Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This Person Speaks My Mind

Today I listened to Ray Suarez talking about immigration and social class and education. He speaks my mind.

You can hear the hour-long program here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Generosity Rant

Warning: This rant about generosity isn't very generous.

A funk has been building in me.

On Facebook an "event" has been going around Quaker circles called "Hug a Quaker Day" on December 15th. I've felt cranky about this and am feeling bad and un-generous about being cranky.

But here's the deal.

Quakers already give and get more than enough hugs. What about people who actually don't have enough hugs?

I think this comes from my desire to be generous to people who don't have what they need to live. Including hugs. And also including money and goods.

I've been reading lately about how patterns of giving in the US actually perpetuate and reinforce existing social class structures. Social scientists have found that most modern giving benefits the elite and few others, and the little that goes to the most in need are safe because they don't challenge the status quo. Finally, the majority of philanthropy that gives to the most in need also gives opportunities for people, including those they serve, to socialize with the elite. But it actually reinforces the status of the elite. (Disentangling Class from Philanthropy: The Double-edged Sword of Alternate Giving, from Critical Sociology 33, 2007, in case you want to read the whole article about alternative foundations).

It got me thinking about mine and Liz's giving, but also my meeting's giving, which looks like this:


American Friends Service Committee $2,360
Friends Committee on National Legislation $2,360
Friends General Conference $2,360
Friends World Committee on Consultation $375
Right Sharing of World Resources $325
Friends Journal $1,135


Friends for a Non-Violent World $5,700
Friends School of Minnesota $4,225
Northern Yearly Meeting $5,615

Local non-Quaker

Loaves & Fishes $1,200
St. Paul Council of Churches $200 (required dues)


$250 for special requests

Here's how our giving breaks down as I do the math.

Organizations that serve mostly already-privileged Quakers and others who are also privileged (FGC, FWCC, Friends Journal, FSMN, NYM, Council of Churches): $13,910
Organizations that serve Quakers in our quest to serve others (AFSC, FCNL, FNVW) $10,420
Organizations that try to serve poor and working class people (Loaves and Fishes): $1,200
Organizations that try to change the system that keeps poor people poor (RSWR): $325

Our meeting also gives $3,400 to individuals, but $2,100 of that is for Quaker travel and registration expenses, mostly to events sponsored by organizations that serve Quakers like FGC and NYM.

You might argue that Quakers do a lot of volunteering and making of social change, so giving to ourselves is somewhat justified. But I don't understand how justified it is if this kind of giving only reinforces the social class structure. I can't find evidence that Quakers are vigorously working to break down class barriers.

In the spirit of full disclosure, our personal giving breaks down like this:

18% goes toward organizations that serve us or other privileged people (like public radio and Friends General Conference).
37% goes toward helping middle class people help those in need (like Women's Foundation of Minnesota and Philanthrofund)
17% goes toward helping poor and working class people but without changing the systems that keep them oppressed (like the food shelf and Metropolitan State University)
27% goes toward changing the systems that keep poor and working class people oppressed (like Right Sharing of World Resources and the Women's Prison Book Project).

What does your personal and Quaker meeting philanthropy look like in these categories? What are you doing in your personal philanthropy to change the system that keeps people oppressed?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Do What You've Been Told Kids

Nat over at maphead has been blogging about more than maps of late. He's been pondering why our meeting has been having such a hard time making a statement about wearing scented hygiene products or perfume in our building. He posits that it's because our faith community has a hard time giving itself over to the will of God. "It is a deep and systemic distrust of mediation of any kind," he says.

I have another theory related to his.

My experience of middle class people is that they don't like being told what to do. At least when I try to lead something, I'm called bossy. On the other hand, among working class people I can easily slip into and out of leadership and people follow easily and with little or no resistance.

Conversely, a middle class upbringing trains people to manage others and be a leader. I've said so before on this blog.

I think the "deep and systemic distrust of mediation" comes not from history but from social class training.

My experience of being taught to be managed is typical of working class people even today. New York Quaker Patrick Finn wrote a book called "Literacy with an Attitude: Educating Working Class Children in their Own Self Interest". His book's website has an exercise that illustrates how elite schools teach the same material a different way in working class and elite schools. It shows how working class kids are taught to think about knowledge and understanding differently from middle and owning class kids.

I'm not suggesting that the middle class way of learning is bad--I actually think everyone needs to have equal access to that kind of education.

I am saying that there might be something middle class Quakers need to learn from Quakers who are culturally working class about the joy of letting someone else (God) manage our corporate spiritual lives.

For once, I have a kind of advantage in the Quaker way of doing things. I find comfort in seeking and following the will of God because it was what I was taught to do in the working class schools I attended: do what you've been told, kids.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

As God Made Us

Below is an essay I wrote after being asked to write something about Quakers & social class for the New York Yearly Meeting's newsletter Spark. Their November issue is all about Quakers, class and money, and given your interest in that subject, is for sure worth a read. You can find it here. I may do a short study group based on these articles this fall in the Twin Cities.

On another note, I went to an anti-racism conference this past weekend and have a lot to chew on and write about. It'll come out slowly in the coming weeks. It'll be slow because I've submitted a query to Friends Journal for their 2010 special issue on Friends and Education. Bob Dockhorn told me that they would be interested in both of my suggestions for articles, and that I should submit them. Now it's time to write them. One will be easy for me to write and the other will take time and energy and focus that I don't generally have when I write a blog post. This means I may blog even less frequently than I already do. But we'll see. Maybe it'll bring up stuff to pass by you all very wise people.

In the meantime, here's my article. Don't skip the others, please.

As God Made Us
In other communities of which we are a part, we choose to be in relationship with the members of the community, or choose to be a part of the community itself, in order to share in the community’s identity. In the covenant community, we choose to be in relationship with God, and God gives us to one another and to the community.—From Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order by Lloyd Lee Wilson
I’ve had Quakers say to me that you need to be educated to be a Quaker. Someone else said that because working-class people can’t handle process, they of course wouldn’t fit in at meeting. Another chalked up our cultural uniformity to Quakerism’s appealing to only a very narrow demographic. If any of these were true, Quakerism wouldn’t be for me, because I grew up working class, the daughter of a woman who grew up in abject poverty. I was doing shift work, overnight at the time, when I found Quakerism. I had only a high school diploma. I’m a member of a meeting, but sometimes I wonder if I belong among Friends.

On my way to Friends General Conference’s summer gathering this past summer, I stopped in eastern Kentucky where my mother grew up and where a bunch of my extended family still live. I got to spend a brief bit of time with Debbie, one of my cousins, for the first time in about three decades. She’s a few months older than I, almost 43 at this writing, and she has four kids and a few young grandchildren.

As we stood on her mother’s modest cement porch, the sun sank behind the hills and hollers and we talked. Her nieces and nephews joined and left the conversation, and one reminded Debbie about having used a paddle to punish her. Debbie turned to me and said she believes in corporal punishment. She and her niece went back and forth about whether Debbie’s paddle had holes in it, and I slapped at mosquitoes on my legs. I didn’t see someone to be admonished, but instead felt God’s love and compassion for her. I realized then I could never take her to Quaker meeting, not because of her belief in corporal punishment but because I wouldn’t want to inflict Quakers on her, this person who is as God made her, who deserves love and compassion first and foremost.

At the Gathering in Virginia, I sat with a Friend and told this story. When I said that I felt God’s love for her, this Friend took a breath, stiffened his jaw, and suggested I take some time to tell Debbie why corporal punishment isn’t in God’s plan.

I’ve seen that stiffened jaw or heard that sharp intake of breath from other Quakers, but directed toward me, usually when I’ve been loud, direct, honest, or crude. I’ve seen the stern look when I brought processed food to potluck, when I came to meeting dressed up, when I said I watched television. I’ve internalized some of those judgments and tried to look, act, and dress like the lefty liberal middle- and owning-class people that typify liberal Quakers. And I mostly pass, except when I don’t and am again reminded that I haven’t fully understood how to act middle class. I know there isn’t anyone standing at the door of our meetings with a test to make sure everyone passes, there isn’t a conscious effort to keep out people who don’t match our idea of Quaker. But I feel like I am being tested all the time to make sure I fit in.

For a while I’ve believed my lack of understanding of middle- and-owning class ways to be evidence of my lack of intelligence. But Malcolm Gladwell in his recent book Outliers describes the supposedly smartest man in the United States, Chris Langan, who scores so high on IQ tests it’s not measurable. He got through high school by showing up only for the tests, and acing them. But he has done manual labor most of his life because he grew up poor and never learned how to navigate the cultural barriers between him and a college education. I’m not as smart as Langan, and I think I’ve figured out a few social-class rules. Therefore, it’s not my brain getting between me and Quakerism. It’s culture.

So this brings up the question Do I have to be middle or owning class to be Quaker?

I still remember the first time I walked into Meeting. It was the last time my community met at their location before beginning the process of expanding the building. We met outside on listing folding chairs. The group was small because many were off to Northern Yearly Meeting, which met on Labor Day weekend at the time. Puffy white clouds shaded us as I sat on the edge of the circle under the crisp blue sky. I closed my eyes and could immediately feel God’s presence. I fended off sleep after a long night’s work, but felt like I’d come home. I’d been seeking a faith community since I was twelve, visiting churches both with and without my parents, never quite communing with God the way everyone around me seemed to be doing. In the quiet at Quaker meeting, I heard God say Stay. And I did.

This form of worship, of silent waiting, of letting go of my best ideas of how the world should be, of releasing my anxieties and grief and disappointments, of opening myself to what God wants for my life, what God wants for my meeting, of finding it within me to be obedient to God’s will, is what keeps me coming. I can’t find this anywhere else. So shouldn’t the test, if there were one, be about how one communes with God, with or without ritual?

My cousin Debbie and I are getting to know each other after all this time. I plan to visit to do some research about a novel I’m working on. Maybe I’ll ask her to come to meeting when I’m there. Maybe I’ll witness to her the impact my mother’s belt had on me beyond the welts. Or maybe we’ll make chicken and dumplings like our mamaw did, with lard and flour and a boiled bird, and talk about each of our connections to God. That’s where I’ll find equality in the gospel order, not in our shared values or identity.

Monday, October 26, 2009


I just finished a training for trainers (through Training for Change, an organization started by George Lakey) and learned a lot about leading workshops, especially where my growing edge is and how to grow my skill.

The 20-person group was somewhat diverse and filled with very passionate people working for social change. The workshop is actually called "Training for Social Action Trainers." The majority of the group could have walked into a Quaker meeting, and most Friends would not have thought they were out of place.

This fine group of people were respectful about gender and race, giving lots of room to people of color, and acknowledging the fact that we were overwhelmingly female. It was the first time I was in a workshop where men did not act like they owned the room, and where people of color got lots of floor time. But there was no mention of social class except when I brought it up (which wasn't often).

We had a diversity evening, but all that seemed to be discussed openly was race, as if diversity was code for race. We did one exercise about being mainstream and outside the mainstream, and then another where small groups did skits to demonstrate aspects of the mainstream to the rest of the workshop participants, who had to figure out what we were trying to portray about the mainstream. I strongly encouraged my group to do a skit specifically around social class, and we did so. Others tried to do things around gender and race. The list we made as we talked about what was trying to be portrayed was all about social class.

No one, including me, named it as such, though.

I kept myself from saying as much as I would have liked around social class because I knew we were there this weekend to learn workshop leader skills, not hash out issues of oppression. Even my workshop "buddy" Demetria (assigned the beginning of the weekend) noticed that I was censoring myself a lot.

It was hard being in a room of very bright, passionate, well-intentioned people who mostly have no conscious clue about social class. It made me feel profoundly grateful for all of you, people who read my blog, people who want to be an ally, the growing group of people from my meeting who support me.

When I started on this social class journey, I thought I would find a river of people moving toward economic and class justice. I thought I'd find people farther along the journey willing to be a light, and people who are in the same place I am, and people behind me, pushing me forward.

I thought I'd find a community similar to the one when I realized the depth to which the patriarchy had impacted my life. I thought I'd find a built-in, ready-made group of people to socialize with and commiserate with like I'd found when I came out of the closet as lesbian.

But it's lonely out here.

I can't hang out with working class people because I'm too brainy. I listen to NPR and watch PBS. I like films in foreign languages with subtitles. I don't end sentences with prepositions. I can't hang out with people who grew up poor or working class but are now middle class because I have some traits they've learned to disdain, and because I'm challenging the system that bestowed privilege onto them. And when I'm in a room full of aware and passionate activists who see race clearly but don't see social class, I see how truly solitary I am.

I realized this weekend that you're my river, pushing me forward. You're my community of support. You're helping me carry this light to the world.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Quakers & The New Yorker EDITED!

There have been two instances recently when Quakers were mentioned in The New Yorker.

First there was an article about Carrie Fisher in The Talk of the Town where it mentioned she dated one of the producers of Star Wars, a Quaker named Gary Kurtz. I've wondered for a long time about whether my attraction to Quakerism is connected to my love of Star Wars and its "theology", so I did a little research. Turns out Kurtz had some influence on the series. In an interview here, the author implies as such:

"Mark had said to me that there was a lot of agonizing going on between Gary Kurtz and Lucas over the amount of violence that was in the film. And I think, as I remember correctly, what Hamill was saying was that there was a lot of Quaker influence. Now I don't know whether Lucas was a Quaker or whether it was Gary Kurtz , but there was a spiritual basis for this film and they were concerned that the non-violence message that they were trying to get across was going to be compromised by a lot of the shoot 'em ups that were going on. The reason why I mention this was I think these guys were really very unusual in what they were trying to do with their motion picture making. I think they really had a vision of the world which was pure. They wanted to present some kind of legend looking ahead into the future. It really was some reflection of good vs. evil, not seeing it very simply as good being interior and evil being exterior. We all as human beings are wrestling with it inside ourselves. Like the relationship between Skywalker and Vader. The thing that I really did feel was that there was, going back to what I said earlier, the way in which they handled people in that production, they looked after their people very, very well. To me that's the essence of great leadership and creative ability. I give them full credit. Definitely they were talking about a spiritual dimension and trying to come up with a non-violent message."

I don't think it was the non-violence message that came across to me, but the sense that there's something that connects us all, and if we only quiet our minds and hearts, we can hear it...

Yeah, I know. What does that have to do with social class?

It doesn't. But the next mention does.

In the September 28th issue, Briefly Noted mentions a biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Penn State professor Lori D. Ginzberg. The book apparently makes connections between Cady Stanton, and modern feminism's problems with social class and race.

An abolitionist more out of political convenience than conviction, she not only abandoned the movement for black male suffrage after the Civil War to focus on white women’s suffrage but increasingly made vitriolic attacks on immigrants, the working class, and African-Americans in her writing and speeches. The consequences of Stanton’s racism and √©litism were “deep and hurtful,” Ginzberg says, and she attributes the continuing difficulty of incorporating race and class differences into gender politics, in large part, to Stanton’s mixed legacy.

Ginzberg writes about two issues that impact me personally, sexism and classism, and therefore I am most passionate about. I can't wait to read this one. I just hope it's not too heady for me. I found the last New Yorker Briefly Noted book about Quakers too academic and inaccessible

EDIT NOTE: This was a big mistake--Cady Stanton wasn't Quaker!!! Why didn't any of you tell me this? I'd assumed that she was. Mistakenly. Sorry for that.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Social Class Rule #2, and an Apology of Sorts

I've said I'd talk about making social class rules explicit. Here's the second one.

Middle and owning class people make the rules, and when working class or poor people don't follow the rules, there are dire consequences

I'll give you a secular example first. Take the connection between teen pregnancy and poverty.

This statement is accepted as true by most people, rich and poor alike:

"Teen motherhood is a great way into poverty."

It's not a rule, but a statement of fact. Friends from high school and cousins who were themselves teen mothers have admitted this fact to me, and described how hard it is to be barely out of childhood and raising a child.

This statement is an example of a rule made by middle and owning class people:

"You must wait to have children until and unless you and the proposed other parent are truly, emotionally, socially, and financially ready to care for them."

It can take a lot of privilege to wait until you're deemed ready to have kids according to this rule, stated to me recently by a middle class Quaker. And the consequences of breaking the rule are dire, even though they don't have to be (if we had true economic justice). But this blog isn't about social policy, per se.

What does any of this have to do with Quakers?

We like our rules, and the consequences can lead people to leave meeting thinking Quakerism isn't right for them (at best) or make people feel bad about who they are or where they come from (at worst). As I see that on the page, it doesn't seem so dire. But it is to me.

I believe that God speaks to us in the best way we can hear God's message. For some that's through Catholicism, some that's through Wicca, some that's through the Quaker practice. If we're even unintentionally turning away a whole class of people because they're not like us, I believe we're acting directly against what God would have us do not just for our meetings ("diversity" and all) but for each lost soul searching for a spiritual home who might find one with us.

I admit, having grown up working class, I liked all the rules at first. Don't watch TV. Don't drink unfiltered water. Don't dress up for meeting. Now though, I see not boundaries but brick walls, impenetrable but through a narrow door that fits only a certain kind of person. It breaks my heart every time I get an email, which I do about once a month, from someone who says they left because they felt so much the class outsider. I struggle mightily with staying.

But I do because God said so and still says so every time I sit in the silence.



The apology, of sorts:

I'm sorry I can't say things the way you can or want to hear it. But I don't know how. Really. And I can promise you it's a social class thing. I've tried over the last couple of years to learn how to say things so you can hear them, but to little if any avail. The only place where I seem to have the grace (most of the time) to be clear and understood is when I'm running a group. But I'm beginning to accept this about myself, and I'm stopping trying to have you hear me. You will or you won't. You'll get it or not. You'll be offended or not. It's okay. I'll still publish your comments, even when you disagree with me, if you're respectful and reasonable and not anonymous. Conflict is just fine as long as you're not calling me names or belittling me (or anyone else for that matter). I'll say what I'm led to say and hopefully learn from what you have to offer, even if it's to sharpen my own understanding.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell

My friend Michael Bischoff recommended I read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and I did.

I'm a very slow reader--it usually takes me weeks to get through a 250 page book. It takes me a whole week (reading an hour or sometimes two a day) to get through most of The New Yorker.

But I devoured Outliers in under five days.

Michael said that Gladwell was saying some things I've been saying on this here blog, so I gave it a chance. Michael was right.

In a chapter called "Marita's Bargain," he writes:
We are so caught up in the myths of the best and the brightest and the self-made that we think outliers spring naturally from the earth. We look at the young Bill Gates and marvel that our world allowed that thirteen-year-old to become a fabulously successful entrepreneur. But that's the wrong lesson. Our world allowed only one thirteen-year-old unlimited access to a time-sharing terminal in 1968. If a million teenagers had been given the same opportunity, how many more Microsofts would we have today? To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success--the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history--with a society that provides opportunity for all.

One seemingly disparate chapter at a time, Gladwell debunks the myth of the self-made person, and exposes all of the ways the most successful people have had advantages of one sort or another, including himself (in the last chapter) and lays bare the ways the least successful people have had disadvantages. It's a hopeful letter to us all.

Read this well-written book. When you get a chance, chime in here with your thoughts.

What implications does this book have for Quaker education? What new Light can this add to our Meetings?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Quakers and Alcohol

A F/friend recently posted on facebook that she'd seen another Quaker at a liquor store and thought it'd been a scandal. When I asked who it was, she said she didn't want to tell tales out of school.

Then I thought I didn't want to be a part of a faith community where it was a scandal to be seen in a liquor store. So I thought I'd ask you all what you think about it.

Is this issue one of social class?

At the entrance to the neighborhood were I grew up, there was a liquor store (we called it a "beer garden") where if you did well in school, you could get a free soda by showing them your report card. It stood right next to a deli and a soft serve ice cream spot. You could get free stuff at those other two places too with good grades.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Not My Job. Yours Either.

College teaches people to manage others.

I know, you thought you learned about organic chemistry or Dante or building a homemade hookah when you went to college (if you did; if you didn't, you might have, like I did, thought it taught people to be smarter than you).

At a regional Quaker event, one Friend told of a story about her nephew who'd recently graduated from Macalester College, an elite (though not Ivy League) liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minnesota. (My meeting, located within a block of this fine institution, gets a lot of visitors from this school, and more than a few stick around long enough to call themselves Friends). While this Friend's nephew was in college, he earned spending money by working for the buildings and grounds department. After he graduated, the head of that department passed away unexpectedly, and this fresh-faced young man, a newly printed and signed and notarized college degree in hand, was asked to apply for the dead man's job supervising sixty full-time-equivalent employees.

Unsure of himself, he protested to his mother. Without missing a beat his mother reassured him.

"If any of those sixty people were qualified for the job, they would have been asked to apply for the job. They asked you instead."

I'm not going to go into all the lies involved in that sentence (and won't post comments about that either, because this blog post isn't about that sentence...this story is meant to point out that indeed, college graduates are most qualified to manage others according to a social class rule I have yet to clearly articulate but this story demonstrates).

What does any of this have to do with Quakerism?

We have a disproportionate representation of college graduates at our Meetings (as compared to the general population where 25% of American adults have college degrees), and therefore, a disproportionate number of managers: people who believe they are the most qualified to manager others.

The first problem we run into is that there aren't enough people in Meeting who don't mind being managed, people who either by disposition or education prefer to take direction. This can look like distrust of committees.

I'm not writing about that.

The second problem we run into is that this model of the managed and the managers is that it is supposed to run counter to our testimony of equality.

I'm not writing about that either.

I am, on the other hand, writing about God.

Tonight, I had an IM conversation with a F/friend about her First Day School class (at an anonymous Meeting). Someone I'll call B (not her real initial). B approached my friend and said she had a leading to work with her FDS group. My friend felt uncomfortable for a number of reasons, mostly personal, but brought up issues about flexibility, appropriateness, and a good fit with the teaching team.

These are all good questions to ask if you're hiring a teacher or teacher's aid. I bet many of you ask these same questions when talking about First Day School issues.

But I know B to be well-led, and very good at discerning her leadings. I'm sometimes uncomfortable around B too, but if she came to me saying she felt led to do something with me, I would take it at face value.

Even if I didn't know anything about B, though, she said the word "leading," and that says to me that it's not my job to consider questions of appropriateness or flexibility or compatibility just yet. It's first time for me to listen, to her and to God. Maybe even it's time for me to gather with a few Friends for some discernment so that my heart may also be open to this Friend's leading, or at least my part in it. (Yes, there are times when those -ability questions should come first, especially when working with children, but I would argue that those instances are rarer than we think).

I think that because we are, in the aggregate, so very well educated, we default to relying on well-made, sound arguments and reasoning. We want to be seen as good managers, so we consider the well-being of everyone around us. And we forget about obedience to God.

Perhaps because of my working class upbringing, I find great comfort in hearing from the ultimate Manager about my life's work (when I can let go of the message I heard when I was in college recently). I can really say, "It's not my job to figure out what the big picture is." Just like my elementary and middle school and high school teachers told me.

Despite what your mother might have told you, you're not qualified to manage God's will for you or for your Meeting, either.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Quakers & Education: The Few, The Proud, The Quakers

Have you heard enough about Quaker education from me yet? If so, I promise, this is new light. And when I say "light" I don't mean the domesticated lovely light that most Quakers talk about where everything is happy and good and peaceful. I'm talking about the light that might compel us to change, might show us the errors of our ways, light that might sting a little or a lot.

I've written about education before here and here and here. Then, I just had a general sense that the way Quakers do private school education is wrong. Now I see the truth so clearly it hurts, and it's bursting to get out.

We are sinners. Not in the fire & brimstone way, or the hell in a hand basket way, but in the Julian of Norwich way, where our sin is not a condemnation or reason for shame, but an opportunity for redemption.

Quaker K-12 education supports and reinforces racism and classism in the U.S.

Please keep in mind that I'm not talking about individual teachers or schools or students, but structures and systems. As I said in this post, individuals can do lots of things breaking the rules of society, but little of that, if any, actually changes the rules.

Our class society depends on a few assumptions about the world, and a few rules that we need to follow in order to support those assumptions.

1. There's a natural hierarchy to our class structure, and only the most deserving are on top (or near the top) of that structure.
2. There must always be a class of poor people in order to keep wages low for the working class.
3. The working class must do the majority of the physical labor, and their wages must be low.
4. The middle class must manage and educate the working class and poor, and keep them in their place.
5. The owning class gets to set the rules and/or live outside the rules.
6. Only the hardest working and naturally brightest of the poor and working classes deserve to move up in the class structure.
7. Dark-skinned people are at the bottom of the ladder because they are the least hard working and the least naturally bright people in the U.S.

Quaker K-12 schools in particular are supposed to help people climb those ladders, are supposed to break those myths down because of our testimony of equality. And they do, for some people.

Like Andre Robert Lee, an African American man who grew up in a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia. He got a "golden ticket" in the form of a scholarship to Germantown Friends School. His film, The Prep School Negro, explores issues of race and class in his life and in the lives of other African Americans today in Quaker prep schools. He talks about his painful cultural separation from his family when attended GFS. He also talks about how hard it was for him to be at in the same class with the son of the man who owned the factory that employed his mother. The tuition was more than his classmate's father paid Andre's mother to work in the factory. Andre lied to his classmates about his mother's work. "Peace worker," he'd say when she was paid by the piece of clothing she produced. In the film, I saw his pain but I also saw his sister's pain of being left behind. Why wasn't Robin given a golden ticket too?

We workshopped (a movie term to view and give feedback for) the film at the Gathering this year at the film's first public workshop. The next day, George Lakey made some connections in the social class workshop between the movie and the social class structure in the U.S. that made it clear to me that some of the arguments people have made for private Quaker education, and Quaker education itself, support racism and classism.

When I've tried to have conversations with people before (and I also tried to do so at Gathering), they've given me several reasons why Quaker K-12 education should stay the same (but perhaps be more diverse).

[Aside: I'll address other arguments for Quaker K-12 education to stay the same in subsequent posts, and I won't publish on this post comments that address other arguments.]

One primary argument is that Quaker schools give out a lot of scholarship money. I've always countered this argument with the fact that tuitions in the tens of thousands gives lots of middle class families access to scholarships, and not just poor people. But my argument was missing the main reason for social class and racial oppression: the concept that only certain people are worthy of this kind of elite education. Only the best and brightest get plucked from the ghetto to attend our elite schools. Quaker schools require applications and essays, from which they choose only the best and brightest. The GFS website says that they give "no distinction made in the admissions process between applicants who apply for financial aid and those who do not." That seems to indicate a sense of equality.

But as one Friend pointed out at a listening session hosted by FGC's committee on racism, that equality isn't the same for everyone. She was in a group where each person was given the same amount of time to speak, but one Friend, who spoke very slowly because of a disability, pointed out that for her equality would mean the same number of words rather than the same amount of time.

By choosing Andre and not his sister Robin, GFS unwittingly supported the classist assumption that there's a group of people who "deserve" for one reason or another, an elite education, and a group who don't. Equality in education would not mean that we educate rich people in order to give 25% of our students some scholarship (or loans). It would mean that Andre Lee would have been educated alongside his sister.

It would look like the Seed Schools in Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD.

Some say that only the smartest and most motivated kids could survive such a rigorous education (another group also thinks that only the best belong with them: The U.S. Marines), but the Seed Schools, both public residential schools, disprove this racist and classist assumption. If they can send nearly every graduate to college (including schools like Princeton), then why can't we? Or, a better question, why aren't we? The Seed Academy schools don't pick and choose, they don't require an application or essay or financial aid disclosure--they use a lottery to choose from all the people who want to attend. Then they educate everyone, mostly poor African American 6-12th graders. And just in case you think that only the most motivated parents put their children into the Seed Academy lottery, Thomas Friedman proves you wrong when he talks of crack-addicted mothers begging the school to take her kids. Everyone wants better for their children, but only some have access to "better." If you yourself didn't go to college, how will you know how to coach your kid on writing an entrance essay?

The video on the Baltimore Seed School web page says of the school kids about to enter, “It’s their turn for them to become all that God meant them to be.” Isn't that what Quaker schools are hoping to do?

Remember that list above, the hierarchy of our class society? At the heart of the social class structure is this belief that the system works to bring the deserving to the top and keep those who don't deserve status at the bottom. We all know in our heart of hearts that this isn't true, don't we? We all know that our human resources are wasted when people of one class go to the top just because of their class, and people in another class stay at the bottom because of their class or their race.

Now, for the redemption part I promised.

At Gathering, I talked with Irene McHenry from Friends Council on Education and she says that Quaker schools do more for each dollar than most schools. If that's the case, we could be educating K-12 students differently. Maybe we could even improve on Seed.

But this requires a serious change.

What if Quaker schools educated anyone who wanted an education, not just a few, and not just those deemed by society as "worthy?"

I'd love it if every Quaker school administrator read my post and saw the light. That's not going to happen, so I'm going to ask you to help shed light where you can.

How is what I've said sitting with you? What speaks to you? What gives you new light? What new light do you have to offer?

If you're convinced and want to know how you can help, here are a few things I'd suggest:

1. When your K-12 Quaker school asks you for money, make a donation to the Seed Foundation. Let your school know why you're doing so.

2. Write a piece for your blog (or a guest piece for this blog) on your understanding about this issue of racism and classism in Quaker schools.

3. Talk with your friends about this issue.

4. Host a discussion group.

5. Ask your Meeting to consider the issues I've raised.

6. Print out this blog post for others to read. Forward it to your friends. Post it on your facebook page.

7. Start a Quaker charter school that educates everyone who needs an education.


8. Hold me in the Light as I continue to write on this subject. There is more to be said.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Rules of the Game

In George Lakey's workshop on Quakers & Social Class we play a game that very roughly estimates the social class structure in the United States. There, the rules and goals are set out before the participants at the beginning. I've participated in this game once, led it twice, and observed it once, and I've noticed this one thing about it the game:

Lots of Quakers do things that break the rules, but no one (save me) wanted to change the rules.

Yes, my sample size is small. But I was surprised that starting a coop or creating a collective, or trying individually to play by different rules didn't change anything at all about the game or its rules.

When I played, at the point at which the power rested in the hands of a few, I blocked the door to keep them from going out to make the decisions on how the game ends. I didn't understand why their Quaker value of equality wasn't kicking in, didn't understand why they just accepted the rules as they'd been given to us.

At the time, I was immersed in the experience and couldn't be this articulate about it. I just had strong feelings of anger and hurt and confusion because I couldn't square what we say we believe in as a people of faith, and our obedience to a random set of rules.

I still can't square my experience of the game with our stated testimony of equality.

It's a poker chip trading game called Star Power with three simple rules.

1. The goal is to get as many points as possible.
2. You must be shaking hands until you've agreed on a trade.
3. All trades must be unequal.

At the end of three rounds, the sub-group with the most points gets to go outside the room to decide what happens next, how the game should end. When I played the game, I tried to convince people to change the rules, but few if any seemed to want the same.

My observations about how I've seen Quakers engage with this game matters to me because the game is an approximation of the social class structure in the U.S. If our instincts don't lead us to try to change the rules in this game, we won't be led to change the rules in our society that support and perpetuate an oppressive classist system.

I still want to change social class rules because as Quakers, if we believe in equality, we not only should break the rules in our own lives, we should be trying to change the rules. We like to think of ourselves as rule changers. Unfortunately, we're only upsetting the power structure sometimes. I can't honestly think of any rule changing behavior right now (though I can think of social class rule breaking folks).

I'm not changing the rules either. But I thought I could start here, in this little blog, by making social class rules explicit, especially among Friends. I'll start with this rule, which I am breaking among Friends:

Do not try to inhabit a role outside of your social class

I went to college in 2004, at 37 years old, at a four-year school that is primarily for working class people. There, both instructors and other students saw my leadership capacity; they and I nurtured my gifts. In the years I spent among Friends though, this capacity of me was never seen, acknowledged or nurtured. This is because people like me, who grew up working class, and people who grew up poor, are not supposed to act like managers, to be leaders.

The acts of writing this blog and giving workshops on social class is breaking this rule.

Being an expert, a teacher, is hard to do at times. I hear in my head, "Who do you think you are? What do you know? They're the ones with the fancy degrees. They're the ones whose parents read to them. They're the ones who were groomed to be standing up here, telling you some truth about the world. You're supposed to be sitting, learning from them."

Early in the week at Gathering, our suite-mate who also grew up working class described reaching for something more than she was expected to do feels like reaching through a heavy, wet blanket. This feels true to me.

Every time a person living in poverty (not situational poverty, or chosen poverty) strives for a union job, every time a working class person reaches for the middle class by going to college, we're breaking this rule.

So how are you breaking social class rules? How are you trying to change the rules of the game? What is your meeting doing to change the rules as well as break them? Does God want Quakers to support this classist system?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ministry Not Given

For the second week in a row, I've had a bit of ministry to share at MfW and I haven't given it. I had a nudge to post this morning's bit here.

I am not connected to you because I like you.
But I do.
I am not connected to you because I share your political views.
But I do.
I am not connected to you because I like your cooking.
But I do.

I am connected to you because you are tied
to the divine
to God
to Spirit
to the Unknown

Through this strong rope, I can love you
even when my human heart fails.

Because you disappoint me.
Like I do.
Because you get angry with me.
Like I do.
Because you sting when I hurt you.
Like I do.

When my human heart fails
your golden cord to God reminds me
to love you.

I love you.
I do.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

No, Really, I AM a Bad Quaker

I haven't gotten many comments about my last post about being a bad Quaker, but I did get this one email:

from Tmorphew@aol.com
date Thu, Mar 12, 2009 at 2:38 PM
subject bad Quaker

You are right, you are a bad Quaker! Don't quite see how that is something to brag about. Troy


So I feel a need to point out to people that there's nothing on my list that's essential to Quakerism and its practice.

This is exactly the kind of response I used to think said something about me. But instead, I now know it's much more a reflection of the shallowness of much of modern Quakerism. We welcome anyone, but we don't welcome people who don't fit our unspoken cultural norms. If you're a witch, it's fine. But be sure to only smoke secretly. You can be an atheist, but don't, no matter what, be a republican.

The Quakerism I love is about coming together and stripping away all that is not God so we can better feel God's influence in our lives.

I wrote this for Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group some time ago, and it still reflects my feelings about our practice:

Waiting on God in the manner of Friends

2 Corinthians 3:17-18
17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (NIV)

Friends worship by waiting on God in silence. We believe that when we unveil our faces and hearts, we will be better able to hear God’s will for us as individuals and collectively. We create a virtual desert by removing all around us and within us that interferes with our ability to hear God, be nourished by God, and do what God asks of us.

As such, we gather in a circle in silence, quieting our hearts and minds to ready ourselves to be transformed, to become more like God. Meeting places are spare if possible, and do not have a pulpit or stage, an altar or baptismal font.

By removing all that might distract us from God, we feel we can better hear God’s voice speaking to us individually and corporately and be therefore lifted up and strengthened.

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not be faint. —Isaiah 40:31


Can someone please tell me what part of the above requires that I read dry, inaccessible seventeenth century writing? Or that I not love when strawberry, vodka, pepper, and balsamic vinegar combine to give me a new taste experience that reminds me that my limited experience is just that, limited? Or that I shouldn't love my redneck family unconditionally?

These unspoken social norms actually limit us as a religious society. Only when we come together, reveal our true selves in God's light can we grow. If we're all the same, then what's the point?

I really appreciated Friend Su Penn's comment on Facebook recently about her own badness. I would hope it, too, would reflect me and all of us:

I do not yet know how to bring these differences, which I believe should be explored, into the Light in a loving and plain-spoken way. But because I am actually an excellent Quaker, I am willing to make efforts, make mistakes, to await new revelation and Way opening, to continue to love my meeting and the Friends in it, to stay in my seat when I just want to walk out and never come back.

Thanks, Su, for reminding me to stay in my seat even when it hurts. And for reminding me that staying and revealing our "badness" is exactly what will make us all excellent Quakers.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bad Quaker

Recently, Brent Bill wrote a blog post about being a bad Quaker, then formed a group on Facebook. The FB group gained membership very quickly. Peggy Sanger Parsons posted on the group her top ten reasons why she's a bad Quaker. So I thought I'd do the same.

The Top Ten Reasons I'm a Bad Quaker

10. I swear. I mean the dirty word kind, not the hand on the Bible kind. And not the dagnabbit kind, but the holy fucking shit kind. I do so a LOT.
9. I love dressing up in sparkly dresses, high heels, makeup, hairspray, the whole deal. The only way I feel like I can do so and be accepted as "good" by Quakers is to dress up for Halloween. I keep a stash of makeup for that one day a year.
8. I secretly pretend to play the lottery. When it gets big, I pick some numbers and secretly check them. I've never "won" but I play this way because I don't know how I'd explain it away to my Quaker friends if I actually won.
7. I like rap and hip-hop music. Even songs that use the word bitch in it.
6. I really like drinking with my friends (small f...don't have any Friends who like to go out to get a drink from time-to-time). Sangria mostly, but my sister-in-law introduced me to my new favorite: Mike's Hard Lemonade. And I love fancy one-of-a-kind drinks like the one I had in Florida (again, following my sister-in-law's lead) with vodka, strawberry, pepper and balsamic vinegar. That was fucking good.
5. If I had enough money, I'd hire someone to cook, clean and do laundry for me. I'd also own a fur coat. I'd play the lottery, just for the hell of it.
4. I love my redneck family and jokes about rednecks make me sad and embarrassed.
3. I adore sparkly diamond jewelry. I have a ginormous diamond dinner ring that my grandmother found in a box of costume jewelry she bought at a charity auction. I'd wear it all the time if I didn't think Quakers would look askance at me.
2. I don't care about Quaker history. Not one bit. I haven't read George Fox's journal or John Woolman's journal. And don't ever intend to read these things (though I sometimes read about these things gladly, in 21st century English by 21st century authors and bloggers.)
1. I hate committee work and I love being a committee of one.

As I started this list, I thought I'd write to be funny. Now as I write this list, I feel sad because I realize that sometimes all you need to do to be a good Quaker is to be solidly middle class.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Caviar, Coupons and College (A Working Title)

Class Matters has extended its deadline for submitting to their anthology, tentatively named Caviar, Coupons and College, to June 1st.

I, for one, am glad because the essay I started really fizzled out. Won't you consider writing something too? I'd be happy to edit your work if you want.

From their website:



· When was the first time you realized what class you grew up in?

· What were some of the strengths you got from your class experience? What were some of the limitations?

· What stereotypes about your class were or weren't true for you? What class stereotypes did you most worry about embodying?

· Is there class tension between you and family members, friends, co-workers, or community?

· Tell us about an "a-ha" moment in the development of your class consciousness.


Class Action, a national non-profit working for economic justice and to "inspire action to end classim," is putting together an anthology of personal stories from across the class spectrum, and is calling for submissions in the hope of furthering our collective dialogue about class. We especially encourage voices from groups that have been marginalized.

Submissions should be from 1,000 to 2,500 words, and include a brief one paragraph biography about you, the author.

Please email submissions to Pete Redington at predington @ classism.org or send them to Class Action, P.O. Box 350, Hadley, MA 01035

Include your submission in the body of the email, and write "anthology submission" in the subject line.

Submissions will be accepted through June 1, 2009.

To download a Word flyer to distribute, click here.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Please watch all nine minutes of this video.

This is why white working class people need to care about racism. This is why white working class people have more in common with African Americans than with the few privileged white people like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and John McCain.

And it's also why people who care about racism CANNOT ignore issues of social class.

With that, watch the whole hour-long lecture here, because every minute is worth your time if YOU care about race and class.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Bit of Grace

I was in Florida to do what I can to help my mother recover from surgery. She was an unwilling participant in this help at times. It was frustrating. I felt defeated over and over again. She's a bit socially phobic (I think because of social class issues) so she's isolated, too.

One of my goals, though, has been to connect her with a church community. She grew up in the Church of the Nazarene (I was baptized in that church, and went there as a young child), so I sought out a church of that order near her. The closest one to her has services only in Creole, so we had to choose between two that are forty minutes away. My mother chose the larger one.

I tried to take her last Sunday, but her social phobia got in the way (which is my and my brother's diagnosis of her problems, not hers).

Wednesday, I had her out and about at a doctor's appointment, so I took her to dinner, then to church.

The worship was looser than I remember it being as a child. The pastor led it in an informal workshop-like manner first playing a game asking people to see what they notice in a Dick Van Dyke television show introduction. Of course no one saw that the door had six panels, that there were three pieces of furniture in the whole thing, that the door knob was oval. Then he showed another video, asking us to pay attention to the details.

It was a movie about a high school football team. One young man is goofing off and the coach challenges him to something called a "death crawl," where another of his teammates lay on his back while he crawls down field on all-fours, without having his knees touch the ground. The coach usually asks the team to do ten yards, but the kid bets he could do twenty. The coach says he could do 50.

Then coach asks him three times to give him his best. First the kid grunts his assent. Second he looks more serious when saying he would. The third time he says, "I'll give it my best coach."

Then the coach wraps a bandanna around the kid's eyes to blindfold him.

As the kid makes his grunting way down the field, the coach is over him, telling him he can do it. His teammates taunt him, telling him he can't do it, but eventaully, they are impressed and start to follow him silently down field. At one point the kid says he must be at the fifty-yard line and the coach tells him to keep going.

Until he collapses.

The coach takes off the blindfold and tells the kid to look up.

"You're in the endzone."

He'd crawled 100 yards with 160 pounds on his back.

The pastor then asked the eighteen or so in the room what they saw. Several talked about themselves being an inspiration to "unbelievers." Some took heart at perseverance or remembered someone who stood by their side during a rough time.

I saw the blindfold.

I struggle mightily with the unknown. I wanted to know the outcome of my bone marrow transplant in 1994. I wanted to know whether I would do okay in school when I went back to get my degree. I want to know if I'm going to get published. I want to know what to do to help my mother get better. I want to know what to do next with my leading to do work around social class. And I get anxious.

But as I sat in that church's classroom, I realized that the kid in the movie saw the field and thought his best distance would be twenty yards. When he was blindfolded, he wasn't limited by his human sight, by his assumptions, by his own ideas about what he could do himself. I realized that the veil is a bit of God's grace.

And I now know the veil has given me the opportunity to live up to the Light I've been given.

Last spring, I felt veiled by God because I forgot (as in, had no awareness of whatsoever) that being in and among Friends can be very painful for me around class issues, that I feel powerless and alone. So I signed up for Gathering and proposed an interest group around social class.

It was painful to be among Friends at times. And it was grace-filled. If I hadn't been veiled, I might not have gone to Gathering, and wouldn't have proposed a workshop.

I came away from Gathering with a leading, and I don't know where it's going or what my work will look like beyond a couple of opportunities right ahead of me. Now I don't have to know more than that because God will get me where I need to be, to God's goal line and not my own.

I didn't succeed in getting my mom connected to a church community. This time. Maybe next time or the time after that or the time after that. Or never. Maybe the attempt is enough. I don't know what God has in mind, and now I don't need to know. My only job now is to live up to the Light I've been given.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


In my last post, I asked us to imagine what it would be like to be with people unlike us.

Then LizOpp sent me this article and I cried.

I hope all my readers had a chance to read Lorcan's article.

I took my mother to church last night, and though these people were very different than those in a typical Quaker Meeting, I felt welcomed. I wasn't with them long enough to know if they'd welcome all of me (including my sexuality), but I had no question that I'd have a place there if I wanted it.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Trading Places

My mother, one of seven children of an Appalachian coal miner, a woman who wore steel toe boots to work, a woman who lives off of not very much money because she can't work and doesn't have a retirement account outside of social security, sent me food shopping today. She listed some very specific things.

Zesta saltines
Hillshire Farms turkey (not honey)
Peter Pan peanut butter with no sugar
Bounty paper towels (one sheet, with print)
Charmin ultra strong mega rolls
Diet Sierra Mist (if it's on sale)
Diet Sunkist (if it's on sale)

I'm wandering around Publix knowing that she likes very specific brands, knowing not to look for something cheaper or "healthier", not even for something new to try.

Here's what I heard in my head as I sought through the unfamiliar aisles:

Why won't she try another brand that's cheaper? How about natural peanut butter or I wonder if the local Whole Foods has one of those machines to make your own peanut butter from peanuts like our new coop has? Why not unbleached paper towels? I wonder of that thick Charmin really breaks down in the sewer?

These are all things I learned from middle and owning class lefty liberals. And it struck me that it used to be the other way around:

Poor people ate brown bread and the money classes else ate white bread.

Now the liberal left well-to-do grow their own food (or pay someone to do so), make their own Christmas wrapping paper, use canvas bags when they shop, and eat brown bread.

The poor and working class eat white bread.

My mother, I think, likes name brand products because anything less makes her think she's poor once again. She grew up wearing homemade clothes, eating food she helped grow, doing any shopping that they got to do with reusable bags, buying an unbranded product because it was cheaper.

She's quite fond of telling people about her specific tastes and I can't help but wonder how someone like her would be received at a liberal Quaker Meeting (I say liberal because that's the group of Quakers I'm most familiar with). I know what we'd like to think about how we'd receive someone like her.

But imagine you're at my mother's church, where the women wear pantyhose and perfume and on Easter wear fancy hats to services. The men carry National Rifle Association cards in their wallets. They serve Jell-o and Spam and corn dogs at their church potlucks.

How do you think you'd* be received and welcomed? How would you like to be received and welcomed?**

*"You" means any lefty liberal.

**Many thanks to Red Cedar Friends who reminded me a couple of weeks ago that we all want to be welcomed as whole human beings, wherever we go.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Little Boxes and Coincidence

Last night, a couple of friends and I went to an art opening and one of the pictures showed rows upon rows of big houses. This made me think of the song "Little Boxes" which I've heard a lot lately because I'm watching the TV show Weeds on DVD. So I said so.

One of my companions quoted Tom Lehrer and said Little Boxes was the "most sanctimonious song ever written."

I didn't say this, but what I wanted to say was, "It's almost the Quaker anthem."

The lyrics seem quaint until you hear that all the people who build houses out in the suburbs all come out "just the same." It is derisive and sanctimonious.

More than once I've been at a Quaker sing and someone suggests Little Boxes. Smiles spread through the room like The Wave at the Metrodome and we sing loudly and look around as if we were saying to each other, "What in the world are those people thinking, why would they choose to march in lock-step with each other in the suburbs." And unspoken, because we'd never say such a thing, "Idiots."

The irony is that a similar song could be written about us. It would talk about our non-profit jobs and our service work and our organic gardens and our MA or MS or PhD degrees.

And our sanctimony.

On another note, I gave a workshop this morning on Quakers and social class for fifteen willing adults. (And I think it went well. More on this later?) At the end, I handed out copies of an article I referenced before by Betsy Leondar-Wright.

This afternoon, my partner Liz was on Facebook and said, "Hey, Jeanne? That article you handed out, is it by someone named Betsy Leondar-Wright?"

Yeah, it is.

Turns out, Liz was really good friends with Betsy's sister growing up.

It's a teeny, tiny little world on Facebook!