September 21st is United Nations World Peace Day and a school for whom the day has special significance is the well-known Quaker school, Bootham School in York.
To mark this special day of peace there will be a ‘Peace vigil’ along the main road of Bootham, involving students and staff carrying a sixty foot banner reading “United Nations International Peace Day”. Jonathan Taylor, Headmaster, outlined his plans for the day. “The Quaker commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflict has particular resonance today. Given the current Syrian refugee crises we wish to put the School’s resources at the disposal of refugees, as far as our capacity allows. We will seek to work hand in hand with an appropriate local and/or Quaker initiative”.
Founded by Quakers back in 1823, Bootham has been school to many notable peace workers and social reformers, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Philip Noel-Baker whose own Nobel medal was given to the School and which will be on display for students to see. Yvette Cooper speaking recently in the House of Commons during the refugee debate she began by referencing Philip Noel Baker, who was a former Labour MP. She reminded Members that on 21 November 1938 Noel Baker addressed The Commons on the issue of the treatment of German Jews following Kristallnacht, saying that his proposal of immediate sanctuary for 10,000 people received the full backing of the House.
Bootham School, like the other Quaker Schools, educated Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and again, in the 1950’s, Bootham took in Hungarian refugees following the Soviet invasion. One past pupil from that era wrote to the School last week recalling how he helped prepare dormitory accommodation at the School for the Hungarians, one of whom later went on to study medicine with him at Edinburgh University.
Jonathan Taylor concluded, “Our vision is to give students a sense that the world might one day be different and that they could have a role in making it a more peaceful place.
The students are in an environment where every day attempts are consciously made to promote peace and resolve conflicts peacefully. The values of Quakerism underpin the whole way of life in school: truth and integrity, equality, simplicity and peace are key. Many values deriving from Quaker principles are accepted as standard practice in most good schools, not least affirming the worth of every person. A community of tolerance and understanding enables young people of all faiths and races to learn who they are, and to value this, while valuing difference in others. Students are challenged to think independently, developing into purposeful young people with a powerful sense of social responsibility and conscience.”