The Society of Friends has educated children in America since 1689, when William Penn urged his new city, Philadelphia, to open Penn Charter. Over the centuries, Quaker schools became some of the East Coast’s most prestigious educational institutions. That legacy of excellence, though, is now in jeopardy as Quaker schools embrace critical race theory, undermining more than 300 years of commitment to objective truth and betraying the tenets of Quakerism itself.
This “woke” trend has overrun Quaker education in Greater Philadelphia, where about two dozen Quaker K–12 schools and three Quaker colleges operate, from tony Main Line suburbs to the bucolic countryside. Among the 22 regional K–12 schools listed by the Friends Council on Education, 17 have adopted similar diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements. Chester County’s Westtown School, for example, touts programming that will “strive to uncover and undo our collective and individual biases.”
While such vague pronouncements might seem innocent, they reveal an effort to teach students that they’re forever separated by identity and bound by the historical sins associated with those identities. At Abington Friends School, parents are told that their newly “conscious community” will “provide necessary resources to support both institutional transformation and individual self-exploration and growth around issues of difference.” Wynnewood’s Friends’ Central similarly declared that it’s “engaged in an ongoing journey to confront and unlearn bias and racism personally and collectively to become a more equitable, anti-bias school.”
Such language indicates that Quaker schools are engaged in a long-term project to reshape themselves—and their students—and they have begun hiring staff to help make it happen. Friends’ Central, for example, hired Erica Snowden as the school’s new Director of Equity and Multicultural Education. George Floyd’s death showed that “you should never waste a crisis,” Snowden told Suburban Life. The school announced a “DEI audit” and the creation of an “Equity Oversight Council” after the incident in Minneapolis. Snowden emphasized that changes were also coming to classrooms, where students will participate in “workshops on social justice and peaceful protest” and “affinity groups” that segregate students “based on particular aspects of their identity, such as gender, race, or religion.”
This staff-led indoctrination extends into Quaker classrooms throughout the Delaware Valley, infusing race and gender into every subject. In Bucks County’s George School, the new DEI director is implementing a DEI and Social Justice plan that targets every academic department. Germantown Friends School’s three-person DEI team has instituted a program where “[g]roups of faculty and administrators in Early Childhood through Upper School support diversity efforts and help to deepen the diversity conversation across the divisions.” And in Paoli, the Delaware Valley Friends School’s new DEI director is bolstering the involvement of its Black Students Union, Feminism Committee, Latinx Committee, Gay/Straight Alliance, A.S.A.F.E. Committee, and so on in every part of academic life.
As Friends faculty infuse critical race theory, among other woke agenda items, into the daily life of K–12 schools, older students are “disrupting the order” at elite Quaker colleges. Last fall, a student strike erupted on the Haverford and Bryn Mawr campuses after Haverford’s leadership sent an e-mail advising students to avoid violent protests in Philadelphia, where city police had shot a mentally ill black man. In response, students essentially took over the campuses, exerting social pressure on peers to boycott classes out of solidarity and accosting teachers who tried to teach any material other than social justice. At both colleges, students released manifestos with extensive demands, which the faculty acceded to while apologizing for its supposed transgressions.
These demands included reallocating funding to critical race theory projects and changes to curricula to reflect social-justice ideology. In response, even before the student strike ended, Haverford’s biology department had “discontinued classes for the remainder of the semester in order to focus on redesigning the curriculum with equity and inclusion in mind.” As Haverford’s campus newspaper reported, students who wanted to continue their coursework would learn “from classes recorded in-person last year.”
By embracing the woke mentality, Quaker schools are betraying their historical foundation and reason for existence. The defining characteristic of Quakerism, aside from its silent weekly communions, is its rejection of all creeds. The Society of Friends had long abided by founder George Fox’s unifying assertion that “there is that of God in each of us.” Over time, Quaker life became rooted in emulating the values (or public witness) of peace, integrity, simplicity, community, equality, and stewardship. In Friends schools, these beliefs fostered independent thinking by breaking free from traditional education models. Students in Philadelphia’s Quaker institutions were instructed in objective, scientific truths and taught to believe that humans were inherently similar and therefore equal. These schools, according to the late Haverford philosophy professor Rufus Jones, offered “a fearless education where students are challenged to develop an unflinching quality.” They produced pioneers of the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements.
Such principles are no longer sacrosanct in Quaker schools, where faculty and staff now follow a radical creed that tosses human equality aside and promotes resentment. Rather than molding children into confident, industrious members of society, Quaker schools are distorting students’ perspective on humanity.