Amish school house
Part four: Education at Home & In School
In the traditional family, much of the education took place at home, even the learning of an occupation. In rural America, formal education took place in the one-room school. The Amish resisted the move to large consolidated schools, and have stuck to their community-controlled one-room schoolhouses.
In 1972, a ruling by the United States Supreme Court decided that the Amish could not be forced into compulsory high school education, and sanctioned their system of one-room schools and education through the eighth grade.
In Pennsylvania, nearly twenty years before this ruling, a plan had been worked out whereby the Amish child leaves school after grade eight, but receives some vocational schooling once a week. A journal or diary is usually kept on his or her work at home and on the farm. This "education by doing," after formal schooling is completed, has been referred to as the "school without walls."
Children learn about the operation and techniques of farming, or the trade of their father. Girls work with their mother and sisters. Hostetler and Huntington relate in their book Children In Amish Society some of the tasks children perform and then write about in their working diaries...
From Chester’s Diary: Monday--Checked the meadow fence for (electrical) shorts. Shovel-harrowed garden and concreted chicken house.
Tuesday--Chopped wood and cleaned boards.
Wednesday--Made a new door for cow stable in the afternoon.
Thursday--Went to school in forenoon. Filled silo in afternoon.
From Rebecca’s Diary:
Monday--I helped with the Monday work (washing and ironing) and daily chores.
Tuesday--I was mending in the A.M. and unloading wood in the P.M. and culling chickens in the eve.
Wednesday--Sewed in the A.M., washed eggs in the P.M.
Thus, these 14-year-olds are learning the skills important to them when they own their own farm, or run their own household. Perhaps some children miss going to school, but most are probably quite happy to be working at home or on the farm.
Authors Hostetler and Huntington conclude that...
"These young people are learning not only how to do the necessary work but also when to do it, how to incorporate each task with other necessary activities, and how work functions both within their family and within the wider community. They learn to enjoy the work and see it as creative, both in the immediate results and in its contribution to the comfort and happiness of others... The Amish obtain greater emotional satisfaction from manual labor than do most public school graduates."
In an Amish family I knew, the father made many references to farming and his enjoyment of the work involved with it. He said that being indoors was like being in prison, and he could not imagine himself going to college. He noted that the 15 year-old hired boy who often helped him treated work like play. Boys start helping father at an early age. Indeed, some Amish boys start plowing at the age of eight.
Dr. Donald Erickson, in testifying before the Supreme Court, made some remarks concerning vocational training that are of interest.
"Many public educators would be elated if their programs were as successful in preparing students for productive community life as the Amish system seems to be. In fact, while some public schoolmen strive to outlaw the Amish approach, others are being forced to emulate many of its features."
Erickson thought the learning-by-doing approach was the ideal system for preparing the Amish child for life as an adult in the Amish community. "I would be inclined to say they do a better job in this than most of the rest of us do."
The Amish see many evils in the public schools, which is why they prefer their own private ones. In 1965, one Amish writer listed some of the things which concern parents about public schools, including being foreign to the Bible’s teachings; the appropriateness of companions, environment, and teachers; evolution, atheism, patriotism, and the quickly changing trends away from ideas important to the Amish. Today other concerns like the quality of education, drugs, and violence would certainly be added to the list. Amish schools serve to protect children from these influences.
Amish parents are involved with what goes on in school, and are welcome to stop in for unannounced visits. The school is owned, operated, financed, and directed by the parents. The Amish saw modern schools as a threat to the values the family, church, and community try to instill in young people. Indeed, they worried over the result when this educational function was being taken away from them by the government. As author Kraybill noted, "The Amish felt that high school education would separate children from their parents, their traditions, and their values." Published with permission from www.Amishcountrynews.com
Amish children playing outside of a one room school house
Part 5 of this Amish series continues next Friday