In more turbulent times, Amish parents have been fined, pressured, and even arrested, all in defense of their preferred manner of schooling.
The Wisconsin v. Yoder decision of 1972 helped preserve Amish control over classroom education, leading to hundreds of Amish schools across North America.
Regulations and Guidelines for Amish Parochial Schools of Indiana shows how seriously Amish take their hard-won schooling privileges today.
The booklet, seen below in its revised 2013 edition, is given to parents of children in Amish parochial schools. It lays out expectations and guidelines for parents, teachers, administrators, and scholars. It also reveals some of the behind-the-scenes workings of Amish schools.
Guiding Amish Parochial Schools
While evolving technology and occupations gradually draw the Amish closer to the English world, Amish parochial schools, which tend to change more slowly, tangibly demonstrate the principle of separation.
The schools’ very existence also shows how seriously Amish take their children’s formative time in the classroom.
The opening page of Regulations succinctly explains Amish reasoning behind their schools:
We believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. It is the only Source of true knowledge. We feel the need of acknowledging the Creator in the schooling of our children. As public school instruction moves into the fields of modern progressive education, audiovisual training, sex education, computer programming, the need becomes readily apparent for an educational system that is separate from the public school educational system and based on the words of Paul: “And be not conformed to the world…” Rom. 12:1
And the purpose of this booklet:
Obviously, if a separate system of instruction is required, so is a need for separate standards. No school, public, private, or parochial, can operate efficiently without standards to serve as guideposts along the respective pathways to learning. It is the purpose of these standards to present in simple form an outline of the character of our schools and their curriculum.
The authors further state that while external threats may have subsided, “we are facing a grave danger coming from the inside,” namely, “a spirit of neglience and in taking things for granted.” This could lead to a number of ill effects, they warn, including discouraging potential teachers and even losing educational privileges.
The rest of the booklet lays out a series of standards, covering topics such as school objectives, how schools should be administered (including the makeup of the school board and recommended term lengths), suggestions for financing schools, discipline standards, attendance requirements (167 days per year by agreement with the State Department of Education, falling between August 15 and May 15, and a 97% attendance average), curriculum guidelines, and guidelines for vocational classes (additional schooling Amish children must attend until age 15).
(Adherent) Outsiders Welcome?
As an aside, the English reader who received this book shares: “I was shown the clause that states that outsiders (non-Amish) can attend Amish school if they adhere to the standards. I thought that was interesting.”
It raises a question: could English children go to an Amish parochial school? I haven’t heard of English children attending strictly-Amish schools.
Mennonite children do attend with Amish children in some schools. The best example is seen in the schools shared by Amish and horse-and-buggy Mennonites in Lancaster County.
There are quite a few like this in northern Lancaster County. I also believe Horning Mennonite children (a car-driving group colloquially known as “Black-bumper Mennonites”) sometimes attend these schools.
Amish and English children are classmates in public schools in some communities. It’s possible this note has Mennonite children in mind, given that Old Order Mennonites live in close proximity to Amish in northern Indiana.
Amish Schools: Private or Parochial?
You may notice I’ve used “parochial school” to refer to what the Amish do, and not “private school”.
This reflects how the Amish authors of this booklet would prefer to speak about their schools. While the two words may sometimes be used interchangeably (correctly or not), there is a reason for the distinction, described in the booklet’s Finance section:
In some instances the school is supported only by those families sending children to the school. Although the parents may all belong to the same church or churches of like faith, such a school is really defined as a private school and not a parochial school.
In 1978, unionism put pressure against parochial and private schools to compel Amish teachers to take out Teachers’ Unemployment Compensation. It was found this can not be forced on parochial (church) schools supported by the whole church. For this reason it is strongly recommended we have our Amish Private Schools really become Amish Parochial Schools, which are supported by all members of the church and not only by the parents involved in the school.
I’ve always thought it admirable that in Amish communities, more than just parents of scholars take an interest in the children’s schooling.
The opening page of this booklet contains another line on this most important task, one which happens both inside the classroom and beyond its doors: “We feel if the child has received instruction that will enable it to earn an honest living and lead a Christian life, few would deny the child has been adequately educated.”
Some within and quite a few outside the Amish would question whether eight grades is truly adequate. But it’s hard to dispute the importance of parochial schooling to Amish society.
Karen Johnson-Weiner summarizes the challenge of these schools (Train Up A Child p. 19-20): “The struggle for Old Order schools is to limit the effects of English education and so preserve the boundaries between the community and the dominant society, meeting the state’s mandate that education enable children to function successfully in the outside world, yet doing so on Old Order terms.”
The Regulations booklet reflects this struggle, while providing a guide to parents and others on how to successfully navigate it.
UPDATE: By reader request, we are posting discipline standards in three images below.