A Look At Amish Education
An Amish education consists of eight years in a one room schoolhouse being taught by a teacher with an eighth grade education. On the face of it, this seems like a woefully inadequate and unfair way to prepare Amish children for an adult life as productive members of society.
But to properly judge this system you must take into account the society for which they are being prepared. This society believes that the pathway to heaven is paved with modesty.
Amish believe that a person must be separate from the world, forsake self interest and humbly submit to the authority of the church. This is the only way to be righteous in the sight of God. Any show of pride is sin and must be avoided.
Amish highly distrust what the outside world calls “education”. Public education is designed springboard toward individual advancement, independence, power, and distain for the simple life.
All these ideas are contrary to fundamental Amish beliefs.
Goals of Education
The purpose Amish education is not to promote individuality and critical thinking. The goal is teach children the worth of hard work, ethical living, and how to be a valuable member of the Amish community. Amish education does not seek to create artists, scientists, musicians or actors.
The mission of Amish education is to teach the skills that are needed to lead a useful Amish life while developing the ability to function and do business in the outside world. But it also promotes separateness from the world.
Amish view education as the responsibility of the parents, the school and the entire community acting, as always, under the influence the church.
Amish children are looked upon as a gift from God. From birth until they start walking children are coddled and nurtured by all members of the family. A baby comes into this world completely innocent in the eyes of God. When a baby cries, it is simply a sign that the baby needs attention not correction.
Babies are made to feel secure. They are not held to the family dining schedule but fed as needed. They sit at the table during regular meals so that they are included in this important time of social interaction.
During the period between when a toddler starts walking and when the child starts school, Amish education begins at home. Children speak only the Amish German dialect before they start school. They are taught to be obedient to older members of the family.
They are taught to share with their siblings. They are assigned chores to create a good attitude toward work.
Amish pre-school children are given a lot of freedom to tag along with adults and older siblings as they go through daily chores and routines observing and absorbing knowledge like a sponge.
The Amish have no pre-schools. They believe that is important that very young children are with their parents and learning under their guidance.
At age six, Amish children start first grade. They attend a one room schoolhouse that includes grades one through eight. There are usually 30-35 scholars, many of which are siblings and cousins. School is usually within walking distance of home.
In Amish schools they teach English, reading, writing, arithmetic and history. These are considered all the skills that are needed to lead an Amish life and yet be able to do business with the outside world.
Following the old traditions of one room public schools, classes begin at 8:30am and end at 3:30pm. The day is divided into 4 periods with recess and lunch between.
The day begins with bible reading (without comment), hymn singing, and reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Religion is not taught in school. This is the responsibility of the parents and the church.
At times during the day the teacher will read to everyone.
The teacher and sometimes a teacher’s aide, will move about the room teaching individual grades while the other grades read or prepare for their time of teaching. Some of the scholars will use this time to do assigned chores such as cleaning the blackboard or bringing in firewood.
In this way, the children learn patience, cooperation, and obedience.
At recess and lunch, the children play games and get plenty of exercise. Softball is popular. You will find a backstop and playing field at almost every Amish School.
At the end of the day, the students walk home.
Teachers are chosen from members of the community. A new teacher is usually a young girl. In the male dominated Amish society, men have more job options from which to choose.
The fact that she has only an eighth grade education is looked upon as a plus. It is more important that she is strong in the faith and will stick to the Amish way of thinking as she teaches the children.
Of course, she must have the intelligence and the ability to teach the curriculum and stay ahead of the scholars.
The new teacher first serves a time of apprenticeship with an experienced teacher. When she is ready, she begins teaching at the school where she was hired. This might be at the same school where she apprenticed if the previous teacher is retiring.
For help as she gains experience, she can attend meetings with other local teachers to discuss problems and exchange ideas. Some areas have regional or statewide Amish teachers meetings.
There is also a monthly Amish teacher’s magazine called "Blackboard Bulletin" that contains many articles addressing methods, problems, and solutions.
Since all schools are locally controlled, the teacher must develop teaching methods that conform to the desires of the local school board and church authority. If she can adapt, the job eventually becomes second nature. After all, experience is the best teacher.
The curriculum for an Amish education is chosen by the school board with or without input from the teacher. The subjects stick to the basics--reading, writing, arithmetic and history. There is also some teaching on health and safety.
Old books like the McGuffey Readers are preferred because they were originally published in the mid 19th century. Reprints of these readers are still available today. The Amish also use the “Dick and Jane Series” that was popular during the middle years of the 20th century. These basic reading textbooks are also available today.
In the past to save money, Amish schools have used old books discarded from the public schools. Today’s discarded books are too “modern” for the Amish.
As the number of Amish schools increased the number of acceptable books decreased. Publishers stepped in to fill the demand. For example, Gordonville PA Print Shop offers a “complete selection” of textbooks and teaching tools for Amish schools.
After the eighth grade, Amish education moves from the school, back into the home and community.
Some boys go back to the farm to continue learning agricultural skills. Others might apprentice to Amish shop owners or tradesmen learning skills that will provide a living for them and their future families.
Girls go back home to work with their mothers polishing their homemaking skills. Some might work outside the home for other Amish or keep house for an “English” family.
Working outside the community poses a threat of overexposure to worldly influences and is avoided when possible.
It could be argued that Amish education does not end with the eighth grade but continues into young adulthood.
Is an Amish education adequate?
The Amish believe that separation from the outside world is the only road to salvation. The mission of Amish education is to prepare their children to remain Amish.
Creating a desire and making it easy for their children to leave the church is certainly not what the Amish seek in an education.
Amish education provides a good foundation in the basic 3 R’s and emphasizes the high value of work, community service, and obedience to church. This successfully achieves the goal of preparing Amish kids to become upstanding members of the Amish society while having the skills to do business in the outside world.
From Amish Education to Amish Customs