Skip to main content

Quaker Values

A reminder about technology use this holiday season

Friday, December 15, 2017

We suspect that many of you are considering technology devices for holiday gifts this season and thought it might be a good time to revisit some of the work around technology at San Francisco Friends School. SFFS continues to adopt a measured approach to rolling out new technology and to be attentive to the usage of the tech we already have. Our hope is to avoid gimmicky gadgets and try to meaningfully use technology as a tool for teaching and learning.

...there is healthy food and there is junk food. We don’t want to get rid of all of the food. We want to keep the nourishing bits.

The Quaker tenet of Simplicity is often at odds with 21st century life. Threshing with the complexity of 21st century distractions and harnessing the core value of a tool is hard work! And, this wrestling is—in many ways—a defining characteristic of this generation students and our school. At school we often describe technology consumption with a food analogy: there is healthy food and there is junk food. We don’t want to get rid of all of the food. We want to keep the nourishing bits. I guess we are all waiting for an Alice Waters ‘California Cuisine’ inspired moment when we can appreciate the tasty wholesome stuff and recognize the junk food for what it is. We all indulge in the occasional sweet, but the whole foods help us thrive.

One of the standout technology (junk food) concerns at school, and probably home, are digital distractions. It is nearly impossible for a classroom teacher or parent to compete with Youtube! We know that media companies exist to captivate our time and attention. To address this we are building on a strong foundation of digital citizenship curriculum that promotes responsible student behavior with technology. We are pleased that our Quaker values translate to the digital realm and we are working hard to leverage them for continued responsible use. Yet, we also recognize that digital devices have an undeniable ability to pull our time and attention in unproductive ways. Admittedly, many of us tech committee members and faculty struggle with efficient use of technology in our professional and personal lives.

Some of you may have heard about “Net-ref.” In order to help our Middle School students focus, we have introduced a pilot of a tool called Net-ref. Our Middle School faculty can use Net-ref to monitor network usage and help students avoid online distractions. If needed, our faculty can temporarily put students in a “Focus” mode which limits access to a few dozen core academic (wholesome food) websites. Students can request to be put into a “Focus” mode or faculty can review their data and nudge them into “Focus” if deemed necessary. So far, we have found that Net-ref works pretty well. A key to the Net-ref pilot’s success has been communicating to our students that we can and will “pull the internet plug”  when it seems helpful.

Perhaps a similar approach could be useful in your home? I have previously tested two consumer products with similar functionality. Several vendors have made tools with parental control features, such as Disney’s “Circle” and Google’s “Wifi” *(both ~$100.00).  They both have a small hardware box that provide a lot of utility. They allow parents to control the type of content (e.g. block hate groups, violence, etc.) and the time that internet is available. This makes it easy to “pull the internet plug” at bedtime for all of the children's devices in the house. Both devices are pretty flexible with time extensions (easy to temporarily extend the cut-off time in 15 minutes increments). And, also worth sharing that the setup is not much more complex than plugging in a wireless router.  

So, if you are adding more digital devices at home this holiday season, please consider a tool to help manage them. Having a similar strategy at school and home may go a long ways in both locations. We hope that having a similar technology conversation and tools at home will be helpful with you managing your family's relationship with the wholesome food version of technology and media. We look forward to continuing this conversation and sharing additional resources in the near future.


SFFS Facilities: A Photo Essay Brought to You by the Annual Fund

News Type: 
Thursday, December 7, 2017

We believe education provides our children with important building blocks they will use for the rest of their lives. At Friends, that education is grounded in the Quaker values of reflection, integrity, peaceful problem-solving, and stewardship. The Annual Fund is the woven into the fabric of a Friends education, touching every student, every day. Gifts to the Annual Fund help make class trips possible, support maintenance and upgrades of our facility, and support our incredible faculty as they work to meet our students where they are in and outside of the classroom.

School year after school year, our Director of Facilities Ed Hewitt continues in a long tradition at Friends School, the stewardship of our building and all that it provides for a nurturing learning environment. And in keeping with our Quaker value of simplicity, he makes sustainability a priority by using what we already have. Nowhere was this more apparent that this summer, when Ed renovated our sandbox using original douglas fir boards that once lined the floors of the old Levi's Factory—a place that we now call home.

As Robert D. Haas, Chairman Emeritus of Levis Strauss and Company said at Friends School's ribbon cutting ceremony in 2008:
"If the building could talk it would say 'I'm so happy! Happy that my massive timbers can still be doing their job; happy that my maple floors glisten and creak under the footsteps of all who enter; happy that once again I am a place where people can develop friendships and grow.'"  

Thank you to all of you who contribute to the Annual Fund and support the maintenance of so many of our facilities projects, many of which build upon sustainability initiatives such as the re-use of historically sourced wood. Below, find a few snapshots of places where Friends School has maintained the original Levi's Factory timber. Recognize any of these? 

The yellow clapboard siding on our building's exterior is made of redwood sourced from Marin, circa 1904.

Our stairs, as well as this bench, both contain original douglas fir from the Levi's Factory days.


Former SFFS parent and emeritus trustee Stuart Kogod helped build the benches in our Meeting Room with help from friend Jack Soman. The benches are also made of original douglas fir timber.​


Did you know that the same douglas fir can be found throughout the school as well?


Ed's saw (with douglas fir boards in the background). Using historical wood helps connect us to the past. Ed says, "The kids are richer for it."  

"We are truly stewards of this great place, it is on us to preserve it and save it for the future," Ed says (shown here, putting the finishing touches on the sandbox this summer).

Relying on the Silence of Strangers: A reflection on meeting Quakers abroad

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Established in 2016 with generous support from our community, the Cathy Hunter Fund for the Future (CHFF) supports our faculty with transformative professional development experiences at key moments in their careers. Encouraged to think beyond workshops and conferences, teachers submit an application seeking support for a professional development experience that will enrich future programs, our school culture and greater community.

In 2016, humanities teacher Jodi Pickering sat down with former Head of School Cathy Hunter to brainstorm on how to make her 25th year of teaching “transformative.” Deciding to set aside time to study writing and publishing while also teaching, Jodi developed a better writing practice that culminated in a reflective journey to England and France, where she visited Quaker sites and joined Meeting For Worship abroad. Below is just a piece of her writing from that experience.

A Quaker meetinghouse in France.

Relying on the Silence of Strangers

After an hour of driving, we turn onto the Avenue des Quakers. It is the second-to-last day of our journey, and my plan to have my family attend Meeting for Worship here, the day before we tackle ten hours of driving and two flights, does not seem as wise as it had when I was mapping out our travels months ago.

It is hot, around 95 degrees, and we are early. With no town center in sight, we wander into the graveyard. As my husband reads words on the gravestones, my daughter and I walk briskly around, moving our legs in anticipation of the 60 minutes of sitting that await us.

Sweaty now, we enter the gate of the Quaker House to look for the Meeting Room. An older woman is bent over a browning end-of-season garden and, without looking up, she says to us, in English, “It’s through there,” as if people come through looking for the Meeting Room with some frequency. The room has the feel of a conference room, with books on the shelves, pamphlets on the table, and a door leading to the kitchen. About 15 chairs form a circle, many occupied by quiet, older people. In an effort to seat us together, my husband approaches two chairs that have been stacked, one on top of the other, and begins to separate them. A woman leans forward, smiles and shakes her head, asking him not to, whispering that that chair (or set of chairs) is for their friend with the extra long legs. She shifts her seat so that three chairs might be open side by side.

And so we join them.

There is no fan, but the door is open and in a few minutes, the gardener enters and, after her, a couple joins them. They too try to separate the chairs and are told of the not-yet-arrived man of long legs.

I often have trouble settling into the silence, and that day is no different. My curiosity is peaked and my stomach is rumbling an embarrassingly loud rumble, a rumble which everyone save my daughter pretends not to notice. Desperate to settle, I focus my energy on conquering the growl, but my stomach roars and my sweat is now a nervous sweat.

The friend of the lengthy legs arrives. His legs indeed are long and his hair is surprisingly red; he shuffles his way to the stacked chairs and settles in. Watching him, I have given up trying to control my stomach grumblings and they stop. We settled into the silence together. Strangers bound by tradition.

For me, it is not silent long. The voice of my inner teacher begins to make itself heard. Slowly at first, a reassuring soft voice quietly reassuring me that I will find my way after I send my daughter off to college. There is more to me than mother and wife, the voice reminds me. My daughter will depart soon after we arrive back home, and my thoughts shift to reviewing our two-week trip, and soon a cacophony of inner teachers are shouting, each urging me to examine a truth. One urges me to go ahead and call myself a writer, another pushes me to find ways to teach the stories of those behind the scenes, and yet another yells at me for not being present.

I turn my attention to the possibility of a new identity. I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I’ve been ashamed of my lack of ambition. If you read, you’re a reader. If you write and get published (I thought), then you’re a writer. I wrote my first children’s book, Larry the Land Shark, when I was 18, and since then I’ve written essays, short stories, and a young-adult novel, but I have never called myself a writer. Until this past year, no one but close friends or family had ever seen my words. With a week-long conference and four workshops and dedicated time set aside for writing, I worked diligently to transform from caterpillar to butterfly, and there, listening to the silence, I realize that I have my wings. One of my teachers had started her course by lauding us all for being there, encouraging us all to shed the scales of insecurity we carried with us. She asked how many of us considered ourselves readers, and all of our hands shot up. Shifting the question to ask how many of us considered ourselves writers, a smaller number of hands raised, many of them with trepidation. “If you read, you’re a reader,” she said, “and if you write, you’re a writer.” And with that sentence, I was free to love my writing for the joy it gives me and not carry the weight of responsibility to publish or even to share if I didn’t want to.

I think about how this freedom opened the door to sharing. I shared Larry the Landshark with second graders to get their feedback; I shared short stories with friends and bosses who are friends. I pushed myself to write seven short stories for the seven sins, and though I may never share “Lust” with anyone, I think I can share “Wrath” with my seventh graders next year as they tackle their own short stories.

I reflect on how, when traveling this summer, I wrote daily, most often first thing. I remember most fondly the Gulf of Poets in Italy, chosen because I wanted to write where D.H. Lawrence, Lord Byron and Percy and Mary Shelley had written years ago, and it was immediately evident what made the place so fruitful for them. The light, the boats, the cliff hugging homes—they all slowed life down. I rose early and wrote, and there the words flew more quickly.

I flush with pride at the memory of easily reaching my daily goal of 1,000 words and how, with extra time before the family awoke, I added to my morning routine a swim. Across the empty plaza, chairs stacked up at the restaurants that had been so lively before. I had walked down to the harbor to a spot on the rocks where four old women in bikinis were socializing. Presumably a swim was also in their future, but their day began together. They welcomed me with a nod and “Bongiorno” and smiled as I gasped a bit, sliding into the water to began my swim.

I remember how this idyllic scene at the harbor had been tainted when I learned that, in the 16th century, the Jews of this picturesque town were locked in a ghetto, blamed for the plague that had struck the city. The quaint gate I had passed was no longer quaint. The inner teacher reminding me that we have to learn the stories of those behind the scenes begins to clamor for my attention.

I shift in my chair and wonder if anyone else’s mind is racing. I see one man’s chest rising up and down, up and down. He’s going to speak soon, I think, and sure enough he begins. He speaks slowly and sadly, and it is all in French. I hear something that sounds like civilization and then Egypt? Did he just say Egypt?

History teachers are often drawn to must-sees, must-knows. At the beginning of our trip, when we were headed to London, I was eager to go to Westminster Abbey, the site of all coronations since William the Conqueror in 1066. However, my husband, ten years older than I, had not set his alarm clock for 4:30 in the morning on July 29th, 1981; had not sat mesmerized watching Diana walk down the red carpet, long train trailing behind her, on her way to becoming Princess Di. And though my daughter could capably demonstrate her Friends School learning, remembering Henry the VIII and some other medieval facts, she, too, wondered what the fascination with royalty was. With their help, I ditched the sites of those whose stories are often told and saw instead the Roman walls, the rocks and those who had put them there and the Museum of Fashion, filled with one woman’s story of realizing a dream to incorporate history into textile and send it down a runway for the world to see while she stayed behind the scenes.

I find myself wondering how anyone ever decides what history to teach. In the midst of a city that had literally thousands of years of tales to tell, how did the Brits build their curriculum? What was it about that monument that we stumbled upon as we walked along the Thames—a monument to a group of low ranking fliers who fought for twenty days during WWII to protect London from Germany— that was so captivating to all of us?

And then, my small voice reminds me, there was the Pont du Gard, a Roman Aqueduct, a site we almost skipped because we were tired of touring and had already seen Roman arenas and crypts. Yet again we were all entranced. Yes, there was appeal in the grand expanse, its golden color and the cool swimming waters underneath, but what awed us was its functionality. The idea that an instrument of engendering could transform a few river-sided cities into a connected empire. When we later saw pipes that were used to continue the path of the water over valleys, we wondered how they did not get lead poisoning; it was the power of the engineer, not the emperor, that was the story we wanted to hear.

The man in the Quaker meeting room standing finishes talking and sits down. I have missed most of what he has said, but he looks up at my three-person family and asks if we would like him to restate it in English. He had spoken for a while.  My husband, without looking up, shakes his head no. The implication that we speak French hangs there for a moment, and I feel the three of us stifle a laugh. We are bonded in a way that we weren’t before this trip.

I enjoy the rest of the silence, feeling the wisdom of the voice telling me to be present, to notice and appreciate the way a member of the group stands and retreats into the kitchen, returning through the swinging door with a tray carrying a pitcher of water and a stack of glasses. I am not brave enough to reach forward to take one; I consider that lack of courage.

The meeting ends, and instinctively I want to run. The end of meeting always makes me feel that way, and the feeling is intensified by the awkwardness I feel in having shared an intimate moment with strangers.

Be present. Okay, I will, and I wait for someone else to leave first. Not quite present, but a start. Only no one leaves.

Instead, one woman suggests, in English, that we introduce ourselves. When it is my turn to speak, I reveal that we do not speak French. This is not news. The man with the long legs claims to be the most Quaker of all: his Parkinson’s a testament.

One member remarks to the others that we should let our visitors know that an ancestor of the original Quakers is with us, and all eyes turn to a woman who does not smile. She is French and does not speak English; we learn the story of those before her from others that seem to know the story well. We learn that that the English had come and pillaged Congenies, and that a man had regretted the actions and written the townsfolk explaining that, as a Quaker, their actions did not reflect their beliefs. We learn that someone wrote him back and told him that they weren’t Quakers but that they were interested in meeting a man of such integrity and would he like to come visit?

They tell the history without speaking over each other, and without the awkward pauses that come when people wish they could interrupt but are too polite to do so.

And, the man with the long legs adds, this is how these Quakers also came to leave the door open because it is the English Quakers who do that. When Quakers have had to hide, they met behind closed doors, but true Quakers leave the door open to new truths.

It is still awkward when we leave, but less so than it would have been had we run out immediately after. I feel giddy as we make our way to car. Our trip is over tomorrow, but I no longer look at the travel day as just a day to get through. Tomorrow, as all days, will be a day to leave the door open and to be present. By doing this, I might get lucky and learn some hidden history. And, once having learned it, I’ll do my best to write it down.


Help the SFFS Service Committee Support Project Night Night

Thursday, November 9, 2017

This month, the SFFS Service Committee joins forces with Project Night Night to support youth experiencing homelessness and their families, one book, blanket and stuffy at a time.

According to their website, “Project Night Night donates over 25,000 Night Night Packages each year to homeless children 12 and under who need our childhood essentials to have a concrete and predictable source of security and an increased exposure to high-quality literacy materials during their time of upheaval.”

You can support this impactful initiative in a few simple ways. Starting Monday, Nov 13th, Friends School will place a donations box at reception that will accept new books, blankets and stuffies. Families can also pick up entire tote bags from reception to custom-fill with books, blankets and stuffies of their choice, to return to school for drop-off throughout the month. The drive culminates December 2nd at the Craft Fair, where a table will be set up for a final round of design and drop-offs, after which all totes will be delivered to Project Night Night for distribution. Please note, all items must be new.

These items, placed in Project Night Night totes, address directly, and in a loving way, the anxiety, depression, poor sleep habits and behavioral issues experienced by families experiencing homelessness. They are also cherished opportunities for children to bond, through reading, with equally stressed parents, family members or caregivers who are also navigating these difficult paths.

SFFS parent Jennifer Maeder, a mother of two at Friends School and a Mother/Baby Nurse and Lactation Consultant at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, has been supporting Project Night Night independently for a while now.

“Project Night Night has been a simple, straightforward way my kids can connect with other SF kids,” says Maeder Jennifer, who serves as co-clerk of the Service Committee at Friends. “As we’ve participated over the years, my children have been able to see and touch the books, blankets and stuffies, and know they are going straight into the hands of a kid probably just about their age.”

Maeder added that her children’s added personal touches, “Notes and the things they say – like ‘you matter’ and ‘you are loved’ – really show that they are thinking of these kids and wish the best for them.”

“I’m excited to see our school community support Project Night Night,” said Guybe Slangen, Director of Community Engagement at Friends. “It builds upon the good work that students and classes are also doing to support those experiencing homelessness here in our city.”


To learn more about Project Night Night, visit



Towards a more inclusive community: A closer look at gender, part II

Thursday, November 2, 2017

August seems like a lifetime ago, but you may recall a message in Circle Back that shared our focus this year to examine current gender policies and practices throughout the school. We launched this work at our opening faculty/staff meetings with Joel Baum from Gender Spectrum, who walked us through part one of a two-day workshop. Joel’s presentation provided the professional community with a shared understanding of the issues, challenges, as well as opportunities for us in and out of classrooms. Many questions were lifted up highlighting things such as preferred pronouns, rooming assignments on trips, and bathrooms, to name a few. We were also joined that day by members of our SFFS board, Parents Association, and Equity and Inclusion Committee, who added important parent and board insights to our conversations. We knew there was work to do and we were eager to get started.

With an eighth grade trip to the Sierras occurring right after school started, we focused our attention on being more intentional with our rooming/tent assignments. On our past overnight trips, students have been divided into boy/girl tents and rooms. We researched what other schools were doing, then looked closely at our program and landed on a new practice. Going forward, prior to the overnight trip, students will be asked to make a list of 3-4 students they would feel comfortable rooming with, regardless of gender. Teachers will take this information into consideration and craft groups based on a variety of factors—including friend groups, classroom or advisory groupings, and group size. This approach is consistent with ways the school has created groups in other programs like Arts Electives, MS Activities, and some sports teams. We will also strive to refrain from unnecessary, inappropriate, and unhelpful binary gender configurations. We tested this new approach with our eighth graders in the Sierras and found it worked well.

Another area that we have revisited is the common practice of various moms/dads and sons/daughters events throughout the year: Moms/Dads Nights Out, Mother-Daughter Book Groups, Father-Son Campouts, etc. Again, we found these groups often dividing along strict binary gender lines, and not leaving room for those who identify differently, be they parents, guardians, or students. Members of our administrative team, along with our Parents Association and E&I clerks met and discussed this. We then reached out to our friends at Gender Spectrum for helpful guidance. We were reminded that community is created in many ways and these events are just one way we do this work. One just has to look at the number and diversity of potlucks we host at Friends to see this is in fact what we’re aiming to do: Spanish speakers potlucks, E&I affinity potlucks (single parents, adoptive parents, LGBTQ parents), grade level potlucks, Learning Support Alliance potlucks, mix-it-up potlucks, and on and on…WOW! In addition, we have film nights, Booktopia, parent education speakers, Blue Party, Winter and End of Year Celebrations, service projects, the Craft Fair, and many sports and arts events. We may not always get it right, but our intentions are to create connections in a variety of ways and we do that a lot!

To move forward, we’ve updated the E&I Checklist to include better gender guidelines and language, and are now calling it the "Parents Association Event Checklist" as it will be helpful for any committee or group as they look to plan events. With regard to moms/dads/daughters/sons events specifically, Joel favored a “both/and approach,” meaning that we can still offer gender specific events, but also encourage more general parent/guardian or guardian/kids events open to all. We know the challenge is often in the sheer number of events we offer (“More potlucks? What?!”), but we feel there is room to step away from some events in an effort to make room for others. Lastly, we’re also asking folks who do host these affinity types of events to add the language that says “and all are welcome.” This will allow those who are “allies” interested in sharing with and learning from others the opportunity, while still respecting the affinity connection of the group. Our SFFS team appreciated all this and will look for ways to create space in the months ahead.

Our efforts have reminded us that this is indeed difficult and ongoing work. At times we can feel confused, or that we are giving up something, or not being valued or heard. But if we are going to continue to strive to be a diverse and inclusive community of learners and families, this work is essential. We need to continue to ask difficult questions, embrace hard conversations, listen to and care for each other, and lean into this journey together.

Stay tuned for more updates as the year moves on, and if you have questions or comments please reach out to either your PA, E&I clerks or administrative team. You’re also welcome to join our At The Table conversation on Thursday, Nov. 9 from 8:30-9:30am, where we’ll be talking about gender issues and opportunities.

"It breaks your heart, that game" 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Giamatti, via Yale Alumni magazine

During our Meeting for Worship today, and in conversation with a colleague later this morning, I was thinking about A. Bartlett Giamatti, my first hero who wasn't an athlete, president, or my mother. He was, as you may know, a professor of comparative literature before he became Yale's President and before he achieved a lifelong ambition to serve as Commissioner of Major League Baseball. He was also a Red Sox fan and a source of insight and inspiration for me as a thinker and writer.

He was likely on my mind because of the Dodgers' win over the Astros last night, setting the stage for a World Series Game Seven tonight. And no doubt, he was on my mind because it was at this time one year ago that the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years. It was also on my mind because I've been thinking about when and how I learned to let loose my clinging to certainty and perfection and instead to embrace ambiguity and falling short. That was a long process rather than quick-fix, and popping up, grounding out, even striking out, amidst occasional success at bat and in the field played a part.

I would not have danced at CFS, nor moved through our halls, classrooms, and office spaces here at SFFS as happily as I do if I hadn't learned to embrace and integrate occasions of my broken heart into my travels through life, trying to figure out how to do this human being thing. I count myself among those "simpler creatures" to which Giamatti refers in the text below.

Thanks for your patience with my desire to think aloud and for your good company this morning. 

"That is why it breaks my heart, that game—not because in New York they could win because Boston lost; in that, there is a rough justice, and a reminder to the Yankees of how slight and fragile are the circumstances that exalt one group of human beings over another. It breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion; and because, after it had fostered again that most hungered-for illusion, the game was meant to stop, and betray precisely what it promised.

Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun."

Reflections and resources for challenging times

Thursday, October 5, 2017

I did not plan to speak at our Community Meeting for Worship yesterday morning, especially after hearing some of our students' voices as they welcomed us and shared reflections on this year’s testimony of truth and its continuing revelation. We heard from one eighth grader who reminded us of the importance of the search for truth as our elected officials at the highest levels appear to lie to the public. And we heard from another, who related this year’s testimony to a powerful book he had just read, Animal Farm.

Yet I soon found myself appreciating the time and space that those assembled—students, parents, visiting friends, and members of the professional community—were creating and claiming together.

I remembered reading Charlotte's Web by E.B. White to my daughter Kyle and loving it. Kyle named her first pet rat—the first of many—Templeton. I remembered, too, that when Templeton died, my wife Sue and I had wondered if she might need to stay home that morning. But we soon learned that Kyle (now a faculty member of Friends School of Wilmington in North Carolina) could not imagine being anywhere but school. It was her Friends School community that she trusted. And it was her Friends School community that held her sadness and love, just as it held her laughter and joy.

As we continue to confront so much political conflict, tragedy, and loss in the news and in our lives today, I am reminded of E.B. White again. This time, it is his words that I strive to remember and have come to cherish:

“Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it?”

I felt especially grateful Wednesday morning to be in community with others holding that which is difficult, striving to do good in response, and claiming laughter and joy during our days at SFFS.

As my colleagues and I have done in the past, I would like to share a few compelling resources that I hope will help you and your family navigate the dissonance, violence, and trauma. I also encourage you to read a great recent story in The Atlantic about the power of school communities and about “a host of caring adults” that can frame and lead a path forward.

Thinking SFFS,


This year's Quaker Testimony: Truth

News Type: 
Thursday, September 14, 2017
Middle school students in the Meeting Room 

This school year, Friends School chose “Truth” and “Continuing Revelation” as our testimony for the 2017-18 school year. How does this testimony fit into our understanding of the SPICES as Quaker testimonies? Allow me to explain.

I tell this story almost every year when I talk to my third-grade students about Quaker testimonies. The weekend before first grade began for my daughter, Maddy, and her classmates, the families gathered together at a playground. The park was lively that day, with more than a few parties. The Friends School kids were on the structure that spins around, and a smaller child tried to join them. A Friends School student yelled, “Go back to your own party!” and the smaller child sulked away.

Maddy was one of the kids on that structure, and I pulled her aside. I asked her, “How do you think that child felt? What do you think you could have said or done?” Maddy replied, “Well, I whispered to myself, ‘Don’t say that. The kid might cry.’”

It was in this moment that I realized Integrity by itself is not enough. Maddy is (as I also am) called and challenged to couple Integrity with Courage. And so it is also not enough that SPICES (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship) be our only testimonies.

"Truth is rooted in Integrity...It is not to be found in religious textbooks or Quaker books of discipline, but it is grounded in a living faith and experience of the present moment. It is the basis for the Quaker testimonies."

Don’t get me wrong, I love the SPICES. I love how they are compact and succinct. I use them when explaining Quakerism to my chiropractor (or anyone else asking about Quakerism), and I relied on them heavily during my first ten years here at San Francisco Friends School.

But what I have come to understand is that SPICES and Quaker testimonies are not one and the same. There is a story from the Shurangama Sutra, an essential Buddhist text, in which a monk points to the moon and says that you won’t see the moon if you look at the finger. Paul Buckley (to whom I credit the vast majority of the preceeding information), a Quaker historian and theologian, relayed this allegory during a sermon at South Central Yearly Meeting in 2012. He used this metaphor as he speaks about the Quaker Testimonies: the finger being the SPICES, and the moon being the Testimonies.

The SPICES are actually a relatively recent invention. In the early days of Quakerism, testimonies were proscriptive: against tithes, against all swearing, etc. The origins of the SPICES can be found in Howard Brinton’s text, A Guide to Quaker Practice (1943), where Brinton identifies Community, Harmony, Equality and Simplicity as four social testimonies. He continues to clarify that these are “oversimplifications” and are “not all-inclusive.” Peace eventually replaces Harmony in this list.

Fast forward to 48 years later, when Wilmer Cooper authors The Testimony of Integrity in 1991. Cooper writes that the testimonies: “Grow out of our inward religious experience and are intended to give outward expression to the leading of the Spirit of God within...” Cooper emphasizes the unity of the testimonies: Truth is rooted in Integrity and “is not grounded in dogma, creeds, abstract philosophical ideas, or theological affirmations. It is not to be found in religious textbooks or Quaker books of discipline, but it is grounded in a living faith and experience of the present moment. It is the basis for the Quaker testimonies.”

Although not at all Cooper’s intent, the “I” in Integrity makes for a convenient addition to Buckley’s testimonies to create the acronym SPICE.

At this point you may be asking, “If the SPICES aren’t the testimonies, then what ARE the testimonies?” I’m so glad you asked!

Traditionally, Quaker testimonies have the following characteristics:

  1. A testimony is something we are called or led to—not something we choose to do on our own. It arises from a relationship with our Inner Light (in third grade, we call that the "small, still voice" we listen for during Meeting for Worship, our “Inner Teacher”).  
  2. A testimony must be something you can testify to; a public behavior.
  3. A testimony must be representative of our entire community (something that all Quakers generally agree upon).
  4. A testimony must be “a cross to the conscience,” or something that calls on us to act outside our comfort zone.

As we begin our year, searching for Truth and Continuing Revelation, consider your personal testimonies. Paul Buckley, during the same South Central Yearly Meeting, ends his sermon: “Here is the Quaker testimony: God speaks to us all and if we each listen, we can hear what we are being called to do. Every one of us has leadings—some big and some small—we just need to listen carefully, discern as well as we can what that still, small voice is saying in our hearts, test what we think we are hearing with our faith community, and act faithfully.”


A message on DACA from the Equality and Inclusion Committee

Thursday, September 7, 2017
SFFS students at last year's Women's March 

(Para español, mire más abajo)

As many of us seek light and hope in these challenging times, let us remember that our school is founded on Quaker values of integrity, community, and equality. SFFS and its community are committed to openness and respect for every member of our community regardless of race, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, and, just as important — place of national origin. In the spirit of these values and beliefs, our Head of School, Mike Hanas, recently signed a letter to President Trump, along with other Friends Council on Education (FCE) leaders. This letter expressed support for DACA and affirmed our support and commitment to Dreamers, as well as all those affected by the events that have been unfolding.

Although times like these may feel sad and dark, we must keep our light brightly shining by staying informed of all options and supporting those who need it the most. Below, please find some useful upcoming events, information, and resources:

  • SFFS will host another Immigration and DACA Know Your Rights workshop.
    Please keep on reading Circle Back for a date and time.
  • Alameda County Immigration Legal & Education Partnership (ACILEP) Community Forum
    When: Saturday, September 9, 2017 @ 10 am - 1 PM
    Where: St. Elizabeth’s High School
    1530 34th Avenue, Oakland, CA
  • San Francisco Board of Supervisors Introduce Resolution in Defense of DACA
    When: Tuesday Sept. 12th 2pm
    Where: 1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Pl. #250
    San Francisco, CA 94102

The links below provide information we hope you or someone you know might find helpful:

On behalf of SFFS’s Equity & Inclusion Parent Association and Steering Committees, we sincerely hope that these times of uncertainty will unite us and deepen our knowledge and appreciation of each other’s gifts and uniqueness as we foster a sense of belonging. May we continue building our awareness of each other’s distinct strengths and embracing our responsibility as we work towards positive outcomes.

Please feel free to contact us with any feedback, ideas, information, or questions.

With hope and peace,

~Yvonne Perez-Sallaberry and John Prescott,
E&I Co-Clerks and SFFS Parents

Un mensaje acerca de DACA de parte del Comite de Equidad e Inclusión

A medida que muchos de nosotros buscamos la luz y esperanza en estos tiempos retantes, recordemos que nuestra escuela está fundada en los valores cuáqueros de integridad, comunidad, e igualdad. SFFS y su comunidad está comprometida a respetar y escuchar a cada miembro de nuestra comunidad, independiente de su raza, creencia, religión, sexo, orientación sexual, identidad de género o expresión de género, y con mayor importancia - su lugar de origen nacional. En el espíritu de estos valores y creencias, nuestro Director de Escuela, Mike Hanas, recientemente firmó una carta para el Presidente Trump expresando su apoyo a DACA (hacer clic aquí para el enlace), afirmando nuestro apoyo y compromiso a los Dreamers y a todos aquellos que han sido afectados por los eventos que hemos estado viviendo.

Aunque en épocas como estas nos podemos sentir tristes y perdidos, debemos mantener nuestra luz brillando con resplandor, manteniendonos informados de todas las opiniones y apoyando a aquellos que lo más necesiten. A continuación, encuentre eventos, información, y recursos que esperamos les sean útiles:

  • SFFS patrocinará otro taller de Conozca sus derechos de inmigración y de DACA.
    Por favor siga leyendo Circle Back para la fecha y hora.
  • Alameda County Immigration Legal & Education Partnership (ACILEP) Community Forum
    Cuando: sábado, 9 de septiembre 9, 2017 @ 10AM - 1PM
    Dónde: St. Elizabeth’s High School
    1530 34th Avenue, Oakland, CA
  • San Francisco Board of Supervisors Introduce Resolution in Defense of DACA
    Cuándo: martes, 12 de septiembre @ 2PM
    Dónde: 1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Pl. #250
    San Francisco, CA 94102

Los siguientes enlaces proveen información en inglés que esperamos sean útiles:

De parte del grupo de Equidad & Inclusión de la Asociación de Padres y del Comité Directivo de SFFS, esperamos sinceramente que estos tiempos de incertidumbre nos unan y profundicen nuestro conocimiento y apreciación de los dones de cada uno de nosotros mientras fomentamos un sentido de pertenencia. Esperamos que continuemos construyendo nuestra conciencia de las fortalezas particulares de cada uno de nosotros y que aceptemos nuestras responsabilidades a medida que trabajamos juntos hacia un futuro positivo.

Por favor contáctenos con cualquier idea, opinión, informacion, o pregunta.

Con paz y esperanza,

~Yvonne Perez-Sallaberry y John Prescott  
Co-Secretarios de E&I y padres en SFFS

Celebrating Diversity And Quaker Values At The Pride Parade

Friday, May 26, 2017

Since moving to San Francisco as a newly out young gay man more than 25 years ago, LGBT Pride weekend has always felt like a major holiday for me—a chance to celebrate with thousands of people that are a core part of my being, which, for many years, I felt too much shame to acknowledge, let alone celebrate.

In my first years of either marching in the parade or watching along the sideline every year on the last Sunday in June, two contingents stirred me most: 1) PFLAG, the group of parents and allies of LGBT people, and 2) elementary schools. The PFLAG group raised goose bumps as I watched throngs of parents march to affirm their LGBT children, an affirmation I’ve been fortunate to have from my own mother. Years before becoming a parent, the elementary schools contingent led me to see both that there were LGBT parents and that these parents were joined by straight parents who were their allies. It also led me to fantasize that I, too, might one day be a parent. 

After our son, Gabriel, was born in 2010 (by the way, he was born on Pride Saturday on the eve of that year’s parade) the significance of the day didn’t lessen. When Gabriel was an infant and toddler, my partner, Gabriel, and I joined the contingent of Our Family Coalition, an LGBTQ families group. Last year, as a kindergarten family, we joined a group from the Friends School. The SFFS group was part of the large contingent of Bay Area independent schools.

Our Friends School group was a bit ragtag; we didn’t have matching T-shirts like the huge Apple contingent. But, those things didn’t make a difference to us. We were a group of parents of all orientations, along with kids of all grade levels—and some toddlers, too—and teachers and friends, celebrating our school, our families, and the day. We marched, taking turns carrying the Friends School banner, we blew our whistles and shouted with joy, we waved, we applauded, and were applauded.

The parade is a back-and-forth exchange of love and celebration like no other. Marchers are celebrating themselves as well as the spectators, and spectators are celebrating themselves as well as the marchers. It’s part political rally and part party, giving all a chance to “come out,” walk with pride, and be whoever they are, regardless of orientation. 

As I marched, I had images of Harvey Milk and other political activists marching in the 1970s to celebrate gay liberation and to stand up against a statewide political initiative at the time that sought to ban lesbians and gays from being school teachers; and I had memories of myself at an earlier age daydreaming that some day I could be a parent. Our son’s memories of the day may be different from mine: he remembers being able to stand in the middle of the street with his school friends, surrounded by lots of people having one big party.

The reasons for the parade and the reasons people march have changed in some ways over the years. While once a gathering mostly for LGBT people, the parade is now a Bay Area-wide celebration involving everyone who wants to be involved, whether as a marcher or a watcher. And, yet, every year, whether it has been to celebrate coming out or being allowed the right to marry, the need to stand up and speak out remains, and it is especially present in this politically turbulent year. This year’s theme is "Celebrate Diversity: Resist regression, stand up against exclusion, demand equality." It sounds a lot like core values of the Friends School, and speaks to at least a couple of the Quaker testimonies.

Join the San Francisco Friends School in the parade on June 25. For yourself, your family, and your community, and for fun. 

John Tighe and his partner, Ngu Phan, are the parents of 1st grader Gabriel Phan Tighe.