Amish Insights on: Education


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This Month’s Question:

What are your thoughts on the role education plays in a community?



Emily: About twelve years ago, as we were pursuing an adoption we were on the phone with a potential birth mother. The conversation was going well when the question came up, will you be able to provide college and higher education for my child? A valid question, and one she had the right to ask—but a bit difficult for us to answer. The temptation was there to give vague reassurances, but these women deserve our complete respect and honesty, so we did our best to explain our reasons for not pursuing higher education. Did our answer help her make the decision to not choose us? We’ll never know, nor does it really matter.

This question is often asked, and I remember as a teen talking to my parents about it, wondering what the reasons are. As an adult now, it is so plain to me, and I’m grateful for the wisdom our forefathers had. They saw that a church and community function the best when we’re all on one level. There is no one on a higher tier who intimidates others and makes them feel like they are a lesser person. Almost every time in church, we hear about holding others higher than ourselves, and people having various degrees could definitely affect that.

Norman Rockwell’s painting Breaking Home Ties has always moved me. As a child, I would analyze it, trying to figure out what thoughts the father and the son are having. This painting depicts the threat of what higher education can do to our families and, ultimately, our communities. In the painting, the son, dressed in a brand-new suit and shiny shoes, looking fresh-faced and eager, is seated beside his father, obviously waiting for a bus to take him to the university. His suitcase and books are between his legs, and he’s holding a food parcel that his mother probably lovingly fixed. His father is a man of the land. He is no stranger to hard work by the looks of his hands, and he is not watching for the bus. He might be thinking that the boy is making something of himself, but I always felt he knew and grieved for what was being lost. Eventually, the cows will be sold, the Farmall M will languish in the shed, and he himself will move to town. Even the dog is feeling the change and has his head on the son’s knee, looking soulful, knowing his pal is leaving and will likely not return. I tend to be a bit fanciful, but I see this as what happens when they leave the farm for more education: they will not be back…

A sketch of a one-room Amish schoolhouse, used for their 8 grades education


Daniel: Ask an Amishman in a straw hat about education, and he’ll likely glance at you from under a raised eyebrow. It’s not hard to figure out why. In opposition to the mainstream uber-education mind-set, the Amish deliberately choose 8 grades of basic schooling. Those 8 grades represent the education under my own straw hat, so my understanding of America’s advanced academic hierarchy is sketchy. I’m familiar, though, with how the Plain Community schools operate. After all, I’m one of us.

The differing models of education have been a source of serious contention in the past. A momentous ruling by the Supreme Court in 1975, Yoder vs. Iowa, exempted the Amish from state compulsory attendance beyond 8 grades, based on religious principles. A simple explanatory sentence such as that sidesteps the emotional trauma experienced by many Amish families where the father served jail time rather than comply with consolidation. Years ago, I read an excerpt from a professor that still rings in my head, a snippet having to do with the Amish school system: “They reject consolidated schools’ emphasis on science and technical competence because of its obsession with present findings that discredit the past and move the world in a progressive direction (F.H. Littell, 1969).” That’s pretty well it in a nutshell.

Since then, one-room schoolhouses have sprung up in every corner of Amishdom. The classrooms operate in a structured environment. Teachers themselves are 8th grade graduates, often young teenage girls several years removed from school, who now serve as role models for their students. They teach only the basic subjects, yet there’s an underlying but very real emphasis on community values and attitudes wrapped in cooperative activities, obedience, respect, diligence, kindness, and an appreciation for the natural world. Creativity is encouraged, not as much for self-advancement but for the good of all, to use God-given talents to further His kingdom…


To read Emily’s and Daniel’s full answers, purchase a February 2023 back issue here.


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Emily Hershberger with her husband and two children have an organic dairy near Mt Hope, Ohio. She enjoys farming, gardening, garage sales and a good book.

Daniel and Mae live on a 93-acre farm between Walnut Creek and Trail, Ohio. Five children, hay-making, and Black Angus cattle take up any spare time after work at Carlisle Printing. Questions and comments welcome: 330-893-6043.


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