Joys of the Quaker Way — Teaching First Day School

January 12, 2015 § 2 Comments

One more joy of the Quaker way—teaching First Day School.

I spent a couple of years teaching teens in my meeting’s First Day School, and I really loved it. There were two of us and my partner was terrific and the kids were great.

Most if not all religious communities teach their tradition to their young, so lots of people have the joy of doing this, not just Friends. And indeed many Quaker meetings either don’t have the kids or don’t have the resources to have a First Day School. In many meetings, the kids’ parents end up teaching First Day School, even if they are new to Friends and don’t actually know the tradition well enough to teach it. And for this and other reasons, many meetings don’t actually teach very much Quakerism in their First Day School, or they stick pretty much to the testimonies and keep a focus on “Quaker values”.

In our class, the focus was on helping these young people recognize their own spiritual experiences and develop their own spiritual lives. Sometimes we offered Quaker faith and practice as a framework for understanding what they shared. And sometimes we started with some aspect of Quaker faith and practice, and invited them to explore it for themselves. And not just Quaker faith and practice, but the Bible also.

We were lucky in that the parents were clear that they wanted substance in their kids’ religious education: they wanted their children to know about Quakerism and know their Bible. But they also did not want “doctrine” in the usual sense, the kind of one-way transfer of theology that many of us had experienced in our own childhood. And these parents wanted their children to be as open to the life of the spirit as they were—without being forced into some kind of spiritual box.

And the kids responded. This ran across the spectrum from really engaged to barely engaged, but they did keep coming—mostly. They are all young adults now, and they are still scattered along this spectrum, in terms of their participation, though I suspect many of them still identity as Quakers, even if they don’t go to meeting.

So, as we knew at the time, our role was not to produce Quakers, but to be midwives to the spiritual paths that they might find on their own, making sure that they knew enough Quakerism to include it in their unfolding if they chose to.

As I have said in an earlier post, teaching Quakerism gives me great joy. Teaching it to young people is quite different and just as joyous. It’s more open-ended. You have to improvise all the time. You have to be attuned to their needs and their moods and whatever may be going on in the world to keep the spirit alive and the material relevant. But when you hit the right chord the energy is so great.

I loved it and I look forward to the next time I feel called to do it.

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§ 2 Responses to Joys of the Quaker Way — Teaching First Day School

  • Patricia Dallmann says:

    There is much that is heartening in this post, Steven. Perhaps most encouraging is the parents’ wanting their children to have substance in their religious education. Those of us who wanted this for our children a generation ago in Quaker meetings had an uphill slog to get the tradition included in the curriculum, including biblical education. Rather than deal with the problem, some parents moved to the Mennonites.

    I also find your approach to the material to be sound: encouraging the kids to find relevance in the tradition via their own experience. So often education of the tradition is depicted as a violation of students’ conscience and reason, and in some groups that no doubt is the case. But it needn’t be, and it’s a fallacy to present all religious education as such.

    I’ve heard that today’s young adult Friends have criticized their elders for having fallen down on the job of educating them in the faith. I hope now there are others, like you, who are seeing that the next generation will have this resource of the traditional knowledge ready when they need it.

  • Betty Steckman says:

    You’re always welcome to come back!

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