Sunday, January 31, 2010

Amish Schools

Leah Beiler, in my November book, LEAH'S CHOICE, was an Amish schoolteacher. Despite the fact that I was already familiar with Amish schools, I found myself doing a great deal more research in order to make the scenes set in the actual schoolroom as realistic as possible.

Most people are aware that Amish children only attend formal school until they complete the eighth grade. The Amish feel that by that time, their children will have gained enough formal education for the lives they are expected to lead--lives of worthwhile work, sharing, cooperation, and humility in obedience to God. In most Amish communities, children attend an Amish one-room school, provided and cared for by the parents, taught by an Amish teacher who is usually an unmarried woman. The emphasis in the classroom is on cooperation, rather than competition, with each child encouraged to achieve his or her own best.

Parents are very involved in their children's schooling, dropping in for unannounced visits to observe, helping the teacher with special events, hosting lunches and picnics for the young scholars. Fathers also serve on the school board, meeting regularly to decide on school matters and caring for the maintenance of the school. The community also donates or raises all the money required for the school and teacher. In my county in central Pennsylvania, the local
Amish hold an auction three times a year to provide money for the schools in this area. The auctions have grown to be large, popular events, with many non-Amish eager to attend and bid on everything from farm equipment to home-baked goodies.

Since children speak Pennsylvania Dutch at home, they usually don't learn English until they start school. I was amused to find, at one school, that the teacher used the Dick and Jane primers--the books I used when I learned to read in the four-room schoolhouse I attended as a child. In addition to English and reading, the children also concentrate on spelling, geography, and arithmetic. Each classroom usually has a small library. The Little House on the Prairie books and Little Women are particular favorites among the children.

People are sometimes surprised that religion is not taught at Amish schools, although the school day begins with a scripture reading. The Amish feel that religion is best taught by parents and the church.

What could be more popular than recess at any school? Usually an Amish school will have a play area outside, and the teacher, who may not be a great deal older than some of her older students, will often join in a game. Even in play, cooperation is valued over competition.
A visit to an Amish school is a trip back to a simpler time. Even though the school doesn't have the latest in technology and many of the things that are considered necessary to a modern educational plant, for the most part it provides its scholars with a solid education that prepares them for the life they're intended to lead.