There was a time when most children in rural America attended one-room schoolhouses, including the Amish and Mennonites. Many years ago, my dear friend Marian taught at one and recalled her students with fondness. The teacher had quite a job on his or her hands, but the older children helped the younger. Then large high schools were erected and students were pooled together. The Old Order Amish and conservative Mennonites realized their children were being exposed to more of the world than they wished. However, when they decided they did not want their children to attend non-Christian high schools or continue beyond the eighth grade, they were prosecuted. Parents spent time in jail.

A huge high school the Amish wished to avoid

Our Amish friend’s father from Lancaster County, PA, and several other Amish men traveled to the Supreme Court in Washington DC to plead their case, citing religious convictions and practicality (their life was farm-centered) as reasons for not wanting their children to continue beyond the eighth-grade nor attend secular public schools. Not armed with attorneys or law degrees, they were successful!

As public schools vacated their one-room schoolhouses, many Amish communities purchased them or built new schools within walking distance to most homes in their District. They are quite charming to see, especially when the children arrive on foot, riding scooters, or in a buggy.

One-room Schoolhouse in Lancaster County, PA

In Seattle from 1972 to 1999, mandatory busing forced even elementary children to spend up to an hour being transported across town; many parents turned to private and parochial schools in an attempt to keep their children closer to home, among other reasons. Busing was labeled a “Well-intentioned Failure.”

No one likes getting stuck inside or behind a school bus

Today, most Amish children attend private one-room schoolhouses with a single teacher, usually an Amish or Mennonite female, or home school. They do not further their education beyond eighth-grade, although vocational classes are sometimes an option. They make good use of the library and might take a workshop pertaining to farming, woodworking, or bookkeeping. They are excellent businessmen.

The Amish are willing to seek help from a medical doctor, but not allow their own children to attend medical or dental school? Yes. Plus a multitude of other careers that require a high school or college degree. What do you think are the advantages of having children discontinue school in the eighth grade, unless taking a vocational class? As good farming land shrinks and fewer Amish plant and harvest, can you see the necessity to have the younger generation around the home and farm? What might be the disadvantages? What are your thoughts on having all the grades together with only one teacher with an eighth grade education herself? What are your thoughts on homeschooling?

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