Saturday, July 26, 2008


Woo hoo! Sometime today, before 4:30 Central Daylight Savings Time, my site meter registered 10,000 visitors!

While you're here, don a party hat to celebrate with me.

And one question I've had ever since I put a site meter on my blog in September 2007:

Who the heck lives in far northern Canada and is reading my blog? Can you give me a shout in the comments? Please?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Books for First Day School Classes Around Social Class

Jane over at Education & Class has posted an item about kids' books that highlight the issue of social class. A few folks post recommendations, but she also links to another blogger that has a full list.

I haven't read these books *yet* but I hope to sometime. If you are responsible for a First Day School program (or are responsible for a library at a Friends school), you might want to consider reviewing the selections.

Do you all have any recommendations about kids' books that highlight social class and also Quaker values?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Quaker Education

I didn't get a Quaker education but I'm surrounded by people who did. My friend Pam who went to a Quaker high school. My partner Liz who went to a Quaker college. My friend Jane who sent her daughters to a local Quaker school. An ex-girlfriend Kate who went to a Quaker high school. My friends Nils and Peg who went to a very elite Quaker school outside Philadelphia. I know lots and lots of young Friends who have chosen or are choosing Quaker colleges.

I love all these people. And I think they all deserve the best in life, including a very fine education. But I just don't know how to square the Quaker value of equality with our stalwart support of an elite education accessible to only a few.

I think middle and owning class folks sometimes think that poor and working class people don't value education because they just don't want to or sometimes we think it's the culture of poverty. But I read a Thomas Friedman New York Times article in May that described a crack-addicted, strung-out mother coming to a Seed school in Baltimore to beg for her child to be let into the lottery that selects a mere 80 students from over 300 who apply. That image alone shatters any myth you might have about desire.

So if there are far more families who want a good education for their kids than there are spots at good schools, why aren't Friends opening their schools up to these kids? There's a Friends school in Baltimore, in fact, that could very well stop educating those who already have access to an elite education and accept the other 220 kids who want to go to Baltimore's Seed school.

Couldn't they?

I know, I know, gosh, how in the world will your child learn Quaker values if you can't send them to a Quaker school? And how in the world will would we pay for such an elite education if all that elite money went to other schools?

Last fall, George School in Newtown, PA (where my dear friends Nils and Peg went, and met) received a gift (the thirteenth largest of 2007 to a private school according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy) of $128.5 million from alumna Barbara Dodd Anderson. When the news first came out, I mentioned it in a blog post and got an anonymous comment from someone who said she worked at George School (I don't publish anonymous comments). She was defensive and insisted that the school gave out a lot of scholarship money and would eventually increase that amount with Anderson's gift.

Indeed, they give some financial aid to 45% of their student body. At first blush this sounds impressive. But please remember that many lefty folks choose work in helping professions, which lowers their income far below their earning potential. Some even choose to live below the poverty line for reasons of conscience. And George School gives out scholarships to families that make up to $200,000/year.

Those needy students will be helped tremendously by the first donation from Anderson that is going to help build a LEED-certified library, to be named for her granddaughter.

I don't mean to pick on George School alone--every Quaker school, K-12 or college, acts mostly like every other private school in the country in every way about who they educate.

So why should Quaker schools be any different?

Because we believe that there is that of God in everyone, that we are all equal in God's eyes. Because we used to be so certain of this truth, we were willing to be persecuted, tortured and executed for preaching it. Because if Jesus were alive today, he wouldn't be hanging with most of the folks you'd find in most Quaker schools in North America. I think he'd be turning over a lot of tables.

And if you think that a quality education for poor or working class people can't be done, just take a gander over at Berea College in Kentucky, the first southern college founded as an interracial school, with the belief that "God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth."

They also provide a four-year full-tuition scholarship to every admitted student.

We can do better, can't we?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Nobody gets up on a soapbox and shouts about the comfort of his sofa and chairs. He just invites other people to sit in them.--Adam Gopnik, from "The Back of the World: The troubling genius of G.K. Chesterton" in The New Yorker, July 7 & 14, 2008

How are we comforted by having most of the people in our Meetings look, act, talk, eat and have professions like we do? What of our comforts keep others away? Is God calling us to be comfortable?

I love comfort. Big cushy chairs. Salty mashed potatoes. Public radio.

The other night, we got together from other folks on our block to plan our annual National Night Out festivities at an ice cream social. Our neighborhood is historically working class but some of young professional families have moved here. Some people are living in the homes their grandparents built because they inherited them and don't have mortgages outside of equity loans.

Among the many things we do, we always have door prizes, free stuff from local businesses. And there are enough things for everyone. But we also have to ask local businesses for stuff. One person said she didn't know anyone and was afraid to ask for donations. I started to tell a story about how I recently coached someone who said the same thing and he ended up having several options when we were done including having a particular public radio personality do the outgoing message on your answering machine and lunch and movie with a local well-respected movie reviewer.

As I told the story, I realized that this crowd wouldn't be nearly as excited about those donations as I was (and as my consultee was for his event). And I was uncomfortable.

These folks wanted free beer and smokes.

I can hear your sudden intake of breath, and see you squirming in your seats. No, you don't drink. Or smoke for that matter.

Nor do I. Though when I'm around my non-Quaker friends, I do drink. Not to get drunk. Usually.

So how would I feel if I were at an event with a couple of people who looked their noses down on me for drinking alcohol, or for getting tipsy, I asked myself.

Would I want to hang out with them? Go to their houses of worship? Consider taking up their beliefs?

The people on the block have looked to us to take up leadership of the NNO planning because we've showed initiative on the block. I started a pick-up recycling program on my block for plastics that the city doesn't currently recycle (but that I take to a place that does recycle them). Liz prompted our neighbor to put together Tuesday's planning meeting.

If we do become block leaders, I think we have a real opportunity, but I'm going to be uncomfortable, like I was Tuesday night. We could live into the belief we say we hold about believing there is that of God in everyone. We could live our testimony of equality. Even folks who smoke and drink and vote Republican and love Rush Limbaugh.

No, that's not shouting from a soap box, but maybe it's better outreach than we've ever done before.

Monday, July 7, 2008


One query posed by a Gathering interest group member that resonated with me and still sticks to me:

When we label something as Quakerly or unQuakerly, are we talking about something that is essential to our faith or are we confusing Quakerly with cultural appropriateness? How do we tell the difference? How do we see and acknowledge those things which are basic to Quakerism and let cultural trappings melt away?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Quakers & Social Class Interest Group at Gathering

I'm having a hard time finding the words to talk about my experience leading the Quakers and Social Class interest group at Gathering this year. In part, I don't have the words because it felt like when I give ministry during worship--later descriptions of ministry never have the power they had during meeting. So as I try to describe my experience, it doesn't feel as weighty as Wednesday night.

I felt led and covered in grace. I had a nudge to go to the space early and that gave me access to an otherwise locked building. I didn't want anyone to come into the room after we started and no one did. Until I got a nudge to stand up and go into the hall during the small-group discussions, that is. I could turn the late comer away and give her the handouts I brought. I didn't know what queries I would offer up for worship sharing but got a nudge during worship to ask folks what questions they'd have for themselves or that they'd bring back to their Meetings after the step-forward exercise we did.

Here's what we did:

I made some introductory remarks about me, why I was offering the interest group, social class in general (what it is, and what it's not) and what we'd be doing. We did a modified version of the step-forward exercise I posted on my blog in October. We split up in small groups to discuss our reactions to the exercise and came back together for worship sharing.

See? As I write this, it sounds so boring. But I promise you it wasn't. People reported to me that it gave folks a lot to think about and a lot to consider. Several friends told me they heard people they don't know raving about the experience.

I know this sounds like tooting my own horn, but I am so pleased because I felt well-used (in that same way I feel well-used when I am faithful giving ministry). And because I've never done anything like this before. It's easy for me to get hooked and get my buttons pushed during group processes but standing before the interest group felt easier than any group I've experienced. I felt such deep care and love for each person in the room the whole two hours.

The last time I felt that kind of grace for that amount of time or with that many people was when I was in the hospital in 1994 for my bone marrow transplant.

People asked what I'd be doing next and if I'd turn it into a workshop or if I was coming back to the Gathering.

I can honestly say that I don't know. I'll ask God what's next.

In the meantime, I'll continue to blog here and I will go to George Lakey's workshop on Quakers and Social Class. I'll also, hopefully, get to an FGC small conference on diversity in March announced at the summer Gathering.