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Reasons for Amish Schools
Why do the Amish have their own schools? These people want to give their children the instruction they need to earn an honest living and to lead a Christian life. Amish families came to America several centuries ago to seek the religious liberty denied them in Europe. Because tradition is a sacred trust to them, it is a part of their religion to uphold the ideals of their ancestors. And it is vitally important to them that these principles be maintained in the future.
Is religion taught in Amish schools? Each morning, devotions are held. The Bible is read and the Lord's Prayer repeated in unison. But the Amish want the Bible to be taught and interpreted only in the home and church.
However, as one Amish schoolteacher reflected, religion is taught all day long in the lessons and on the playground: in arithmetic, by accuracy and no cheating; in language, by learning to say what we mean; in history, by humanity; in health, by teaching cleanliness and thriftiness; in geography, by broadening one's understanding of the world; in music, by singing praises to God; on the school grounds, by teaching honesty, respect, sincerity, humility, and the Golden Rule. The goal of Amish schools is to prepare children for usefulness by preparing them for eternity. The Amish concept of an ideal school is one where children's God-given talents are encouraged to increase and their intelligence developed.
Responsibility and Respect Taught
At school, children are to be further prepared for the Amish way of living and the responsibilities of adulthood, which are instilled at home as well. In both settings they are taught to become a society of useful, God-fearing, and law-abiding citizens.
Reading, in this writer's view [coauthor Sara E. Fisher], is the most important subject, since it is the foundation of every other school subject. Since English is not the native tongue of Amish children, it takes special effort to teach English word meanings, comprehension, and pronunciation skills. Teachers usually begin by teaching phonics, so that pronunciation is simplified and, when once understood, becomes a lifetime asset for learning new words. Word comprehension, then sentence comprehension, and finally story comprehension are worked at so that pupils can read a story and form a picture of what the story is about.
Enthusiasm for reading means better understanding in arithmetic thought problems, better grades in writing essays, more interest in geography and history, and better spelling. Pupils who learn to read well grow up to be men and women who are able to appreciate good books, understand instructions on a label, and read and understand the Word of God.
It is important to train children to be observant. It is an everyday need, a habit that will help them all through life. They need to be inspired to open their eyes and see what there is to see, to keep an ear ready for the thousands of meaningful sounds breaking around them, to train their noses to identify hundreds of smells.
Competition Is Not Stressed
What goals and assumptions do Amish teachers work with? Some teachers have charts on the schoolroom wall with gold paper stars showing perfect scores. These charts can be an incentive for the child to try harder to have a perfect score. However, while these stars are a way of rewarding intelligence, they are also a way of displaying ignorance. A child who senses that she has been labeled a failure often proceeds to meet that expectation. At some time or another, children need to learn to work without being rewarded, to learn that achievement in itself is a reward. Competition has its place in the classroom, but too often it is overdone and proves unfair to the less fortunate pupil. A goal each pupil can work for is to make a higher score than he did the day before.
Since written messages are the main means of communication among Amish families, it is important that the school child be taught to have legible handwriting. Due to the lack of telephones in their homes and limited transportation facilities, the Amish rely on the postal system to relay birth announcements, invitations to weddings, quiltings, reunions, barn raisings, and more. Writing legibly is even more important than proper English, since Amish people understand each other's "Dutchified" phrases quite well.
Before children can appreciate arithmetic, they must be taught its value as a workable and necessary skill. After they get out of school, they will use math to count fruit jars or corn shocks, measure baking powder or calf feed, figure how much paint is needed to paint a room, and the amount of fertilizer and seed corn needed for a ten-acre field. They will need to know how to keep farm records, income and expenses, and how to compare food prices in order to shop economically.
Lumbermen, carpenters, and masons need to measure lumber, compute accurately, and give fair estimates. Books must be kept and records filed systematically. Our changing times demand mathematical records in many occupations. Therefore, getting pupils to realize the importance of math in their futures is a major priority for a teacher.
More Differences with Public Schools
One Old Order woman reflected in the Old Order Amish publication, Blackboard Bulletin/ about the public school education some of her relatives were receiving. "My nieces and nephews are of average intelligence, yet one of them is in the seventh grade and cannot do simple arithmetic problems without the aid of a calculator. A ninth grader copies word for word from the encyclopedia to make reports and cannot write a book report that's not a paraphrasing of the book jacket. The teachers do not collect or correct even half of the homework assignments.
"Courses range from learning about computers to experimenting with rockets in air chambers. Homework assignments include watching certain TV programs. Then when these young people come to visit my husband and me, they are bored because we don't have anything interesting to do!
"Last summer one niece learned how to bandage a cow's foot, how to help with the feeding in the barn, and how to prepare and can vegetables. By her teacher's comments and class placement, she was in a remedial group because of 'lack of interest.' This year she is taking home economics (sewing and cooking) and plans to go for vocational technical classes in agriculture next year. Hopefully with encouragement and help from parents and teachers, she will get away from copying and calculators and use her mind. "I have friends whose children attend parochial school, and grade for grade they are further advanced than my relatives who attend public school.
"I think the parochial schools are good, and hope my children can attend one of them and receive their education there."
Group Identity Is Reinforced
Standards of dress are very important to the Amish society, as they immediately declare identity to members of the group as well as to outsiders. Parents are admonished to have their school children adhere to the accepted standards of dress. Teachers need to see that they are carried out on the school grounds by reminding boys to wear their hats on the playground and keep their shirt collars buttoned in the schoolroom. Older girls are encouraged to wear their coverings to school.
In Lancaster County, one school board has forbidden the use of baseball gloves and hard balls at school. By the children's playing with a sponge ball or other soft ball, and without gloves, baseball does not become a competitive game with worldly methods which might range out of control among teenagers and be carried on into adulthood.