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EARLHAM COLLEGE

HUMOR IN AMERICAN ENGLISH

RESPONSE PAPER
RE-THINKING THE ROLE OF PRINCIPLES & PRACTICES
AND QUAKER PHILOSOPHY AT EARLHAM

Teacher: Safia Diarra


Student: Anh Nguyen

September 16, 2015

CONTENTS

Content

Page number

1. INTRODUCTION 3

2. RE-THINKING PRINCIPLES & PRACTICES...5


2.1. Judging the effectiveness of the current Principles & Practices..5
2.2. Identifying the semantic problem of principles in general and at Earlham.6
2.3. Examining the relevance of principles in general and at Earlham...8
2.4. Acknowledging the Quaker philosophy at Earlham...10
2

2.5. Proposing measures to improve the effectiveness of Principles & Practices.13

3. CONCLUSION15
REFERENCES17

1. INTRODUCTION
1.1 HOOK
Embarrassed as I am, I must confess one thing: the day Safia announced that we
would learn about Principles and Practices and think of plans to improve their
effectiveness, I felt very bored! I saw no point in judging the impact of mundane rules
that I even didn't remember clearly and proposing ideas that would never be applied in
reality. However, the more I reflected, the more I realized the depth of the issue. Indeed,
the question about P&P touches many problems regarding the role of principles in any
communities generally.
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1.2 BACKGROUND INFORMATION


According to the Earlham websites, Principles and Practices (P&P) is a statement
of values that aims to guide all Earlhamites (students, faculty and staff). Earlhams P&P
is based on the fundamental values of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
Earlhams P&P includes:
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Respect for persons: accepting and respecting the individual preferences of


everyone; maintaining equality for all people, regardless of their different
backgrounds; basing interpersonal relationships on mutual understanding and
respect.

Integrity: making efforts to maintain the authenticity and sincerity in thoughts


and behaviors; maintaining honesty in academics: pursuing the truth and
avoiding cheating.

Peace and justice: acknowledging conflicts and violence as part of life but
dismissing them as reliable means of maintaining peaceful communities;
advocating toward non-violent resolution of conflicts in local and global
issues; practicing peace and justice in tackling with daily problems.

Simplicity: dismissing unnecessary distractions to focus on crucial values of


life; maintaining a balanced life with available resources.

Community: appreciating the importance of inter-dependence; practicing


openness and restraint; actively seeking for others advice, support and
consultation whenever necessary.

1.3 THESIS STATEMENT


This paper seeks to provide a fair and appropriate judgment of Earlhams Principles &
Practices by acknowledging its failure in deeply impacting Earlhamites and success in clearly
defining Earlhams identity as well as its success in preserving the enduring Quaker philosophy
at Earlham. As the P&P is just the means, not the final purpose, the paper proposes replacing the
question: "What are the measures to improve the effectiveness of P&P?" with a more
fundamental one: "What are the measures to improve the effectiveness of the application of
Quaker philosophy at Earlham?" Rather than attempting to modify the current P&P, the paper
proposes measures to improve the accessibility and clarity of the P&P and more importantly, to
promote the Quaker spirit that the P&P represents.
In this paper, I begin by identifying the shortcomings of the P&P. Second, I identify the
difficulties in developing any sets of principles for any communities in general, thus
acknowledge the specific problems of P&P. Third, I appreciate the success of P&P in preserving
the Quaker philosophy in a concrete statement as well as the maintenance of the Quaker spirit
at Earlham. Forth, I propose several measures to popularize P&P and the Quaker philosophy in
Earlhams community. I conclude by emphasizing the responsibility of each individual in
seeking an appropriate understanding of P&P and actively shaping his/her Earlhams experience
based on the P&Ps spirit.
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2. RE-THINKING PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES


2.1. Judging the effectiveness of the current Principles & Practices
For the P&P, we expect two important roles: first, guide and unite Earlham people to
advocate common values; second, create Earlhams unique identity among myriad colleges and
universities in the USA. However, we have to come to terms with the fact that so far, the P&P
has not accomplished both of these roles.
Firstly, P&P is not serving as the guidance or even the inspiration to unite the members of
our community. Indeed, most Earlhamites I interviewed can't even recite the principles; to make
matters worse, the older they become, the more they forget. Besides, different people interpret
the same principle in multiple ways based on their own experiences and backgrounds. For
example, practicing simplicity may mean either leading peaceful, slow-paced lifestyles or
balancing priorities or being who you are. The definitions vary, and so do Earlhamites
satisfaction with the application of P&P on campus. In fact, in the class discussion, some people
believed that simplicity dominated the campus: they felt a clear sense of peace and balance in the
atmosphere and the inter-relations of people. Meanwhile, some others claimed that simplicitys
unknown at Earlham: competition is everywhere, incited by peer pressure, the medias craze for
vanities like success or fame and even by the overwhelming variety of activities at Earlham.
If one crucial role of P&P is to unite people under the same values, then this is one of many cases
in which P&P causes more confusion and discordance in the community.

Secondly, P&P does not seem to play any vital role in distinguishing Earlham from other
colleges. In fact, Earlham people, whether with or without P&P still generally practice integrity,
respect for people, community, etc. They practice these values not due to the encouragement of
the P&P but rather, due to their own conscience and moral codes. Besides, some of the values
that Earlham consider characteristic of itself like integrity or community, other colleges also
practice. Thus, establishing the P&P not only perplexes current students but also baffles future
college applicants. In a nutshell, P&P fails in both its internal and external roles.

2.2. Identifying the semantic problem of principles in general and Earlhams P&P
a. The semantic problem of principles in general
The Oxford Advanced Learner Dictionary defines principle as moral rule or a strong
belief that influences your actions and a law, a rule or a theory that something is based on.
Every individual and community, whether big like a country or small like a class, has a set of
principles. These principles were written by masterminds and have stood the test of time
throughout decades or even centuries. However, how representative these principles are is
another question.
One of the problems that almost all sets of principles face is the ambiguity of words:
because people interpret the same word in different ways, based on their background and
perspectives, there is no word that successfully depicts all the types of people in any community.
For example, I'm from Vietnam, but if you ask me what distinguishes Vietnamese people from
people of other nationalities, I won't be able to give you a list of characteristics that I firmly
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believe in. To answer the question about my race's identity, I have read many large-scale studies
of prestigious scholars that address the topic. However, the more I read, the more confounded I
feel. The more I know about international friends and their cultures, the more I doubt the
adjectives like "hard-working" and "hospitable", which the scholars employ to describe
Vietnamese people. Those words only are too vague to distinguish Vietnam from other countries,
and of course they can't describe all the people of my country. For example, consider the trait
"hard-working": there are thousands of "good-for-nothing" government officials whose only
meaningful deed they do in the whole day is to make a cup of tea for themselves, and at the same
time, there are tens of thousands of farmers and workers who never relax for a minute, whether
it's in freezing winter or scorching summer. Sometimes, I even can't believe that they all belong
to the same community.
The above-mentioned example of Vietnam convinces me to accept that we have to accept
that the semantic problem, which deals with the varied interpretations of the same word makes it
impossible for any word to accurately represent all types of people in one community.

b. The semantic problem of the P&P at Earlham


This semantic problem, I think, exists in any sets of principles for any organizations,
including the P&P of Earlham. We are so different in both our natures and the ways we perceive
the world. When the question about deleting and adding principles to the list was brought up in
the discussion, there were many interesting ideas. Alex suggested adding compassion because
its lacking on campus. Gabby proposed sustainability because this values was closely related
to many focuses and activities of Earlham. Arya wanted to have accountability because
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everyone needed to have some sense of responsibility. Some, like Sara, even said that we should
develop a separate set of P&P for international students or at least add cultural understanding
to the list. I believe that if we have everyone on campus interviewed, the list will become
incredibly exhausting.

We acknowledge that different people have their own preferences and will suggest
different ideas based on their particular interests. And it's not to mention the fact that words, after
all, are just the representations of ideas. The more experiences I have, the more examples I can
think of to connect to the words. We have to come to terms with the fact that words, however
descriptive they are, mean different things to different people based on their backgrounds and
experiences. In short, with these overwhelming difficulties, I don't believe that any set of words
is descriptive enough to be representative of our school to the extent that we desire.

2.3. Examining the relevance of principles in general and P&P at Earlham


a. The relevance of P&P at current Earlham
The differences in the community, which lead to the above-mentioned semantic problem
is just half of the issue. The other half is the constant change that's natural in this todays society.
In this world, where nothing is certain accept uncertainty, is the P&P sacred yet antiquated rules
created at the colleges establishment, no longer able to characterize a constantly changing
Earlham? How much has Earlham changed during its long history. How similar is Earlham today
to Earlham at its establishment?
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When thinking about these questions, I recall my embarrassing boredom when I heard
about the P&P topic in Seminar, remembering that I was not the only person to feel this way. Sad
as it is, it's human tendency to doubt anything traditional, considering them obstacles on the road
to innovations of tomorrow. One of my interviewee, a Senior who doesn't want to reveal his
name, criticized the value "simplicity" by posing a very interesting hypothesis: he states that peer
pressure and the variety of opportunities on campus are against the principle "simplicity";
practicing "simplicity" at Earlham requires limiting opportunities and discouraging ambitions in
students, which are unrealistic proposals, considering the future of college students themselves.
And thus, he concludes that traditional values have little, if any, application in the present. He
proposes that to best prepare for the constantly-changing future, we should abolish all fixed,
unreasonable principles to prevent any ties to the past. Awkward and blasphemous as this idea is,
it somehow makes sense to me. And I begin to wonder whether Earlham really needs P&P? Are
the purposes of principles exactly as we expect: to define our colleges identity among myriad
colleges in America and to adjust students and teachers behaviors on campus?

b. The relevance of any sets of principles in general


To answer these questions, I try tackling a more fundamental question: if the nature of
these times is change, why should any communities or individuals establish any rules or
principles? Why can't we ignore all the rules to be free to utilize any possibilities that may come?
I find the answer in the book All that is solid melts into air. The experience of
modernity by Marshall Berman. From page 121 to 124, he discussed the paradox in the novel
"The New Eloise" by Jean-Jacques Rousseau: the protagonist Saint-Preux moves from the
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country to the city. At first he describes a world full of contradictions and yet glamor, where
"everything is absurd, but nothing is shocking, because everyone is accustomed to everything",
where "a multitude of new experiences offer themselves; but anyone who wants to enjoy them
must be more pliable than Alcibiades, ready to change his principles with his audience, to adjust
his spirit with every step." However, after a few months, Saint-Preux "begins to feel the
drunkenness that this agitated, tumultuous life plunges you into" He writes in the letter to his
girlfriend at home: "Of all the things that strike me, there is none that holds my heart, yet all of
them together disturb my feelings, so that I forget what I am and who I belong to." I stopped at
this line, suddenly realizing that I have mostly misunderstood the role of principles in general.
Indeed, principles are created not for the superficial purpose of distinguishing a person from
other people, an organization from other organizations, or a college from other colleges. Their
most fundamental role is to serve as something very sacred and deep-rooted that will remain
unchanged despite all changes outside to remind people of who they are and to where they
belong.
2.4. Acknowledging the Quaker philosophy at Earlham
a. The P&P preserves the Quaker philosophy
Much of the debate over P&P at the class was devoted to finding replacements for the
existing values. However, when I carefully consider the factors like the semantic problem and the
relevance of principles to the current times, the argument over the choice of words becomes
second in priority if not trivial. Indeed, what truly matters is not the words but the spirit behind
the words: the values "respect for people", "integrity", "peace and justice", "simplicity",
"community" together evoke the representation, not of Earlham people now, yesterday or
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tomorrow, but of a root that has been treasured since the establishment of our college: the
Quaker philosophy.
b. The Quaker philosophy at Earlham today
To better understand how this Quaker "root" impacts Earlham, I browsed through many
documents which draw the relation between Quakerism and our college. What impressed me the
most is the Earlham College Convocation on March 3, 1999:"With Relation to Time and
Eternity" by Professor Paul A. Lacey. (The convocation can be found online at the address:
http://legacy.earlham.edu/~laceypa/lacey_convo.html) With interesting examples of Quaker
teachers, she thoroughly addresses very crucial questions: "Is there a peculiarly Quaker form or
style of education?"; "How different is a Quaker college from other institutions" and how
Earlham serves to be "an illustration of the ethos a Quaker college might evidence".
What makes me surprised is that 16 years after the convocation was written, I still can
easily find in Earlham very typical examples of practices cited by Paul to prove the application
of Quaker spirit at Earlham. First, regarding the Quaker philosophy in the campus life, Paul
mentioned "egalitarian aspirations", "commitment to multiculturalism" and especially "ethic of
care": "faculty, student affairs staff and others such as clerical and maintenance personnel care
about students". These characteristics are still ubiquitous on campus: we students both have them
in our heart and consciously or unconsciously improve them when we come here. We still do
exactly what Paul observed in Earlham students 16 years ago: "As students sense this ethic of
care, they begin to care for one another."
Likewise, in academics, the Quaker philosophy also proves influential: they impact not
only the courses but also the topics discussed, the attitude of teachers to students and vice versa
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and the atmosphere of the class and our understanding of the discipline's purpose and meaning.
This semester, I took two classes in history and literature. Both give me enlightening
perspectives about the subjects. Indeed, the history class, "JPNS 472:History of Modern China",
doesn't repeat the traditional approach of remembering important events and influential people; it
analyzes themes such as rebellions and revolutions, gender relations through the various voices
of leaders, activists, intellectuals, workers, artists, etc. Likewise, in the literature class, "JPNS
140: Mapping East Asia", we compare and contrast the writings of authors with different
backgrounds and perspectives; realizing the differences and similarities in judging the same issue
helps us re-conceptualize our understanding of fundamental values like culture and self-identity.
The feature that both these classes share is the consideration of myriad voices; and this attitude
also lies in the heart of Quaker's philosophy of education, as mentioned by Paul: "To study
history not as a series of heroic wars and conquests, nor as the lives of great men, but as an
inquiry into why wars happen and how they are brought to an end" and "to read literature with
attention to a multiplicity of voices and a widened understanding of humans' conditions."

It's obvious that what remains unchanged at Earlham through history is this Quaker
philosophy. This philosophy influences both the campus life and the academics. The fact that this
spirit is preserved wonderfully at Earlham by a community whose majority are non-Quakers
proves the validity and contagiousness of the Quaker philosophy: people practice it not because
they must obey some common rules but because they are convinced by it.
2.5. Proposing measures to improve the effectiveness of Principles & Practices
a. Re-thinking the original question
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Though P&P fail to become popular and influential in Earlham, they succeed in
preserving the abstract Quaker philosophy in concrete words. And this Quaker philosophy itself
accomplishes the two expected responsibilities of the P&P: first, it serves as a guidance for
people and our community, connecting them in both spiritual and practical aspects; second, it
creates the unique identity of Earlham among myriad colleges in the USA.
As the P&P is just the means, not the final purpose, I propose that we should replace the
question: "What are the measures to improve the effectiveness of P&P?" with a more
fundamental one: "What are the measures to improve the effectiveness of the application of
Quaker philosophy at Earlham?"
b. Proposing necessary measures
Considering the aforementioned analysis, I believe that we should first concentrate on
helping Earlham better acknowledge the Quaker philosophy in P&P as well as in Earlham life.
However, in popularizing the philosophy, we shouldn't fall into the trap of imposing theoretical
doctrines of the Friends on the community. In fact, when my interviewees were asked about P&P,
none of them could remember all the principles; however, all mentioned the "Quaker spirit" as
something very ubiquitous and unique about Earlham. And though none of them clearly defined
the values of Quakerism, they all easily listed out the practices at Earlham influenced by it: the
peaceful surroundings, with the simple architecture, the woods and the green The Heart; the
practice of silence before meetings, the involvement of everyone in the decision-making process,
the way we address each other by first names, the ethics of care ubiquitous on campus and so on.
Many Earlham alumni told me that after four years, this spirit, intangible yet powerful as it is,

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absorbed into their beings. And even though they may forget the words of P&P, the spirit lingers,
becoming an indispensable part of their identities
Back to the original question about improving the effectiveness of P&P, I still believe that
the more urgent step, is not adjusting the available list of principles but taking pragmatic
initiatives to make the list less ambiguous and more accessible by including typical examples in
the explanations of the principles. For instance, one proof of the sense of community at Earlham
is that it doesnt have and also doesnt advocate Greek life; another proof of peace and justice
is that Earlham has many clubs and organizations that advocate for local and global causes.
When Earlhamites see their favorite activities reflected in the P&P, they will no longer consider
the P&P a distant list arranged by people at the top but something more familiar built up from
observations of students' activities. This requires the P&P to stay updated. The essential values
may stay unchanged, however the explanations must always be adjusted appropriately so that not
only the examples but also the language must create an immediate feeling of familiarity to any
Earlhamites.
When it comes to improving the impact of P&P, we should not ignore the importance of
popularizing the list. This does not only mean having the listed values appear repeatedly in
multiple occasions but also means making these values accessible to Earlham people. Ideally, the
explanations should be concrete and memorable and should create some connection among these
values, so they together form a "big picture", an intangible yet fundamental "spirit" of Earlham
that anyone can feel and incorporate into his/her being.

3. CONCLUSION
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3.1. Restating the thesis


In an attempt to examine the effectiveness of P&P, the paper acknowledges its failure in
impacting Earlhamites and characterizing Earlhams identity as well as its success in preserving
the Quaker philosophy at Earlham. The paper has briefly tackled the question about the semantic
problem, the relevance and the fundamental philosophy on which the P&P is based. From the
analysis of the aforementioned issues, the paper proposes replacing the question: "What are the
measures to improve the effectiveness of P&P?" with a more fundamental one: "What are the
measures to improve the effectiveness of the application of Quaker philosophy at Earlham?" The
paper also suggests several measures both to help people better appreciate the values of P&P and
improve the effectiveness of P&P at Earlham.
3.2. Final thoughts
The P&P itself states: This document speaks of the Earlham community in terms of "we";
however, we recognize that this is not a homogenous "we." As an educational community, we are
a changing group of diverse persons, bringing to this institution a variety of identities, as well as
a great range of personal and cultural values, experiences, and perspectives. [] We welcome
this diversity, and the strength and transformations it makes possible. Indeed, it is this diversity
of Earlham that creates the difficulties for popularizing the application of P&P, but it is also this
diversity that maintains the life of the Quaker spirit at Earlham by constantly producing
seemingly conflicting perspectives about the philosophy, thus constantly challenging,
transforming and strengthen it.
Therefore, although the Principles & Practices, so far, has not accomplished the expected
roles, we have the right to be confident of the preservation of the strong Quaker spirit at
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Earlham. The discussion about P&P should not be restricted only to the available list of
principles. Of course, we should do everything within our power to improve the impact of P&P.
However, it is unreasonable to ask a list of words, however clear and accessible it is, to define
our school's identity and to guide our thoughts and actions. The impact of P&P depends partly on
the list and initiatives to popularize it and partly on each individual's efforts to understand it and
incorporate it into their life.
In other words, we may share with each other the belief and practice of the Quaker
philosophy. However, each of us will create our own principles and practices, based on the
original one. Our understanding of P&P, of Earlham and of ourselves in senior year should be
and have to be different from that in freshman year: still the same words, yet greatly enriched
and deepened by our exposure to various experiences.

REFERENCES
Earlham College. Principles and Practices
Paul A. Lacey. (1999). With relation to time and eternity
Marshall Berman (1982). All that is solid melts into air. The experience of modernity, 110-154.

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