expecting the RSOF today to be a sort of socialistic commune, with a common bank account and income sharing? Sorry, that’s some other church.
A Shaker village in Maine. Now a museum, since the Shakers all died out. They had this thing about no sex, which they kept to awfully well. Too well, in fact.
There were a few efforts in that direction back in the 1840s, but they all went up in smoke. Read historian Thomas Hamm’s fine book, “God’s Government Begun” for the gory details.
Numerous 1940-50s radical Quakes joined a communal group called the Bruderhof. Didn’t work out too well. Most of the Quakes quit, very disillusioned. One exile wrote a book about the experience called “Free From Bondage.”
Some of us tried again in the 1960s; same outcome.
Drop City. Those were the days. Or were they?
So here’s what the record shows: levelling and communalism are very, very hard. And divisions of class and affluence are (and have forever been) with us inside the RSOF as well as out. Sorry if this is hard to hear, but there it is. Maybe we can buff off some of the rough edges, but I don’t expect much more.
(Same goes for other churches, Friend. There are fancy rich Catholic churches, and humble Roman mission chapels; etc.)
Quaker schools are an artifact of these stratifications.
Many of them have lots of money in the bank left by dead quakes, some going back a couple hundred years, to “help” lower-income Quaker kids enroll. Even so, some Quaker parents get all resentful and huffy about that fact, saying such differentials shouldn’t exist, the schools are elitists, they shouldn’t be selective (at least as far as MY kids are concerned), yada yada.
I don’t get it. One of my daughters attended one of those very expensive Quaker schools, and she did it mostly on that “dead Quaker money,” because her parents didn’t have the $40K per year it took. ($50K now)
And I’ve known other modest-income families doing the same thing. Quietly, skilfully, getting their kids in on this Quaker “endowment,” and not letting the stratifiers see them sweat, or the complainers hear them whine.
You know something, speaking as one of those parents, it didn’t bother me a bit that she got those deceased Quakers’ dough. I mean, it’s what they left it for, right? I’d say do it again in a New York minute.
As for the education she got, it was great in some ways, not so good in others; but no regrets.
And as far as being divisive for meetings, my view is it’s actually better if the schools are freestanding, like Sidwell School in DC. (Which, BTW, is not simply about wealth — hey, you want stratification, Mr. Sidwell has got stratification to burn!
There it’s also about status; Al Gore’s kids went there; the Obama girls. And I think Amy Carter. Yet lots of other people with tons more money than those folks –but not their exalted status — couldn’t get in there to save their lives. And only a select few Quaker kids sere admitted.)
If that’s an intolerable offense to thee, well again, there it is.)
And actually, I’ve come to the view that maybe if your kid has to have a fulltime Secret Service detail to keep them from getting kidnapped, maybe a special school is not such an intolerable thing anyway; after all, did Sasha and Malia ask to become “high value targets” for terrorists? And do I want my grandkids going to a school that al Queda might want especially to bomb??
When they’re formally “under the care” of meetings, expensive schools too often becomes proxies and patsies for all kinds of other resentments, which waste time and fog up the light.
I could also go on a long rant about how too many Quake schools aren’t any more “Quaker” than the Quaker Oats Co. (neither started nor owned nor ever run by Quakes; pure marketing.)
But really, folks, their vacant “Quaker values” are no more than a reflection of the theological vacancy of much of the larger RSOF. Dig it. You want better? Better do it yourself.
And anyway, the schools don’t OWN Quakerism. One can ignore them and do just fine.
Besides, a funny thing happened on the way to the Self-righteousness Forum: here in our little meeting in Fayetteville NC, a guy shows up a year or so ago, really kind of a lost soul looking for a spiritual community, and we somehow filled the bill. But why, with 300+ other churches in our county to choose from did he come here?
Simple: about a hundred years ago, he went to Oakwood Friends School, up in New York’s Hudson Valley. It’s not the fanciest of the lot, but it’s up there. He didn’t learn much about “Quakerism” at the place. But something got under his skin there, which took awhile to come to the surface.
I expect there are other such stories. In fact I know there are.
So here’s my recommendation to those who wanna moan and groan about how terrible those awful expensive and elitist Quaker schools: chill out and face the fact that the RSOF exists in a real world of class and wealth divisions. We didn’t make it, but we’re not free of it either; never have been. Again, maybe we can buff off some of the rougher edges; but remember the Shakers and the rest.
In any case, now I’m running into this at the next level: Nearing “retirement” age, I can see that there are also lots of Quaker retirement communities, and — surprise, surprise! — they vary in cost and amenities along similar stratified lines of wealth and class, and most of them I would never EVER be able to afford.
Well. So I can spend my time in these remaining years being all huffy and resentful about this. Or I can say, “So freaking what?” and get on with my own stuff, work things out the best I can, and be happy with what I’ve got.
After all, I’ve lately begun to notice that in even the fanciest upper-class cemeteries, the rich folks there are just as dead as the nameless paupers in the county graveyard.
Now THERE is some serious equality for you. Wonder who thought that one up?