When the topic of Amish community life comes up, most people ask about religion, culture, and dress code. Few think about Amish education.
And yet, thanks to their tendency to have large families, there are always many schoolchildren in an Amish settlement. This is why the Amish have community-based schools where their children are taught.
In 1972, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Wisconsin v. Yoder that Amish children don’t need to attend school beyond the eighth grade, and this ruling still stands. But what are Amish schools like, and how do they compare with other schools? Keep reading to find out.
What this article covers:
- Do the Amish Go to School?
- What Are Amish Schools Like?
- How Are Amish Schools Different from Other Schools?
- Amish School Rules
- Post-School Amish Education
- Does Amish Education Help Their Youth Find Work?
Do the Amish Go to School?
Yes, the Amish go to school. They have their own schools. One of the universal facts about Amish schools is that formal schooling is only provided through the eighth grade. Basic literacy, arithmetic, and writing skills are taught, along with Amish history and values, and vocational training.
While they do believe in education, they believe that’s enough to prepare their young people for life. They’re exempt from state compulsory attendance beyond that level, on the grounds of religious principles. Most Amish communities establish schools that they build on donated farmland.
What Type of Schools Are Amish Schools?
The Amish education system isn’t referred to as private schooling, but rather parochial (church-supported) schooling. However, it’s a form of private schooling, as it isn’t funded by the government.
How Do the Children Get to School?
Amish children usually walk to their schools, in groups. You may have spotted groups of Amish children walking along a country road, with little girls clutching their faceless Amish dolls, but when their schools are a distance from their homes, they may get to school by pony or even a horse buggy.
Do They Wear a Uniform?
Amish learners don’t wear any type of uniform, but rather go to school in their usual mode of dress. This is, of course, modest and in keeping with their religious values, but it’s not uncommon to see them all walking barefoot. That just proves that in any culture, kids like to go without shoes when they can.
What Are Amish Schools Like?
Whereas public schools will teach American history and to a degree, world history, Amish schools focus on Amish culture and history. And unlike public schools, where there is a separation from religion, Amish schools are subject to the religious principles of the Amish faith.
The school day starts with a prayer, and perhaps a Bible reading. The Amish faith is the backbone of the community, and this is true in the classroom as well. Nothing is taught that would oppose biblical teachings, and no science that conflicts with their views about creation is taught, either.
Not That Different from ‘English’ Schools
Amish schools aren't that different from other schools. They have lessons for study and break times for play. Amish teachers discuss scholars’ progress with parents on parent/teacher evenings. Schools are governed by boards, made up of the school attendee’s parents, who hire teachers and set their salaries.
Just as in ‘English’ schools, Amish kids in school play games and learn new things. They sing and create art. And they practice sports. Many Amish children and teens enjoy softball. Their school day is much like the school day in many public schools.
So, Why Not Just Go to Public Schools?
You may be wondering why, if their schools are so similar, the Amish don’t just let their children go to public schools. Why is there a need for separate Amish education? The reason is pretty simple, and it aligns with their reason for living separately from modern society in the first place.
Like their decision to live in community settlements outside of urban centers, the Amish preference for separate schooling has a deeper purpose. They’re better able to protect the culture from outside influences that would conflict with their values and beliefs.
How Are Amish Schools Different from Other Schools?
Amish children learn the same basic reading and writing skills that all schoolchildren do. They also look forward to recess so they can play with their friends in the schoolyard. But Amish schools have some pretty significant differences that set them apart from public schools, too. Let’s look at them now.
One Classroom for All
An Amish schoolhouse usually consists of one large classroom for all learners. Grades may be grouped, with the lower grades in one group, and the higher grades in another. Often only a curtain separates the groups. But as Amish school populations are much smaller than other schools, it works!
Informal Teaching Arrangement
Teachers don’t need formal teaching qualifications, and it’s rare to find an Amish man teaching in schools. Most Amish teachers are young women from the community, fresh out of school themselves. They take turns teaching before marrying, although local mothers sometimes fill that role, too.
Challenges with Public Schooling
Of course, it’s not always possible to build an Amish school in every community. Only when strictly necessary, the Amish go to public schools outside the community, but as these children speak Pennsylvania Dutch in their homes, they struggle with the English-only school system.
Language of Instruction
Amish children speak Pennsylvania Dutch in the home and throughout the community, but they’re taught basic to intermediate-level English as a second language in Amish schools. This is useful, because they may need to communicate with English-speaking outsiders for work purposes when they reach adulthood.
Amish School Rules
Just like any other educational system, Amish education has rules. While these may differ from state to state, Indiana for example has a booklet of regulations and guidelines it adheres to. In this booklet. The curriculum is outlined, along with the basic requirements for running Amish schools in the state.
The number of attendance days per year that are required, along with discipline standards and vocational/curriculum suggestions, are all outlined in the booklet. Typically, every state has its own list of guidelines to follow, but one rule that all Amish schools follow is that the Word of God trumps all secular educational laws.
The Inspiration Behind Amish Schooling
They take their inspiration from the Bible, in the book of Romans, chapter 12 verse 1. “Be not conformed to the world”. Therefore, the public school system with its progressive ideas, non-creationist teachings, and sex-education classes is avoided. And faith-based Amish education is the schooling of choice.
Post-School Amish Education
The Amish don’t have their own system of tertiary education, but that doesn’t mean they’re opposed to it. Many Amish people have taken correspondence courses to further enrich their skills. Agricultural and woodworking courses appeal, as these are the most popular forms of work in most communities.
Keep in mind, it’s rare that Amish go to college. The vast majority of Amish youth go on to follow in their parent’s footsteps. Young men become farmers or carpenters. And young women marry and become housewives and mothers.
Some community members also learn skills such as bookkeeping, which is helpful if they want to start businesses. But they prefer distance learning or church-based learning programs. College life, with its temptations and liberal environment, isn’t regarded fondly by the Amish.
Does Amish Education Help Their Youth Find Work?
Most Amish don’t work outside their communities. The men usually engage in farming, agriculture, animal husbandry, and woodworking on their own lands. That’s important because they use these skills to support their families and communities.
Amish women, on the other hand, are the caregivers of the community. They tend to marry while still young, and start families of their own soon after. They spend most of their time looking after the children and running the household.
That doesn’t mean that the Amish have no other interests or forms of income, though. In fact, the men’s woodworking skills earn them much praise in the non-Amish community and the same can be said of Amish women’s quilting and basket-weaving skills.
They use items such as their iconic wood harvest basket for gathering their crops of fresh produce for school lunches. The Amish grow much of their own food, so children have access to healthy, unprocessed food. Because Amish schools are funded by the Amish themselves, they’re responsible for everything.
This includes all the materials needed to build the schoolhouse, and everything in it. Even their decorative hanging file folders, practical organizers for Amish schoolroom supplies, are homemade. However, they also sell these crafted items to the outside community, along with a wide range of woven products.
Amish Baskets: Amish Cultural Education
These various skills are a form of cultural education, passed down from one generation to the next. In this way, the culture is preserved, and the Amish can support their families with their traditional crafts. The Amish Baskets initiative is a prime example of this.
Woven by hand with traditional wicker weaving techniques, these gorgeous rustic creations provide income for countless Amish families. So you, too, can furnish your kitchen with an Amish bread box. Or keep your pantry tidy with rattan storage baskets for shelves.
Amish education is often a surprise to outsiders. It prepares the Amish youth for life in the community, more than life in the greater world. Although it may seem limited, it has paved the way for thousands of Amish through the generations, and it will continue to do so for many more.
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