The most difficult moment for me since the talk’s cancellation came after speaking at an American Friends Service Committee event. A Friends’ Central student approached me, sharing that she had come imagining a “monster” based on what she was told about Palestinians. She was genuinely surprised to see that was not the case and felt comfortable approaching me. It took a lot for me to restrain my tears.
At our pedagogical best Friends schools teach young people skills of reflection and inquiry; to ask critical questions; to seek insight and information; to listen with respect to others; and to share their own thinking in the context of a learning community. These skills are particularly focused in a Quaker school’s meeting for worship where students and faculty can express their deepest beliefs in a setting designed for support and growth around our disagreements. These are practices that we know serve students well after they leave our schools. These skills affirm students’ identities and their roles in the world and serve them well as they go forth to mend a broken world.
Friends Schools were founded by Quakers as a path to equality, ending injustice and furthering knowledge about the world. Quakers have a long history in support of justice in Palestine/Israel dating back to the establishment of the Ramallah Friends School in 1869. Quaker decision making is done through a discernment process rooted in values such as peace, integrity, community, and equality. We do not see those values reflected in Friends Central’s decision to disinvite Dr. Atshan.
On Friday, an assembly was disrupted by about 30 students wearing black and chanting, “Let him speak,” led by the teachers, parents said.
Friends’ Central School in Wynnewood has called off a talk by a Swarthmore College professor who is a Palestinian Quaker after receiving complaints from the school community that he is an anti-Israel activist. The cancellation prompted students to protest twice this week.