The Fighting Quakers: An Oxymoron

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As an American high school, there are things Friends must provide students to give us a traditional experience—without homecoming, yearbooks, and pep rallies, one would feel cheated. But aside from being a high school, Friends is also a Quaker institution. To live up to this label, there are testimonies and values to which our community has also committed itself.

On the whole, Friends tries its best to incorporate these two somewhat incongruent aspects of our identity. We exemplify the Quaker values of equality and stewardship in our new query-based dress code and our Maryland Green School status. We practice Meeting for Worship and Meeting for Business regularly, and we use the process of Quaker consensus to select our student leaders. The school does not enforce belief in God or prayer, which allows students of all kinds to experience and enjoy these Quaker traditions.  

However, there are many aspects of Friends School that are decidedly not Quaker. Prom, for example, violates the testimonies of simplicity and equality, as students obsess over their appearance and the price of their outfit. Our new auditorium, and the millions of dollars that went into building it, is very nice, but strays from the aesthetic of “simple design” that was promoted to me when I toured Friends.

The area where Friends falls shortest in their commitment to the Quaker values is our athletics department. The most relevant example of this is last month’s Rivalry Day. In the week leading up to this day of athletic competition between Park School and Friends, teachers and students alike were imploring us to “Ruin the Bruin” (The Bruin being the Park mascot.) We even got it printed on shirts.

This rivalry was contrived by the administration of a school who is dedicated to diminishing violence and animosity in our community. True Quakers would never tell people to “ruin” anything, especially not our peers at a school that is perhaps the closest ally Friends has in Baltimore. As Ms. Schmaljohn puts it, “We cannot elevate ourselves by denigrating someone else, even playfully. I think as human beings we are hardwired to be really tribal. We want to get together in groups and protect our group and fight against other groups and to have friendly competitions. But all that does is reinforce the tribe.”

Friends has been increasingly adopting this tribal mentality, with organizations such as “Quaker Nation” coming to the forefront of our school’s environment.

What do Quakers have to say about athletic competition in general? Friends School’s Faith and Practice handbook says, “‘Doing one’s best’ to express all one’s talent and potential is very different from ‘being the best’ in a socially competitive sense. Students, faculty, and parents are encouraged to aim their efforts towards ‘doing one’s best’ rather than ‘being the best.’”

It is this conviction that Friends strayed from in celebrating Rivalry Day. Ms. Schmaljohn adds: “Most Quakers I know love sports, loved playing sports. I don’t think there’s anything inherently ‘un-quaker’ about sports. Its how we engage it. I think that’s what Quakerism invites us to do across our lives. To say this is something we’re going to do, but how do we do it? What spirit are we going to do it in?”

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