Sunday, September 03, 2017

What is a Quaker education for?

Should a Quaker education go beyond the intellectual and into the realm of the moral, the spiritual, and the equitable? 

We think so. 

In this post, PIAG comments on the recent controversy at Friends Central School in Pennsylvania, where an invitation from high school student club to a distinguished Palestinian speaker was denied. 

Friends' Central School
Head of School Craig Sellers
Clerk of the Board Philip Scott
1101 City Avenue
Wynnewood, PA 19096   

                                                                       August 23, 2017

Dear Mr. Sellers and Mr. Scott,
As the new school year approaches, we are deeply saddened to learn the outcome of the controversy at Friends Central last year regarding the invitation by the Peace and Equality in Palestine Club to Dr. Sa’ed Atshan to deliver a talk at the school. 

As we understand the situation, at the request of a number of parents who were dismayed at the idea of a distinguished speaker talking about his experiences as a Palestinian, you first rescinded Dr. Atshan’s invitation, then later, reconsidered and re-issued it (though understandably, he declined to accept). 

Distressingly, you suspended the student club and fired two teachers of color who had supported the students. We are concerned about these teachers, and wonder if you can share with us how the decision was made, their current status, and the support the school may have given them in finding new employment.

As for the school’s treatment of the Israel Palestine conflict, we understand that hearing about the experience of Palestinians under Israeli occupation can be deeply disturbing. 

However, fear has a way of eclipsing reason, reflection, fairness, and compassion – all qualities that we expect a Friends School to cultivate in its students. We ask you to find the courage to move beyond the emotions in this conflict and start anew.

We ask that in the new school year, you continue thinking about your reactions and those of your students and parents, and begin working to make the study of thorny conflict – with human beings on both sides -- a centerpiece in your classes involving international relations, human rights, and history. 

Although we are dismayed that Friends Central has lost the opportunity to hear from one of the most compassionate and compelling speakers on the Palestinian experience, we urge you to invite others – or perhaps spokespeople on both sides of the conflict -- to engage your students so they can make up their own minds about what is fair and just. 

After all, isn’t critical thinking the goal of a superior education? And shouldn’t a Friends education go beyond the intellectual and into the realm of the moral, the spiritual, and the equitable?

With hope,
The Palestine Israel Action Group (PIAG) of Ann Arbor Friends Meeting