Earlham College Convocation
March 3, 1999

With Relation to Time and Eternity

Paul A. Lacey
Professor of English
Chair in Multidisciplinary Studies

         I want to begin with a preliminary remark: I do not use "Quaker" as a term of praise but to describe a particular group of people trying to understand and follow the leadings of God in their times, places, and circumstances. The institutions Quakers create are merely human inventions attempting to fulfill God's will as fallible people perceive it. Second, many to whom our schools are indebted for maintaining the highest expression of Quaker principles are non-Quakers, dedicated teachers, administrators, students, trustees, graduates who share the vision of what a Quaker school can be.

         The British Quaker educator John Reader says Quakers have never had a philosophy of education, though they have always thought they had. For nearly a decade, I have been testing that assertion as a way of opening up questions worth pursuing: is there a peculiarly Quaker form or style of education? Is there a specific pedagogy, or an ethos which emerges in a Quaker school? Are Quaker schools and colleges significantly different from other educational institutions? In my thirty-ninth year of teaching in a Quaker institution, I find those questions both historically and personally relevant for me. In this talk I can only touch on some key elements in what I believe to be the aims of Quaker education and the key practices which can give those aims vitality.

         My title comes from a 1758 letter of Anthony Benezet, where he describes the goal of Quaker education as, "educating and training up ofthe youth both with relation to time and eternity." His phrase does not imply a specific pedagogy or curriculum but captures an essential interconnection in human beings' spiritual and practical needs. When George Fox established the first two Quaker schools, one for boys and one for girls, to teach "all things Civil and Useful in Creation," he made the same kind of links. We live in a physical world, the place we make our livings, raise our families, act on our political and social concerns.

         Education must prepare us for all that life. But we also live in the dimension of the sacred, theeternal, from which we must view the practical things of life. From its beginnings nearly 350 years ago, Quaker education pursued practical, utilitarian purposes enfolded in a spiritual vision of all human beings as children of God. I am going to discuss some generally recognized key features of Quaker education our understanding of the sacred and our response to it, the power of silence in worship and pedagogy, the relevance of the Quaker social testimonies and the meetings for worship and for business for creating an ethos for teaching and learning. I will be talking about Quaker education in both schools and colleges, though I will focus my later comments on our experience at Earlham, as an illustration of the ethos a Quaker college might evidence.

         Erik Erikson tells us that, as a teacher translates the rudiments of hope, will, purpose and competence, she or he "...conveys a logic much beyond the literal meaning of the words [s/he] teaches, and...outlines a particular world image and style of fellowship." I want to illustrate what that process might be like in Quaker education by presenting three brief vignettes of Quaker teachers. First there is Anthony Benezet himself, an eighteenth century French Huguenot convert to Quakerism who is known primarily as one of the leading antislavery activists of his age. He was an indefatigable writer and publicist against slavery who corresponded widely with all the antislavery leaders of Europe. He was a friend of John Woolman and saw Woolman's Journal through publication after his death. Benezet's lifelong daily work was as a schoolteacher. He taught at what is now William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, but in time he gave up that position to teach in a less prestigious girls school. In 1750, he also began a free evening school for Black children in his own home, which he continued for twenty years, before Philadelphia Friends took over the concern in 1770 and established a school for the free education of Black children with a curriculum including reading, writing, and arithmetic. Benezet helped raise money from his personal friends, Friends in London sent money, other supporters contributed, and Benezet left his own small estate for the school. Since the school had difficulty keeping teachers because of very low pay for very hard work, Benezet offered to take the position, even though it was "less profitable or in the eyes of most people less honorable..." than the girls school, which in turn was less prestigious than William Penn Charter School.

         We might say that, in pursuing what he saw as his calling as a Quaker educator, Benezet deliberately kept going farther down the professional food chain. In 1782, he gave up the Girls School entirely so as to devote full time to the school for Blacks, continuing until his death two years later. Benezet's school, which later became the Raspberry Street Schools, lasted for over a hundred years. The success of that school encouraged the Abolition Society to establish similar schools for Black children. Even now there is still a small endowment in his name administered for support of Black education.

         My second example is Enoch Lewis, a nineteenth century Mathematics teacher at Westtown School. My first acquaintance with him came throughone of my dearest colleagues and mentors on the Earlham faculty, Helen Hole, and I have recently learned more about his work as a peace activist from a doctoral dissertation by Paul Grazeck, an Earlham graduate and himself a teacher. In Things Civil and Useful, Helen Hole tells of Enoch Lewis's inviting a student to undertake an independent study of Isaac Newton's Principia. When asked if he hadn't been afraid to undertake the work, the student replies, "Yes, but considering that Master Lewis had so good an opinion of me as to propose the studying. . .I felt a sort of ambition rise in me to show him what I could do." Later in the book, Helen Hole tells how, one night in 1803, Enoch Lewis was awakened to rescue a fugitive slave from the slave catchers. He discovered there was no way to save the slave except to buy him out. The price set was $400. Enoch Lewis's annual salary was $500. Without hesitation, he arranged for the purchase. He then rode from Friend's house to Friend's house until in a few hours he had raised a hundred dollars. The rest of the sum he himself agreed to advance on the security of the Negro's bond. (p. 66)

         Lorton Heusel The third example comes from Tom Hamm's History of Earlham. In 1948, when the United States reinstituted the draft, a number of Earlham students and staff opposed it, and some students refused to register.Their activities generated heated opposition in the Richmond area and from a number of graduates and supporters of the College. President Tom Jones was even urged to expel the draft resisters and fire their faculty supporters. The first nonregistrant to be arrested at Earlham was Lorton Heusel, who went on to become a distinguished Quaker minister and leader of Friends United Meeting. Tom Hamm reports: "Lorton Heusel remembered how, riding to Indianapolis on US 40 with two federal marshals, he saw chemistry professors Ernest Wildman and George Scherer pass his car. He knew that they would be waiting at the federal courthouse with his bail money." ( p214)

         These three examples tell us not to expect to find either the Quaker teacher or Quaker education confined to a school or classroom. It is so common as to be unremarkable that an Anthony Benezet should be a lifelong teacher and a lifelong antislavery and a political activist. Paul Grazeck tells of Enoch Lewis calling together his math students to hear the firsthand account of a fugitive slave. But what has learning mathematics to do with learning the condition of an escaped slave? Helen Hole makes no explicit connection between Enoch Lewis's ability to inspire confidence in a student and his steadfast and sacrificial opposition to slavery, but we know that there is a connection it is a way of educating with relation to time and eternity.

         Ernest Wildman George ShererErnest Wildman (left) and George Scherer (right) clearly saw an intrinsic connection between what they did in the classroom and going 70 miles to be on hand to bail out a students (I have had no chance to ask Lorton Heusel, but it occurs to me he probably wasn't even taking chemistry!): that is a way of studying all things civil and useful in creation. We could multiply examples at length, speaking not only of heroic women and men of ourdistant history but of our own immediate predecessors and present colleagues working with the American Friends Service Committee, leading workcamps, taking peace missions, undertaking social and political action.

         Quakers have had many images for the Divine, among them The Light, The Inner Light, The Seed, The Christ Within, The Inward Teacher, images which express the conviction that each human being comes into the world enlightened by the Light of Christ. We have the law written on our hearts; our Teacher lies within us, waiting to be set free to do His/Her work. We believe every person can hear the Divine addressing us, calling us to right behavior.

         The spiritual purposes of a Quaker school require three interconnected tasks:

  • to help its members prepare for encounters with the sacred, that ultimate reality which inspires in us reverence, awe and compassion;
  • to help them develop a repertoire of ways to invite the sacred ore fully into their lives, to enlarge its presence in their souls, fortheir own spiritual refreshment and growth;
  • to help them become more skillful in connecting their knowledge ofthe sacred presence to how they pursue their daily activities, to become,in John Woolman's phrase, more "answerable to the design of their creation."

         The practical tasks which grow from those spiritual purposes are twofold: to encourage people to make the world better, to become well informed, reflective, skilled agents of positive social, political, economic and educational change, devoted to the fullest possible expression of the particular world image and style of fellowship rooted in a knowledge of that sacred and a commitment to the social testimonies; and to help our students learn to make their contributions from lives which are spiritually centered, fulfilled, and happy.

         Contemporary mission statements of Friends schools most frequently quote either the phrase "that of God in every one," or the exhortation to "walk cheerfully over the earth, answering that of God in every one." Schools cite these phrases to explain such key features of school life as a weekly schoolwide meeting for worship, a commitment to shared or consensus decision making, an emphasis on service learning, and a curriculum and community life shaped by the practice of testimonies for integrity, equality, simplicity, peacemaking, ecological responsibility, and social justice. The classroom emphasizes cooperative, collaborative learning, focus on the needs of each person, and high personal and academic expectations of every person. These quotations affirm a profound hopefulness about human beings: we not only can learn, it is our essential nature to want to learn. We grow into practical skills even as we grow into goodness.

         Quaker schools try to maintain warm personal support for individuals while, at the same time, maintaining the highest possible academic standards. You recognize something of an ironic claim here, that holding each person in a warm, loving, ethically sensitive environment will translate into higher SAT scores, high academic achievement in the very best colleges, and a life among the rich and famous. The joke that Quakers came to do good and did very well indeed has particular application to our educational institutions. If you and I are tempted to sneer at those developments, however, let us also recognize how much the beneficiaries we are of them.

         Perhaps Quaker education makes its greatest contributions to both the spiritual and the practical work by introducing students to the preparatory practices of silent waiting and then to the deeper disciplines ofmeeting for worship and actions grounded in the links between worship and service to others. Describing the plans for Ackworth School in 1779, Dr.John Fothergill says "To habituate children, from their early infancy, to silence and attention, is of the greatest advantage to them, not only as a preparative to their advancement in a religious life, but as the groundwork of a well cultivated understanding." Early habits of "silent attention" strengthen our capacity for patience and recollection, he says. The mid-nineteenth century British philanthropist Samuel Tuke says the "doctrine of an inward Divine Light" modified the character of those who received it, affected the means pursued in the moral training of young people,and had an influence on the intellectual character of the rising generation."

         Fothergill argues "...it was impossible to be habituated to self converse without intellectual cultivation.The habit of thinking for a man's self, on the most important of all subjects, leads naturally to general freedom of thought...." The influence of the doctrine led to seeing "alike the value of liberty and order." The points bear repeating: accepting the doctrine and learning the practice of silence strengthen intellectual character, intellectual independence, and the ability to see both the value of liberty and of order. Quaker receptivity to the study of science, a strong characteristicsince our earliest days, rests not only on the conviction that all truth is from God, and on the capacity to trust that the sacred can be revealed through the physical world, but also on the capacity to wait and attend quietly as an observation or experiment unfolds. The child who learns how to sit still while waiting for a bird to land or a deer to emerge from the thicket is laying the foundation for greeting the sacred, for centering outside the self, for knowing herself as a part of a world of beauty and order, as well as for learning how to collect data.

         Two former students at Germantown Friends School attest to the power of this kind of silence inrecalling, more than a dozen years afterwards, their experience of learning science in the lower school. They write of their teacher, Joseph Cadbury,

"...there was something rare about Mr. Cadbury that distinguishes him in one's mind from all other teachers. He knew a lot about nature..., and he could explain scientific data with magnificent clarity; but it wasn't filling our heads with facts that he had in mind. We remember a strange silence that he liked to keep, as if the important facts of Nature lay beyond the reach of names and explanations....When some one asked a really good question, he would roll his head from side to side, look into each of our expectant faces...and he wouldn't say a word. In that Silence there was something else, that no words could touch, that words if they were spoken would obscure. It was a feel ing...that came gently at first, but grew in the Silence until it was everywhere and in everything....His Silence was a way of inspiring wonder within us....It was a Silence that recalls our school's greatest classroom: the Meeting House."

         Such waiting in silence can teach us how to entertain a question, to be hospitable to it as we are hospitable to a friend. If silence is welcomed,to allow time for entertaining a question or propounding one's own, students can learn how to wait for one another to contribute to a cooperative activity. The spirit of the classroom can change. At its best, Quaker education teaches the same lesson in the classroom or laboratory, in fieldwork, as well as in meeting for worship, how to wait attentively, in silence, for way to open or knowledge to come to us. In Friends for Three Hundred Years, Howard Brinton says the Quaker experience is that Light from God streams down to the waiting group, where,if way is open to it, the Light produces three results: unity, knowledge andpower.

         These are, in fact, three forms of power; the power of group cohesion, the capacity to take action, and the assurance of being led by Divine Power. From these three results comes the kind of behavior which Howard Brinton identifies with the testimonies. The testimonies' educative power cannot be overestimated, for they establish the deep institutional character, which I am calling the ethos, in which the formal curriculum is imbedded. Without becoming dogma, they help determine not only the courses tobe offered but the topics to be examined and the spirit of the classroom. How a teacher makes assignments, how she evaluates tests, papers and homework, can model trust in students' integrity and the values of cooperation, mutual respect and freedom which are integral to the testimonies forpeace, justice and equality. To study history not as a series of heroic wars and conquests, nor as the lives of great men, but as an inquiry into why wars happen and how they are brought to an end, (as Franklin Wallin, former president of Earlham did in a course) and what the lives of ordinary men and women are like from age to age, is to approach a traditional discipline respectfully and with fresh questions influenced by the testimonies.

         To study the natural world from the perspective of loving stewardship instead of mastery, to read literature with attention to a multiplicity of voices and a widened understanding of humans' conditions, is to experience learning enriched by the values of the testimonies. As they help form the curriculum, the testimonies also determine the school's style of administration establishing rules and expectations withclarity, emphasizing restitution rather than punishment for wrongdoing, modeling compassion as both forgiveness and sharp challenge to those who need it. Equality can be addressed in something more than the superficial form of addressing everyone by first name; listening well and patiently,speaking forthrightly and patiently, making information as widely available as possible and sharing decision making can shape a style of companionship predicated on being seekers together, expecting to learn from one another. Kim Hays, author of Practicing Virtues, reminds us that Quaker schools (and colleges) are places "where moral socialization is the acknowledged goal rather than the hidden by product of education." They are "communities that uphold particular traditions, and tradition is a loaded word." For a tradition to become accessible on a daily basis, she argues, a process of translation must occur, which depends on two things "the practice of virtues, and the acceptance of conflict."

         That such conflict is essential to keep the moral tradition, and therefore the ethos, of a school vital, helps explain some disturbing impressions of Quaker schools. As one "lifer" the word for a student who has gone from kindergarten through high school in a Quaker school has described it to me: the lower school was "most Quaker," the middle school was less so, and the upper school was "least Quaker." And, as would follow from that analysis, the Quaker college is "even less Quaker" than the upperschool. Does this mean that Quaker education in its purest forms will only happen with very young children? Let me speculate further on my student's perceptions. In most schooling we invest most heavily, and successfully, in socializing our youngest children. Until very recently, Nelson Bingham has pointed out, college courses in developmental psychology would all have been called "Child Development." The operating assumptions were that the earliest influences on a child would have the longest lasting effects, and that not much happened developmentally again until the tumult of adolescence, by which time the foundations had better have been set.

         It is not surprising, then, if a school can give its youngest students an intensive experience with the values of Quakerism. It is relatively easy to achieve young children's assent to the prevailing school ethos, especially when conforming brings reward, praise and safety. The complex intermixture of content and learning process, affective and cognitive development, which makes up the schooling of elementary students is ideally suited for gentle inculcation of values, learning about, and experiential encounter with, Quaker practices. The lower school is a highly controlled environment, where peer groups have far less influence than they will have later and virtually every moment of the school day is under adult observation and influence. Never again will adult authority be so easily asserted or so willingly granted. At no later point in their formal education will conditions be so favorable for the relatively unconflicted practice of such values as respect for each person, community, equality, peaceful resolution of conflict, uncompetitive, collaborative learning.

         But from middle school on, the pressures on the school ethos become increasingly stronger and more complex. The consensus on what constitutes good education begins to show strains on issues of subject matter, course content and academic achievement. Some "magnet words" repel as well as attract school constituents. Parents who have been happy to see their children's affective development encouraged in the lower school begin to require more attention to their cognitive achievements, and the tug between affective and cognitive development necessarily becomes greater. Various "outsiders" begin to have more impact on curriculum. Standardized tests become more important as "objective" measures of student achievement. Grades begin to carry more weight, as parents, children and teachers all look ahead to college applications.

         What George Kuh reports of college may also be said of upper schools: "The major obstacle to student learning is social, not intellectual." Every parent and teacher feels conflicted by those developments, but we cannot merely dismiss the conflicts as worldliness creeping in and corrupting some pure spirituality. It has been suggested that asking someone to describe a powerful ethos from within is like asking a fish to describe water. From the "lifer's" point of view, the upper school may seem less Quaker, while to the student who transfers in at the ninth grade, the atmosphere may seem overwhelmingly so. One has internalized values which are startlingly new to the other.

         Douglas Heath tells us that teachers new to Quaker schools comment on such attributes as student talkativeness, openness, expressiveness,giving, acceptance, feelings for others, imagination, fun and deep ethical sense. He suggests that the schools' valuing of maturation of character as well as of the mind makes it easier for students to be more vulnerable and open to learning and that students participate more readily in class discussion because of their experience in the Quaker "consensual decision making process." How then, should a Quaker college express its nature?, That the tradition is vitalized by the practice of virtues and the acceptance of conflict, requires consciously, deliberately imbedding the curriculum and every other aspect of institutional life in an ethos where fundamental values are made explicit but are also open to be tested, disputed, challenged, so that whoever embraces them does so as a result of being convinced of their rightness.

         George Kuh, who has studied Earlham as one example of what he calls "involving colleges," calls this an "ethos of learning", and says that institutions marked by such an ethos share three common themes: a holistic philosophy of learning; an involving campus climate where people are encouraged into a wide range of service and participatory activities; and a climate encouraging free expression. Fortunately for the world, many colleges aspire to create an ethos of learning If all good education depended on the vitality of eleven Quaker colleges, the world would be in even more desperate straits than it is. But a Quaker holistic philosophy of learning addresses needs of the mind, the body, the emotions, the soul, from the values reflected in our ways of worship and our practice of the testimonies.

         A Quaker holistic philosophy of education is practical as well as theoretical, seeks to address concrete problems in the larger world and help people discover their callings by working at real jobs. It works against reliance on hierarchies of authority and draws students, faculty, administration, staff and other constituencies into mutual responsibility for the teaching learning process. It encourages plain speaking as well as civility in the best sense of that word, behavior predicated on the sense that one is a citizen of a community. George Kuh specifies three core assumptions and values which he sees emanating from Earlham's Quaker tradition: First, it is assumed that the 'light of truth' can be found in each individual, and so value is placed on consensual ways of learning and knowing....This belief is reflected in a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary coursework and collaborative learning techniques.... Collaboration rather than competition is the norm....The second assumption...is expressed in the phrase 'Let your lives speak'; knowledge is not only to be appreciated but, more important, it is also to be lived....Finally, Earlham is committed to the responsibility of the individual in the global community. This value...results in an emphasis on global awareness and social action throughout the student's experience at Earlham College.

         Howard BrintonGeorge Kuh adds "...the spirit of the Quaker values that undergirds the Earlham mission is supported by teaching learning processes that are collaborative through a required interdisciplinary Humanities Program, and by the use of consensus in the conduct of campus affairs. You and I could cite collaborative teaching learning opportunities in every part of the curriculum. Writing in 1949, Howard Brinton (right) identified what he considered two particular Quaker contributions to education, the coeducational boardingschool and the workcamp. These, he said, "...exhibit a common trait, they are integrated cooperative communities in which the spiritual, intellectual and physical aspects of life become blended. To some extent they resemble an ideal family more than they resemble a community." Let me place Howard Brinton's insights next to what George Kuh identifies as the four particular qualities which characterize "involving colleges": an "ethic of membership" which holds that, "once a student chooses the institution, she or he is immediately a fully participating member of its community," by egalitarian aspirations, by a commitment to multiculturalism, and by an"ethic of care." "...Institutional agents faculty, student affairs staff,and others such as clerical and maintenance personnel) care about students.

         As students sense this ethic of care, they begin to care for one another." George Kuh is talking specifically about Earlham in that passage, and I want to speak personally to his point. One of the great strengths of this college for me is the learning students get from the friendly, affectionate encounter with older adults who invite them into their part of the world ofwork. It is a joy to see the remarkable growth students get from being on the paint crew or the grounds crew, or in other maintenance jobs, in the libraries, the bookstore, in various offices. I thank those colleagues for what they contribute to the teaching learning process at Earlham. A Quaker college tries to ground its practice in coherent, consistent principles, ethics of care for one another, egalitarianism, participation and membership, and collaboration. It holds its members to high personal, social and intellectual expectations and provides support and assessment so they can know how they are succeeding. We cannot separate the ethos of a college from the curriculum, nor can there be an effective college which neglects curriculum, meaning both content and pedagogical matters, in the name of creating an ethos of learning. Neither can an ethic of care merely focus on the sensitive self or indulge a selfinvolved community; it must always attend to widening the circle of concern. George Kuh warns that an ethos of learning fosters tensions between cohesion and straightforward assessment of people's behavior, and comments "how an institution responds to conflicts between individualism and conformity is a key indication of whether an ethos of learning exists."

         To subscribe to a Quaker model of holistic education means that the college not only values the development of body and mind, feelings and intellect, psyche and soul, but is also committed to offering programs and activities which allow each aspect of the self, and of every self faculty and administrators as well as students, and the self in community, to be nourished. It is a commitment to blurring and crossing of lines: the line between coursework and service learning is blurred, as is the line whichseparates teacher from student. The lines between disciplines are regularly crossed, to create interdisciplinary approaches to questions and issues, to look at familiar things from new perspectives, to be challenged and invigorated by seeing significant connections among disciplines or schools of thought. It is a commitment to making connections, encouragingrisk and experimentation, becoming interrelated, intimately "involved" together as companions in learning, encouraging greater independence and autonomy for students, integrating thought with action and ethical convictions with ethical behavior. Principled behavior creates and sustains a deep institutional character, an atmosphere, which encourages further principled behavior. Ethos and ethic must sustain one another.

        Does this describe Earlham? Not entirely and not consistently enough. It is impossible to have high ideals and not be dissatisfied with the institutions we create to express them. My own life here has often been a lover's quarrel with the college, sometimes so deep and prolonged a quarrel that I thought I must leave. Many of you have your own quarrels with what we claim to be, what we try to be. Disappointed idealism easily turns to cynicism. But the vision of Quaker education hinted at by suchterms as ethos of learning, ethic of membership, ethos of involvement and collaboration, ethic of care is so compelling that the frustrated idealist decides to keep trying to realize such a place. If there is a Quaker philosophy of education, it is eclectic, experimental, willing to live with the tensions between tradition and change, the needs of the community and those of the individual. It is clumsy, operating by trial and error, seeking to be led by obedience to the Inward Teacher. It is always a work in progress, life lived in relation to time and eternity.

Copyright ©1999 Paul A. Lacey. All rights reserved. Photographs courtesy of the Earlham Archives.

You may send Paul e-mail at
or write to him at
Earlham College
Richmond, Indiana 47374

Return to Earlham College Home