Skip to main content

The Testimonies of Childhood and Courage

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

I have been speaking to many parents, colleagues, and often Mike, about how challenging—and sometimes exhausting—it has been in the last few years to be in the field of education. It’s noisy out there, and every parent is wondering and worried about how the tone and the onslaught of media and global events are impacting our children—and how these factors should inform their education. I’m grateful in those moments to be part of a community that insists on infusing the practice of deep reflection, heart, and reason into decision-making on behalf of our children. It’s a blessing to work at Friends for this, among many other wonderful reasons. 

4th Grade Lead Teacher Amabelle, upon her return from a Quaker education workshop a few years ago, reminded us that the SPICES (the six testimonies we’ve adopted in Friends schools) are among the core Quaker values—but they are not finite, not things that we check off a grocery list. One of the testimonies we reflect on is the continuous revelation of Truth. Kindness is another. We can also lift up personal testimonies that might guide us for particular reasons at particular times. They can become helpful, reflective guideposts for our lives and learning, both in our school and the outside world. With these two thoughts in mind—the times we live in and the idea that the testimonies are more than 6 finite terms known as the SPICES—I invite you all to muster a new personal testimony for yourself this year. As for me, I offer you two that I’ve been mulling over: the testimonies of CHILDHOOD and COURAGE.

CHILDHOOD: I have deep faith in the process of childhood. It’s messy and weird and full of as many joys as mistakes. It’s uncomfortable, too—much of the time. In fact, learning is supposed to be a little uncomfortable; that’s how change happens in the brain. And it works if you have faith and allow the time and space to let it happen. Adults sometimes show wavering faith in our children’s ability to dig themselves out of challenges—we aim to protect them and to right the wrongs we see. Instead of letting them experience things on their own terms, to muddle through and give them time to reflect and make sense of the world, we rush to rescue them with our solutions, solutions that are based on our own experiences, knowledge, and adult minds. My favorite poet Emily Dickinson expressed it more beautifully: Experience is the Angled Road, Preferred against the Mind. We often say here that it is better to be a curious parent, rather than a “fixer.” When your child is struggling through any social or academic experience, listen more, be genuinely curious, deliver them a sense of agency, and aim to give a little less advice. Through this kind of support, children sense we believe in them and their ability to get through. That’s how autonomy works: by having faith in the messy process of childhood and experience.

Sometimes, of course, we must step in—when they are crossing the carpool bike lane, for example. Good idea. Other times, we do not and should not. We ought not tell them what to think or how to act on their convictions.  When we do, we make them fearful of what they wonder, think, or believe; they will always on the look-out for what is expected or acceptable. The development of an educated voice comes from within and requires mistakes and reflection on experiences. This takes time—a lot of time—to light up. Adults can’t steamroll this, no matter the urgency we feel. Have faith in the process of childhood—it is much bigger than any one of your answers. It’s why we sing “This Little Light of Mine” every year, over and over. And why you all hold back tears every time your children sing it. Don’t let anyone snuff it out.

COURAGE: This one really has me going. Some days, it can take an awful lot of armor to get up in the morning. Complex ideas are relegated to sound bites and they go viral—it’s easy when someone else has already done the thinking for you! Educating our children to grapple with complex ideas requires that they become accustomed to sifting through lots of experiences and opinions—and confident enough to challenge commonly-held beliefs. At Friends, we aim to deepen their commitment and habit of being curious and to remain open to new ideas. Being truly engaged, vocal, and innovative requires not just creativity, but courage. We want our students to know how to push beyond the bubble and ask what more is out there. It requires courage to make our way down roads less traveled, even more to allow our children to, but it’s up to us to help them become confident enough to do so.

One wise Quaker educator once reminded me that “for the privilege of attending our Friends School, we hope our children will go out and do some good in the world.” What or how they might do that may be as unique and diverse as each of our children and families are. All of us here at Friends are committed to providing our children with robust, joyful, and even provocative experiences. As they cultivate curiosity and open their perspectives, hearts, and minds to possibility—and even to doubt—we have armed them with self-knowledge and the courage of their convictions, and we’ve aimed them in the right direction to bring reason and heart to their educational experiences and the world beyond.