By Tim Heston
Waman French remembers driving with his uncle on Long Island one Thanksgiving, pointing out schools on the road—which for the Frenchs wasn’t at all unusual. As Waman’s father put it, the Frenchs are “school people.”
School people go back generations in the French family. His grandfather was a Columbia University professor fully engaged in the progressive education movement. A generation before him the Frenchs taught in one-room schoolhouses in the newly-formed state of Kansas.
For school people, teaching is more than a profession; it’s a distinct approach to life. Waman put it this way: “It’s the idea of being part of an optimistic community that sees education as something more than the act of teaching,” Waman said. “They see a community that aspires to being better, and sees education as the answer to many of those questions we ask in life, both personally and as a society.”
On the road on Long Island, Waman’s uncle pointed out the local sights along with a few of the local schools: a public school here and a prestigious boarding school there, complete with iron-wrought gates and the obligatory ivy climbing the walls.
Then Waman saw another school that didn’t look like any other: tidy, somewhat unadorned, yet not institutional. “That’s a Quaker school. They’re different,” his uncle said in an enthusiastic tone, with no hint of irony or contempt.
That was the first time Waman had heard about Quaker education, but it wouldn’t be the last. He grew up, couldn’t escape the family trade and joined the teaching profession, working at a Friends school in Brooklyn before moving to Atlanta, where he helped launch the Friends School of Atlanta.
Quaker schools were, and are, different, and it’s a difference many school people have embraced, Waman included. I embraced that difference when I toured the school four years ago with my daughter. I talked with teachers and (especially) students about the Quaker difference. These weren’t typical eighth graders. They all exuded a pleasant mixture of kindness, intellectual engagement, empathy, and confidence.
At Friends School of Atlanta, we have teachers, students, parents, and alumni who make a community of “school people”—and in this blog, during the ensuing weeks and months, we’ll tell their stories.
Tim Heston has written for business magazines since 1996. He’s won some awards here and there, but his greatest achievement is being the proud parent of an FSA fourth grader.