Thursday, August 14, 2008

Quaker Learnin'

I've been busy lately: mentoring a twelve-year-old girl in writing, taking a writing class (intermediate fiction), resuscitating my writing group, reading on class and race issues. So I'm only now catching up on Quaker blogs. The first one I read? Will T's post on not only laying down our burdens but taking up those that God asks us to take up.

His post is speaking to my condition. And it got me thinking about how Friends talk about education.

He writes:
Do we like to stay at the level of Quakerism 101? Are we reluctant to move on the higher level courses? Where is Quakerism 322 or 453? Where are the graduate courses? In our meetings do we even acknowledge the advanced curricula in the school of Christ?
We all, not just Will T, talk about Quaker education in terms of college level classes (Quakerism 101, Quakerism 201) and speak of curricula and syllabi (both words I heard for the first time in college). And culturally, doesn't it sound like fun to consider taking a college course-like class on Quakerism?

But how do Quaker courses named after and run like college courses come across to those who haven't gone to college (and won't go to college)? How does talking about Quaker education and conducting Quakerism classes in this way keep us from following the will of God, from taking up the yoke we've been given?


On another note, I came home from Gathering with a growing sense that I'm supposed to be doing more work around social class with Friends. I'm about to write a letter to Meeting to ask for a clearness committee to test the leading. I'd appreciate your thoughts and prayers as I move forward.


Robin M. said...

A Friend from my meeting has been complaining about that for years! For just the same reasons.

Jeanne said...


This was a brand-new realization for me. I was humming right along on Will's post and feeling it work in me, then BAM. I think part of the dissonance for me was that one metaphor was about labor (being yoked) then he goes headlong into the academic realm.

I also wondered who, exactly, would be considered for "graduate" level Quaker education.

So has your meeting changed how it talks about Quaker education? If so, what's that been like?

cath said...

I've also felt the disconnect. We understand ourselves to be highly experiential in our faith, but when we try to encourage others to become more involved in community or to learn more about us, we present our tradition via a book learning or classroom mode.

I like the "there are no dumb questions" attitude of some Meetings. If a Meeting can have that tone about it, people will feel free to ask.

Also, it's nice when a Meeting finds a way to get a new person involved without asking them to make a major commitment that they might not be ready to make. E.g., "We are going to visit the community center where we volunteer; would you like to come along for the afternoon just to see what we do?" No pressure to join the volunteer brigade, just an afternoon to see the Meeting in action. The questions will flow from encounters like this.

Mentoring is good, too. It's much like apprenticeship. Taking someone under your wing provides a personal touch that is often missing in the "read this book to find out who we are" approach.


Jeanne said...


Thanks for bringing up other things to think about when we talk about Quaker education.

I feel like I learned about Quakerism through an informal mentorship. Christopher Sammond. Sandy Moon. Elizabeth Barnard (EB). Jane Schallert. Susan DeVries. Dorothy Ackerman. Barbara Greenler. Bill Myers. And so many others, some of whom aren't with us anymore.

And the one thing I "learned" in Quakerism 101 that surprised me?

That there is no such thing as Quakerism 201 and no such thing as a graduate degree in Quakerism. No one is more advanced spiritually than anyone else. We all have Light to add to our collective discovery of Truth. (That's EB's doing--she led Q101 when I took it).

Liz Opp said...

Uh oh.

I posted a piece about topics that might be included in something "beyond" Quakerism 101, and I did so after seeing the first two comments here--which impacted some of my opening remarks there.

Then I checked back here and saw the third and fourth comments, and thought, "Uh oh."

I agree that experience is key to engaging more fully in Quakerism... I also believe that many of us are helped when language is put to our experience.

...What does "living in the Cross" look like, sound like, feel like?

...How do you know what a leading is, let alone how to test it?

On a number of occasions, I've been helped when I've been struggling in a part of my journey among Friends and have had a Friend say to me, for example, "Hmm, it sounds like you are being exercised," which of course led into a conversation about just what that might mean.

But there is always a balance to be struck between articulating "everything" and letting the experience speak for itself.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

cath said...

Liz is right--there has to be a balance between experiencing things (even with a mentor) and articulating things. I found this out the hard way just yesterday when I ran afoul of a long-standing but never-articulated-to-me policy in greeting people before worship (which had escaped my notice because I had not been a greeter before). Now I know, but it would have been nice to have known ahead of time.

The problem I think many who are not already members and attenders have is that some of our special "articulations" are hard to decipher--although no more so than any other church language (I'm still trying to figure out a Catholic friend's use of the phrase "die to the body" even after she has tried to explain it to me).

It's a common human experience to have shortcuts in language among people who share community or a POV or a common endeavor of some sort. The key to opening up that communication for a wider audience is in allowing them to understand the meanings of the language used. There are many ways to do this without actually dispensing with the special language altogether, but I do think some effort must be made to remove language obstacles for people who wish to join in fellowship.

Just read an academic dissertation and you'll know what I mean--most of them are writtem with a small, specific audience in mind. Then read a book written from a dissertation. Often the difference is quite apparent.

That's why a buddy system (even if the entire Meeting is the buddy) works for me as a model. I don't recommend it for anyone who would be put off by it, but it does seem to have that sense of balance that Liz just wrote about in her comment above.

Just a bit OT maybe.....I know some Friends feel that some of our language usage is counterproductive these days. I, myself, never say First Day unless requested to do so in an official written document. I have no need to distinguish between ancient pagan references in the calendar and other names for days of the week. Nor do I feel that by using First Day, etc. I will appear any more Quakerly to others. But that's just me, and I understand that not everyone feels this way. I wouldn't ask anyone to give up that distinctive if it is meaningful for them.


Liz Opp said...

Someone pointed out to me that the link I included in my comment didn't work. I've double-checked: Let's try this one.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Daniel said...

"That there is no such thing as Quakerism 201 and no such thing as a graduate degree in Quakerism."

So you'd think. But...


Jeanne said...

Liz and Cath, I appreciate your hashing out *how* to do Quaker education (explicitly, buddies, etc). I honestly think both are good.

My point is just to raise awareness about how we talk *about* education and how we *structure*. Do we describe it like a college class? Do we use words used primarily in college?

Let's be explicit. Let's be buddies. But let's talk about learning about Quakerism in terms that won't be a stop for folks who aren't as well-educated as most of us. I like Martin's idea from Liz's post that suggests education entirely outside of a school class model.

Daniel, wow, who knew that you could get a PhD in Quaker studies?!? But do those letters after your name give you more spiritual clout among Friends? I honestly don't know because I honestly don't know any Friends who have such a degree.

cath said...

Jeanne--I may have misinterpreted your last comment. Do you mean that you feel talking about how to do present Quakerism to others (the so-called Quaker 101) is different from (your words) "My point is just to raise awareness about how we talk *about* education and how we *structure*. Do we describe it like a college class? Do we use words used primarily in college?"

How-to-do and structure seem very similar in my mind.

I think both my comments and Liz's speak to your question, and while I can only unpack my own comments, I had hoped that it was clear that my focus was on structure and showing how things are done rather than telling how things are done.

You know, the old writers' adage: Show don't tell. :)

In my mind this avoid the thorny issue of prsentational language and metaphor--some of which will not be meaningful to others.

Yes, I agree that language use is important, but sometimes that language use is trumped by seeing the concepts put into action. (Actually, this has been verified in scientific studies--but I don't have time to research them to link here).

Perhaps I just didn't get what you were asking us to discuss. We're such a large country and such a large English-speaking world with none of the usual interactive modifiers that one has in RL conversation that it's sometimes hard to know.

At any rate, most groups (religious or otherwise) often fall into the trap of developing specialized ways of communicating that new members have to decipher. It's doubly hard when those specialized ways of communicating are more abstract than the concept they are meant to describe.

Here is how I presented one conern in my first comment: "I've also felt the disconnect. We understand ourselves to be highly experiential in our faith, but when we try to encourage others to become more involved in community or to learn more about us, we present our tradition via a book learning or classroom mode."

Does this speak to your question?


Robin M. said...

In my meeting, we've used the terms "introduction to Quakerism" and "Seeker's class" which are still fairly academic sounding. One of the concepts I'd like to see us use more is "apprenticeship."

Jeanne said...


I like the terms your Meeting uses. And I also like the apprenticeship idea because that's all we are. Apprentices.