At the heart of a Friends school education are the Quaker values, or “testimonies,” of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship (SPICES). From the daily interactions in our classrooms, to our long-term partnerships with the neighborhood, to our deep connections among our families, we strive to live out these testimonies as best we can. While there are few members of our families or staff that are practicing Quakers, we collectively commit ourselves to these values, each bringing our own perspective and experience.
Simplicity – Clearing the way for deeper engagement in ourselves, our community, and our education
Peace – Creating peace in ourselves and our community
Integrity – Being true to oneself and one's values and honest with others
Community – Respecting and valuing every person's place in our lives
Equality – Respecting every person's right to fairness and respect
Stewardship – Valuing the gifts we have been given
Educators in Friends Schools often put into practice these core values through “queries”—questions designed to grab our attention, drive our actions, and even shake us out of moments of complacency. Queries are designed to hold us accountable to what we believe is most important.
- How do I honor both my beliefs and those of the larger community?
- How do we nurture and expand the diversity of our communities?
- How am I called to action by my communities, great and small?
Every year we draw on our rich tradition as a Quaker school to explore one of these core values. For the 2020–21 school year, our testimony is COMMUNITY. The Quaker belief that truth is continually revealed calls us to be open to answer the light in others; to be willing to listen and respond to the still small voice within; to understand answers as dynamic, not static; to commit to look beyond and beneath the obvious, searching for truth and identifying falsehood; and to engage in the search for truth because of its inherent value, not simply to find answers.
“Quaker simplicity... has little to do with how many things you own and everything to do with not letting your possessions own you.” – Robert Lawrence Smith, A Quaker Book of Wisdom
Quakers believe in simple living. Through the simplicity testimony, Friends encourage one another to look beyond the outward and to the inward. In contemporary terms, Friends try to live lives in which activities and possessions do not get in the way of open communication with others and with one’s own spirituality. By clearing away the clutter, Friends and able to more readily hear the “still small voice” within.
At San Francisco Friends School, the simplicity testimony guides students and teachers to live out the idea that “less is more.” Teachers focus on fewer ideas and activities, which allows students to explore each of them more deeply and fully. Students are encouraged to practice “mindful restraint” and pare away extraneous distractions and possessions. Simplicity is a balm to contemporary anxiety, allowing all of us to engage in the joys and challenges of the present moment.
“Peace is not a distant goal that we seek,
but the means by which we arrive at that goal.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Quakers have long been known for their opposition to war and violence of any kind, whether political, social, or personal. This quest for peace comes from their belief that there is “that of God” in every person in the world, regardless of their background or social status—every person deserves our respect and kindness. Striving for peace is a daily endeavor, whether interacting with family or community members or working to eliminate the broader causes of war, such as ignorance, racism, and poverty.
At San Francisco Friends School, we deliberately cultivate a peaceful, safe space in which conflicts can be addressed with kindness and respect. Children learn problem-solving and conflict negotiation skills from their first day at Friends and they learn that they must first create peace within this community in order to promote peace in the larger world. In the older grades, students are challenged to engage in tough questions around war and peace in society, both in historical times and in today’s world. Overall, we believe that peace is developed in the community, by the community, as a community.
“Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay.”
– James, 5:12
At the foundation of Quaker behavior is the belief that your words should match your deeds and your deeds should be an honest reflection of your words. In dealings with others, Quakers affirm to tell the truth and speak the truth with kindness and respect. Having integrity also means being true to oneself—having one’s outer self be the same as one’s inner self.
At San Francisco Friends School, students are challenged to live with integrity in two ways: within themselves and within our community. We ask each child to look within him or herself to understand his or her emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical dimensions. Then we ask them to be true to their classmates and their community, to speak the truth when necessary, and to do the right thing even when no one is looking.
“Community is the matrix in which young people can develop the trust and self-confidence essential for the risk-taking required in education. In community everyone can learn to take responsibility, to follow or take the lead. In community we can learn to give and receive love.”
– Paul Lacey, Growing Into Goodness
San Francisco Friends School strives to build community at every level in a series of concentric circles: in the classroom, in the school as a whole, among the families, in our neighborhood and city, and as world citizens. Students engage with their “buddies” in various grades, engage with adults at school through classroom extensions, and engage with neighborhood members through community projects. Family events are designed with community-building at their heart, inviting all to join in the warmth of fellowship, the comfort of inclusion, and the dialogue of kindness.
"Equality is the soul of liberty; there is,
in fact, no liberty without it."
– Frances Wright
In contemporary terms, equality brings to mind equal rights and social justice. For Quakers, the notion of equality begins with the belief that everyone is equal in the eyes of God and that every individual has access to their own equally valuable inner Light. In the early days of Quakerism, Friends acted on this belief in several ways: rejecting the social distinction between “you” and “thou,” equally valuing men and women in worship, opposing slave-owning, and rejecting the death penalty.
At San Francisco Friends School, we teach children to value each other equally and to celebrate the different backgrounds, beliefs, and perspectives they all bring. We ask them to give respect, kindness, and care to every person and to expect it from all others. We seek to build each child’s “eye for invisibles” and build on his or her innate sense of what is fair. We hope to instill in them a lifelong desire for justice and equality for all.
“All things are connected. We did not weave the web of life. We are but a strand in it. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the people of the earth.” – Chief Seattle
Quakers strive to use God’s gifts wisely. These gifts include not only material wealth but environmental richness, talents, good health, and wisdom. Good stewardship means taking care of these gifts that have been given to us, not just for ourselves but for future generations. It also means considering the impact our life choices will have on those around us and their needs for health, safety, and comfort.
At San Francisco Friends School, we seek to teach children—and ourselves—that we should be active stewards of things (our classroom, our school, our garden, our environment) as well as our bodies, our community members, and our cherished ideas and ideals. Through practice, reflection, and an active community engagement program, students grow into an awareness of their responsibility in shaping the worlds they inhabit—from the culture of their classrooms to the nature of our neighborhood to the environment we all live in.