My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Amish Schools, Part Three: What They’re Like

So, what are Amish one-room schools like? 

The first thing to know is that it is an integral part of the Amish religion that formal education ends after eighth grade, around their children’s 15th birthday. This bothers some outsiders, but it’s not my place to either judge or defend.  All I need to say here is that the Supreme Court determined in Wisconsin v. Yoder in 1972 that for Amish children, an eighth-grade education was more than sufficient to equip them for their farming- and craftsmanship-oriented lifestyle.

An Amish child begins first grade at about age seven.  Up until this time, they have spoken only “Dutch” at home (a colloquial form of German unique to the Amish culture).  So the first order of business is learning English, which is the language used in their schools.  Most of them have picked up plenty of English by this time by paying attention to the adults and older kids, but they haven’t spoken it.

Most of the schools have two teachers, and a curtain can be drawn down the center of the room when needed.  One teacher might have grades 1-2 and 5-6, and the other might have grades 3-4 and 7-8.  That way, the older ones can help the younger ones.  But they can also be divided according to how many students are in each grade.

The subjects taught are set down in a booklet called “Regulations and Guidelines for Amish Parochial Schools of Indiana,” published by the Amish leaders to help their local school boards follow the state guidelines.  The curriculum includes:

  • Reading (including phonics for younger students) – at least 4 times weekly
  • Math (including fractions, decimals, and measurements) – at least 4 times weekly
  • English (grades 3-8) – at least twice weekly, plus it’s the spoken language in school
  • Handwriting – at least once a week
  • Spelling – at least twice weekly
  • Geography and History (one semester of each) – at least twice weekly
  • Health and Safety (including buggy safety) – twice weekly for one semester
  • German (the language used at church) – once a week

Students (or as the Amish say, “scholars”) are expected to be well-behaved and respectful.  Parents are encouraged to visit the school frequently, and most schools have a guest book for this purpose.  Parents are expected to dress their children according to the “ordnung” (rules of the local Amish church); the children’s clothes are nearly identical to what their parents wear.

On one of my visits to an Amish school, I was accompanied by a school board member.  The teacher had the children stand up, one family group at a time, and then each child introduced himself by name, starting with the oldest first.  It was very impressive, actually!

Amish schools must be in session for 167 days per year, which is the Indiana state standard, and school days must be at least five hours long.  Their agreement with the State of Indiana requires a 97% daily attendance average, which they usually exceed.  Absences for medical appointments, illness, or “attending places where the Word of God is preached” are allowed, but absences for home chores, farm sales, or vacations are not.

The Amish school system, according to a booklet given to every school board member, says that the goals of the school are to prepare the child for a life of Christian service; the Amish way of life; and the responsibilities of adulthood.  From what I’ve seen, they succeed in those goals very well.

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