Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A New Stop on the Washington D.C. Field Trip

This year, the eighth grade added an exciting stop to its annual trip to Washington, D.C., stepping through the doors of the brand-new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The museum had been open to the public for only four days when Penn Charter entered to tour its unrivaled documentation of African American life, history and culture. Early critics have praised not only its collection but the architecture of the bronze-colored structure – wrapped with lattice work that pays homage to ironwork crafted by enslaved African Americans – and the symbolic importance of its position on the National Mall, between the White House and the Washington Monument.

“The biggest takeaway for our students,” social studies teacher Josh Oberfield said, “was understanding the importance of being recognized as a major influence, a building block – literally builders – of this country, and appreciating that.”

PC eighth graders visit Washington, D.C. each year, touring tour the U.S. Capitol, Library of Congress, Supreme Court, various monuments and assorted Smithsonian Museums. They have light-hearted fun, too, including a trip to the bowling alley.

Back in the summer, when she began planning this year’s trip, Middle School mathematics teacher and eighth grade advisor Jen Ketler wanted her PC students to be among the first to visit the new museum. Combining patience and persistence, Ketler visited the museum website daily so she could swoop in at just the right moment to secure tickets for all 84 eighth graders.

Imana Legette, PC director of diversity and inclusion and a Middle School social studies teacher, said adult visitors complemented the PC students for their attentiveness and respect.

“They really took to heart what they were seeing. No matter the race and ethnicity of the student, they felt the power of the museum,” Legette said. “Adult strangers commented that they were so glad young people were there and taking it so seriously, because they had lived it.”

The Nation, in a story about the import of the new museum, explains how the it has been added to the itinerary of the traditional field trip to the nation's capitol for many schools – and highlights the PC students' visit to make the case. 

Another meaningful addition to the trip included, on the first night, service work with PC Overseer Mark Hecker OPC ’99 for On the Same Page UNITED; the project supports juveniles incarcerated in adult prisons by sharing their poetry and short stories with individuals outside prison. PC students read and then added – writing in colorful ink on the page – praise, encouragement and contextual comments for the incarcerated boys.

Viewed through the lens of the new Strategic Vision, both experiences advance the goal to deepen our identity and actions as a Friends school, and our students' understanding of Quaker values of equity and justice.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Inspiration, Intention for Our Quaker Practices

by Megan Kafer

As a birthright Quaker, I often have a hard time thinking of how I know about Quaker concepts. Growing up in and amongst Friends communities, Quaker ways were “caught” not necessarily “taught,” as goes the phrase. When Brooke Giles and I were granted two days this summer to work on a Worship Sharing Guide for Lower School, I was eager to dive into the history of Worship Sharing, as it was something I knew nothing about.

Rachel Davis DuBois
My research sent me down an unexpected path, leading to a figure in Quaker history I had never met before. It started with a 1969 article in the Friends Journal about Claremont (Calif.) Meeting’s experience testing out a new theory in building community. The group was inspired by an April 1963 Friends Journal article called “Quaker Dialoguing” written by Rachel Davis DuBois. Following the guidelines set by Dubois, Meeting members met once a week for six weeks to consider “how to raise the level of spirit in our meeting for worship.” The article raved about the increased feeling of togetherness and quality of relationship between members after the sessions ended. This idea of individuals sharing and noticing the differences and commonalities among experiences was the spark that led to the practice of Worship Sharing in Friends Meetings.

Once I finished researching the basics of Worship Sharing, my attention diverted to Rachel Davis DuBois. Intrigued by DuBois’ theories about community building through discussions about our differences, I began reading more about DuBois’ history. Who was this woman who seemed to be so ahead of her time? What was her background, education, religion? I found more articles, papers and pamphlets by DuBois, all of which were discussing exactly what the Lower School Quakerism Committee has been looking for in redesigning our Worship Sharing. How can a diverse community create a space for all (young and old) to have a voice that is encouraged, respected and reflected?

When she began her career in the 1930’s, DuBois had little to no example about how this could be done. She did, however, have her faith and practice as a Quaker. Counter to the philosophy of the time that promoted ethnic assimilation in schools, DuBois was among the few educators preaching that differences should be celebrated. Over a long and distinguished teaching career that included schools in New York City, Chicago and West Germany (on behalf of the U.S. State Department), as well as relationships with thinkers and leaders like Margaret Mead, Jane Addams, George Washington Carver and W.E.B. DuBois (no relation), DuBois developed a teaching technique called Group Conversations. This widely copied technique uses a common experience for people to learn about each other's customs. In the late 60s, DuBois adapted these “Conversations” for Friends and began touring the country sharing the technique.

Learning about DuBois as a Quaker, a woman, an educator and a pioneer in interfaith and interracial dialogue, I felt inspired to begin our work forming a Worship Sharing Guide for Lower School. Our hope is that the guide will act as a resource for faculty, who lead the monthly Worship Sharing Groups, and that as a Lower School community, we hold an intentional, sacred space for our voices to be heard, understood and treasured.

Megan Kafer teaches pre-kindergarten at Penn Charter.