Amish education


Gene Wintersole photo

The Amish believe strongly in education, but only provide formal education through the eighth grade. They are exempt from state compulsory attendance beyond the eighth grade based on religious principles. Schooling concentrates on the basic reading, writing and math skills, along with vocational training and socialization in Amish history and values.

Many Amish communities provide parochial schools for their children. A local farmer or other landowner will donate land for a school house and the community will assist in building it. Most of the schools are governed by a local school board made up of parents of the children in attendance at that school. They take turns serving on the board. The board deals with issues such as providing remedial work for students who are learning disabled or mentally challenged. They step in to apply discipline to problems as they arise. They set salaries for the teachers and manage the other financial affairs of the school.

Many of the Amish school teachers are young women who are just a few years out of school themselves. They take turns serving as a teacher for a few years before marrying. Some of them do well but it is a difficult challenge for others. Finding capable teachers for the school is one of the bigger challenges of the school board. In some cases a local mother will have to add teaching to her list of responsibilities until they can find an older girl to serve in that capacity. In some communities, a man will take the responsibility of educating the children but it is unusual.

Classes are usually limited to two sections-one for the younger students grades 1-4 and one for the older students grades 5-8. The upstairs of the school house would be divided by a curtain, with one of the teachers handling one group for a while and the other teacher taking the other group. A third teacher may be needed if there are children with special needs. They might meet in the basement. The older students will often assist in educating the younger students.

The children look forward to recess when they can get outside and play. One of the most scenic views of an Amish school is the lot full of girls and boys playing kick ball or softball. They play together in all their games.

Most of the children pack their lunches every day but a special treat is when one or more of the moms join together to provide them with a hot meal. This may happen one or more times a week just for a change. It's an opportunity for the mothers to interact with each other and enjoy some fellowship.

Depending on the community, the children either walk to school or ride pony carts. Some even saddle up their pony and ride to school just like in the wild west. Occasionally, one of the older students will take a full sized buggy from home and pick up other children on their way to school. Another picture to see is when the scholars (as they are called) are walking to and from school in groups.

Amish schools function just like other schools. They become a center of social activity from picnics to parent/teacher meetings to school programs. The scholars like to demonstrate what they have learned whether it is singing, reciting or reading a story aloud.

In some areas, parochial schools aren't available and the students are sent to public schools. This presents a challenge for some of the children since they only speak Pennsylvania Dutch in their homes. In Holmes County there are many Amish children in the East Holmes school district, especially around Berlin.

Education is also a big part of home life, with farming and homemaking skills considered an important part of an Amish child's upbringing. They are given chores around the home at an early age from helping in the kitchen, assisting in doing laundry and cleaning up the house for the girls to barn chores of cleaning out the stalls and feeding the animals for the boys. There's also a turn in the garden during the summer.

The children of Amish and Mennonite families are taught from early in their lives to be productive in work, developing a strong work ethic. Much of this is learned just like any one in the English (non Amish) community learns something-by seeing it modeled.The typical mother in an Amish family will rise early to begin her chores. In the morning it includes tending the garden while it is still cool, starting the wash, helping with the morning milking if they have cows, preparing breakfast, getting the children up for school and fixing lunches, among other things. Throughout the day there is cleaning, ironing, baking, canning and cooking to tend to. There's errands to run to town for, sewing and the list goes on.