Education: at the heart of Quaker concern for the social order?

Reading the Foundations today it is easy to miss how central education was to how Quakers at that time thought about social change and the good society. Education was how “full development of personality” was to be ensured for everyone; how race, sex and class barriers were to be overcome; and how everyone was to be enabled to play a full part in the social order.

  • Many of the Committee members were deeply involved in education – including working-class adult education – and saw this as one of the few areas in which Quakers could reasonably claim to have been pioneers (through the Adult School movement and earlier pioneers such as Joseph Lancaster and William Allen). John Wilhelm Rowntree, brother of a member of the WSOC, had been deeply involved in this and co-wrote a history of the Adult Schools (published in 1903).
  • Equality of opportunity in education was one concern that came through from Quarterly Meetings in response to the Foundations – including equality of opportunity among Quakers themselves.
  • The foundation of Woodbrooke as a centre for Quakers to study their own tradition is part of this movement.
  • Today, the Quaker Schools carry on some aspects of this work. Woodbrooke provides general courses for Quakers and others, while the Centre for Postgraduate Quaker Studies also gives opportunities for more advanced courses. The option to study Quaker Values in Education is especially relevant here.