One of our Amish Originals team members was recently describing the elementary graduation ceremony that she had attended for one of her children—a fourth grader!—because her son was moving up to middle school. At risk of sounding a tad cliché (you know, back in our day we really did have to walk ten miles to school through snow drifts…), to many of us, it seems like the only “real” graduations are from high school and college.
Driving to Holmes County this past week, however, made us re-think that stance a bit. For most of our Amish craftsmen and their families, eighth grade is the highest level of formal education that any of them have experienced. So, in fact, that middle school graduation is the only one that they will ever experience.
So why do the Amish leave the classroom prior to earning a high school degree? The Amish belief system and its focus on community versus individualism, doesn’t really line up with the intense commitment to personal achievement found in most American high schools. Additionally, the Amish value education for its practical impact—for reading, writing, math—and the high school curriculum becomes significantly more abstract than it is in the primary grades.
American high schools also prep students to extend themselves past the opportunities found in agrarian, rural communities—in hopes of sending kids to college and professions far beyond the quiet lives enjoyed by most Amish. In contrast, our Amish craftsmen are focused on growing their communities and deepening their faith.
The Amish legally won their right to abstain from sending children to school past eighth grade with the 1972 Supreme Court ruling, Wisconsin v. Yoder.
Departure from formal schooling does not mean an end to education for the Amish; many will engage in apprenticeships and mentoring from older community members and others still will take on additional education through correspondence courses with a focus on practical or useful skills that can be learned.
Luckily, we are the beneficiaries of the wonderful furniture building skills that are passed down from generation to generation of Amish families!
From our home to yours,