My eight-year-old daughter, Isabel, attends a Quaker school in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. Though my wife and I are not religious, we do believe in a principled, spiritual, life and found a good fit at United Friends School, where all faiths and beliefs (including non-belief) are welcomed equally. To be sure, there are some very Christian Quaker groups around the world, but Quakerism as practiced in Quakertown, both at the school and the nearby Quaker meeting, is open to all views. One of the central Quaker tenets is that spiritual truth comes from within, not from other people or books. In this way, Quakerism is like philosophical Taoism, which states at the start that “The Tao that can be described is not the Tao.” Both use silent meditation as a core practice.
So if the central belief is “believe what you want,” what do Quakers have in common? What makes a Quaker meeting “Quaker” instead of just some people sitting in a room? As you’d expect, the answer defies simple description, though Quakers do offer six social principles as a starting point: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship, which collectively are called the SPICES. You can read a good summary of the SPICES on the page linked above. As you’ll see, they’re as useful to a non-believing sociologist as to the most devout Christian. These commonly held social ideas become “Quaker” only when you add back the central tenet: that truth regarding how to use these ideas in your current situation reveals itself from within.
Let’s leave the spirituality aside and consider the SPICES as mere social goals, a community code of conduct that describes how people should act with one another. They’re loose enough to allow many interpretations, but firm enough to provide a common ground for discussion. In my view, they’re also ideal for promoting a helpful learning environment, particularly for primary school children. To me, a “Quaker school” is one that fosters an appreciation for these six social ideas, which can often have surprising results, such as the lack of standardized testing, etc.
In future chapters, I’ll discuss each of these principles in turn, focusing on how they can help the budding Tidepool community by creating an environment that encourages helpful collaboration. My goal is to use the SPICES for social purposes only, not spiritual. It’s likely that the word Quaker will only appear in this chapter, as I’m concerned that people will misunderstand our intentions if we refer to them as Quaker. I did want to pay homage to their origin however, and to make the larger point that we intend to use them in a non-spiritual, non-religious way.
So yes, in this context, Tidepool will be like a big Quaker school, but without the “Quaker” and without the “school.”