Educating the Amish
“You’ve got to be kidding,” folks have said when I mention the Amish graduate from formal education at eighth grade. Why? Because the Amish believe higher education separates children from God, family, and community. Their private schools, often built on the edge of an Amish farm, prepare scholars (students) to succeed in Amish culture.
Amish parents control their schools and elect a school board of three males to oversee operations, including hiring. The community supports its school through taxes collected by the board’s treasurer.
The first language of Amish children is Pennsylvania Dutch. They know enough English to be ready to enter first grade. They also learn German at home from their parents and during evening devotionals.
Scripture reading, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and singing begin each school morning. One-room schoolhouses brim with activity, especially around Christmas. An average of 30 students attend one school. They study English, German, spelling, penmanship, mathematics, geography, and history. Classes are taught in English.
In most cases the scholars are neighbors. In some families, siblings might have the same teacher, usually a young woman, for all eight years. By the time I graduated from high school I bet I’d been taught by 40 to 50 teachers.
After graduation, instruction continues as Amish young men learn farming skills or apprentice in woodworking or manual trades. Young women learn the art of parenting, managing a household, and gardening.
Our Amish friend’s father, Sam, who is from Lancaster County (pictured below) faced prosecution for refusing to send his children to public high school in the 1950s, as did many, including Amish ministers. In 1972 the United States Supreme Court granted exemption for Amish and related groups from state compulsory attendance beyond the eighth grade. (Wisconsin v. Yoder).
I’m impressed by the caliber of writing when reading The Connection and Family Life, which are two Amish publications. Another example of writing excellence is Amish church-member and author Linda Byler. She told me she has an eighth-grade education, but is an avid reader.
Did you know popular magazines such as Readers Digest and Ladies’ Home Journal are written at an eighth grade level, as are most newspapers? Hemmingway rarely used words of more than two syllables. Do you think skills learned at home prepare us more for adulthood than traditional schooling? Does reading continue to educate and embellish our lives even after we’ve left the schoolroom?