12.19.2010

Middle School Affirmations

Over the last four months, I've been coordinating a middle school religious education program at my Meeting. We have three boys in 6th & 7th grades (one is my son) who make up the class, and three teachers who were willing to take turns preparing & leading the lessons. It’s been a delight for me.

A few months ago, I wrote about what I want our kids to get out of First Day School. I really think we made progress this fall. At the end of August, all six of us met to set goals, discuss our expectations, and suggest ways to make the program work for all of us.
Here is the list of what the adults want for kids in FDS:
  • To know what Quakers do
  • To know about the Bible
  • To know what you believe
  • To know some Quaker history
  • To make friends
  • To develop good, strong values
  • To want to come to FDS
  • To feel part of the meeting community
Here is the list of what the kids want out of FDS:
  • Good snacks
  • To want to/to be excited to come
  • To be able to read what you want
  • To know who/where God is
  • Fun stuff – games, clay, trust games
  • Be more active
  • Drawing
  • Make things for meeting
If you look closely, there’s some overlap in those lists, but at the very least they are not mutually exclusive. You can have good snacks and learn Quaker history in one day, trust me.

We had a monthly service project, serving brunch at the Martin de Porres Hospitality House on the fourth Sunday of each month.

On the day of SF Meeting’s fifth Sunday Extended Meeting for Worship, we held a Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Bicycling. We rode along the Bay Trail and stopped for worship near Coyote Point. It was a gorgeous day and just being outside felt holy to me. One highlight was the brief discussion afterwards where we talked about why riding our bikes felt more worshipful than being on one of the loud electric scooters that went by us.

We had a section on George Fox. Starting during worship-on-the-grounds at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, we read Friend by Jane Yolen. The next couple of weeks we talked about the origins of Quakerism, the role of Quaker journals, and the spread of Quakerism through the world – all tangents that rose up out of our discussion of Fox. And one week we unpacked the George Fox Song and talked about what each line means and why each section is an important truth about Quakerism.

We had another section on what to do in meeting for worship. One week we discussed the effects of meditation on the brain. One week we learned about Lectio Divina as another way of looking at reading in meeting. That week we also had visitors from the 6th & 7th grade class at the local Unitarian Church, and we talked about the differences and similarities of our two groups.

We had a series of discussions about current events – the flap over “the mosque at Ground Zero” was big right when we were starting, so we talked about religious persecution and tolerance, and one of our teachers went to Jordan for a Habitat for Humanity build during this fall and she talked about her trip, and then last week they wrote letters to the President about the war in Afghanistan.

This morning we held an evaluation session. We looked at which of our goals we had achieved and how we might improve the curriculum for another time. The kids said you really couldn’t make it better without it just becoming like camp where you don't learn anything. But they would like to do more trust games and to learn more about modern Quakers. They would like to read something about Quakers that was written by someone who didn’t like the Quakers – what would they say about Quakers? (I think this would be very interesting – if you know of anything like this that’s readily accessible, let me know.)

The thing they liked best was the snacks. It is my personal opinion that middle school religious education is already overcoming enough barriers – a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. These particular kids eat very healthy diets the rest of the week.

However, today was the last day of our group because two thirds of the kids and one of the teachers are moving to South Africa next month. Hence today’s evaluation. We also wrote affirmations for all the members of our group. Here are the affirmations I received:
  • Thank you for being willing to teach so we don’t need to go to meeting.
  • Thank you for always having a enjoyable lesson planned.
  • Thank you for teaching and the donuts.
I really appreciated the honesty and curiosity and imagination that these boys brought to our time together. I will really miss the class. In the future, the one kid who is staying has chosen to go to meeting for worship every week rather than join the little kids or have a separate class all by himself. I support that decision and we’re looking at other ways of continuing his religious education.

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6 Comments:

Blogger cubbie said...

i was so excited for you all when you shared all that today. i'm really excited about what the committee is doing.

12/20/2010 12:03 AM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

That's a wonderful post and sounds like a wonderful First Day School program!

12/20/2010 12:13 AM  
Anonymous Jay T. said...

Robin

Thanks for writing this experience up! It can be a reference and an inspiration.

I did some anti-Quaker searches for you. Didn't find much satisfaction, but a bit.

Have you ever seen this bibliography?
http://www.qhpress.org/cgi-bin/rmoore/antiq.html

From p. 262 to 289 of Barbour, H. & Roberts, A. (eds.) Early Quaker Writings there's an exchange between Richard Baxter and James Nayler that I haven't read for decades, if ever. That's one of several excerpts from Baxter's anti-Quaker writings.

It takes a lot of work to bring 17th century English vocabulary and sentence structure alive for middle schoolers, but it can be done. I started loving Shakespeare when I was in 8th grade.

I was looking for something more contemporary. On my way to a quote from Thomas Merton, I found http://apprising.org/category/richard-foster/ and http://www.wayoflife.org/files/e1207f7e24600d728a623ba74930d2c4-19.html

I found a text viewer at Google Books for The Seven Storey Mountain. In the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999 edition, on pages 127 and following, Merton said that he wasn't satisfied by Friends, but the experience he relates was brief.

Rich Acetta-Evans quotes that section at http://home.netcom.com/~radashe/messages.htm

I hope some of this helps.

12/20/2010 10:34 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thanks cubbie and LSM - it has been fun working with my co-teachers and these boys over the last few months. I can't emphasize that enough. I really like middle school kids, I realize more and more. Most of the time anyway.

Jay - Thank you! I know there are some hyperbolic anti-Quaker tracts from the early days, but I'm not sure I have access to them here. And I don't really think that's what the 6th grader had in mind when he said that, but it would be good to have them as a counterpoint. Perhaps it is a sad thing that Quakers aren't offending anyone enough now to have negative things written about us. Although I read something by a fundamentalist Christian once that was all about the horrible Quaker influences of Richard Foster. I'm not sure where I found it.

12/20/2010 11:28 PM  
Blogger BarbaraB said...

Hi Robin, it was fun reading this. Our FDS is starting to get off the ground, and our very few children are either toddlers or in 4th/5th grades. Does your Meeting do anything different with 5th Sundays? We are considering what we might do.

12/22/2010 10:41 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Hi Barbara, San Francisco Monthly Meeting has extended waiting worship from 9:30 until 11 on fifth Sundays. And we have child care the whole time, but our kids come in the last 15 minutes those days. That may not be what you had in mind...

12/23/2010 1:01 AM  

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