You’ll find guide dogs, schools, Amish visiting other churches, and more in the latest batch of questions:
Al in KY: What is the present status of farming as the primary source of income for Amish, especially among the more progressive Amish? Do they lament having to be employed off the farm and do they hope that some day there once again will be more Amish farmers?
The general trend is that farming has been on the decline especially in the larger, more-established communities. The smaller and newer settlements are where you are more likely to see higher percentages of farmers. Of the three largest communities Lancaster County remains strongest in agriculture, though Amish farmers of all sorts (dairy, produce, etc) are a minority.
More progressive Amish have fewer Ordnung restrictions on occupations. So while factory work may be frowned upon in Swartzentruber groups, Amish in northern Indiana or Geauga County, Ohio have entered these jobs in large numbers, with agriculture declining at the same time.
I am sure some Amish would rather be farming than working the line in an RV plant. Farming is still idealized by many as the best place to raise a family.
Kelly Irvin: I’m working on a novel and I want to make sure I get a couple of story threads correct. Would Amish folks attend a wedding for non-Amish friends? In a church?
Some Amish may feel comfortable attending a wedding or church services of another group. The risk is that attendance may be seen as a sign of dissatisfaction with the Amish church (which in some cases it may very well be). As a result this may be more likely to occur when Amish are away from home communities.
Wanting to repay the favor of church attendance, I once invited an Amish friend to the local Catholic church. The response was a firm “no”. I have brought Amish friends along to Mass, though they were far from their home settlement.
Ed: How do Amish select a new area for settlement? Are potential settlement areas studied and those with specific characteristics sought out? Or is more or less a few families go and try living in an area, and if they have a success at it more people come to join them?
I did a post a few months back looking at some of the main factors taken into consideration: 8 factors of new Amish settlement. Those include local legal climate, growing conditions, and proximity to other Amish.
A new area may be located purposefully or by chance. According to what I was told, Lancaster settlers to Indiana in the early-mid 90s were apparently traveling across the Midwest, and a corner of Indiana they passed through simply appealed to them as a nice place to live. Now there are 4 or 5 church districts there.
Amish publications such as the Budget and Diary help spread the word about new communities. The Budget in particular has long been a source of Amish communication on new settlements, with updates and notices of potential settlements sparking correspondence and debate.
New settlements are often started by a few families with the hopes that more will join. In other cases whole extended families or a group of families from an established area may give a new community a larger base and better chance to survive.
Kelly Irvin: The other question is do they do anything different in terms of education and/or training for their children with special needs such as Down Syndrome or other mental challenges.
Amish have paid increased attention to special education in recent times, with special classrooms and discussion on how best to teach children with mental challenges and learning disabilities. Karen Johnson-Weiner’s Train Up a Child is a good source for more info on this topic.
Ellie: Do you think any Amish person would ever use any type of assistance animal for a disability, such as a guide dog?
Interesting question Ellie, it’s not something I’ve ever seen–or thought about before, for that matter. My first thought was that I wouldn’t think Amish churches would find much objectionable about assistance animals, in principle.
On the other hand, some might. Guide dogs enable independence, particularly for people living alone. Guide dogs help blind people navigate unknown environments, often in busy urban settings.
Amish just aren’t that mobile to begin with, with more of their time spent in the familiar confines of the home and farm, static environments which can become familiar and navigable even if you cannot see.
Additionally, someone who is Amish and blind is highly likely going to be living with family who will be able to help with mobility and other issues (for that matter it’s just rare that Amish would live alone). Amish stress the importance of community and aiding one another.
So one reason we don’t see a lot of Amish guide dogs is that there probably isn’t quite the same need based on how Amish culture operates.
If anyone does know of Amish using assistance animals it would be interesting to hear about it.
Mary: Can anyone tell us about the Yoder, Kansas Amish area? How big is it, are there Amish businesses? Is it tourist friendly?
Mary, I have never visited the Yoder settlement, but can tell you it is not very big (though it’s the largest Kansas Amishcommunity–3 districts, I’d guesstimate around 80-100 households). I would expect there to be a fair number of Amish businesses.
There is also the annual Heritage Day event put on by the Yoder community, which apparently includes Amish buggy races. Most Amish in both Kansas and Oklahoma also tend to be more technologically progressive than the average. I’m sure a local can do better than this, maybe there are readers familiar with the Yoder/Haven area that wouldn’t mind sharing?
Jessica: What do the Amish children study in school, especially the older grades? Would they study history and culture studies? What levels of math for the 8th grade students?
I used to think that Amish schooling must be pretty uniform. There are some elements all Amish schools have in common, but there are some substantial differences across the spectrum. Again I’ll point to Karen Johnson-Weiner’s Train Up a Child for more.
Karen explains that the curricula in Amish schools differs based on the group and what they are trying to achieve. Some are trying to prepare their scholars for a world in which they will be factory workers or business owners with a lot of necessary interaction with English people and the English language. That will naturally influence the nature of the school. More traditional schools have different goals and will be more limited.
The particular orientation of a community will affect the type of books used, what they are taught, and the types of teachers they have. The Swartzentruber schools for instance do not teach history, though you’ll find history and geography in most other schools.
There wouldn’t be a class called “Culture Studies”, though I imagine you could hit that topic when talking about other countries in the context of geography (On a couple of occasions I have given a guest talk in Amish schools on Poland, for instance). Math is seen as being among the most fundamental and practical subjects, thus you will see it even in the lowest schools.
If you’ve got questions, share them at the Amish question thread.