Amish Minister: Why We Prefer A Short School Year (1966)

So it looks like a lot of children will be having a short school year this time around, both English and Amish (at least their time physically present in the classroom). But did you know that Amish children traditionally finish school earlier than their English counterparts?

In the Lancaster County example, they finish about 3 weeks to a month earlier (mid-to-late May vs. mid-June for non-Amish). This is for two reasons. First, the Amish schools have fewer days off for things like Christmas break and snow days. They also start a bit sooner, by a week or two. Amish children still attend the same number of total days.

Below we have an Amish minister’s explanation – over 50 years old – on why Amish prefer having a shorter school year.

A caveat is that the “Amish economy” has changed significantly since the time this was written, with proportionally fewer Amish farming, in favor of running small businesses.

So the arguments for farm help are probably less strong today. And it’s possible some Amish schools have shifted their schedules accordingly. I would think the remaining arguments have changed little, however.

If you’ve got children at home right now when they usually aren’t, you could consider some of these points as possible “pluses” of the situation.

I’ve also gotten questions lately on whether Amish would comply with school closures. This piece gives some insight why many Amish parents might not mind the closures.

As for why Amish children might like having a shorter school year, we can only guess ūüėČ

As with the recent Rules of a Pennsylvania Amish Church post, this excerpt is taken from John A. Hostetler’s compilation Amish Roots: A Treasury of History, Wisdom, and Lore. It’s a bit outdated (1989) and I think out of print, but it’s a nice book to have. The good news is that books on the Amish don’t “outdate” as quickly or drastically as, say, a 1989 book on personal computing would.¬†

An Amish Minister on Why We Prefer A Short School Year (1966)

1. Although we appreciate having our own schools and teachers of our choice, we feel this still does not quite come up to having children together as a family unit under the influence of the parents. Having one more month of school would mean less family influence.

2. Although we are a rural people in general, we realize there is a greater and greater need for a sound basic education. However, the old adage “We learn to do by doing” still holds true. Learning from books becomes more meaningful as we tie it in with practical experience. During that last month of school our children would miss much of the basic principles of farming, that of preparing for and planting fields and gardens.

3. We feel that our actual hours of classroom study in eight months would compare favorably with the average public school term of nine months. That is, counting such things as recreation during school sessions, basketball games, spring vacation, etc….

4. The nine-month school term is mainly intended for town and city children. We feel the extra month of school for us is not only unnecessary, but creates a burden and hardship to our way of life, in a spiritual as well as a material sense. We support our own schools, and at the same time support the public schools. This means higher taxes for us, and we are deprived of the help of our children at a time of year when we most need them.

5. We feel that farming with tractors is not only impractical financially on most of our small farms, but with tractor farming we also tend to become more independent of each other, and lose much of the community spirit so essential for love and Christian fellowship in everyday life, as well as in the church.

Neither we nor our school system is perfect, but it is our aim to raise and educate our children to be not only good Christian stewards, faithful to God and our church, but also to be useful citizens in our community. For this privilege we are willing to continue supporting the public schools through our taxes, and to assume the financial responsibility ourselves of educating our children.

Source: Eli E. Gingerich, “To Our Public School Officials of Elkhart County.” Blackboard Bulletin (August 1966): 19-20.

Image: Ed C.

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    1. Dan

      I volunteered at an Amish school in Wisconsin and the only days off during the school year were weekends, Christmas Day and Good Friday. They rarely had snow days.

      1. Interesting Dan, thanks for sharing that. Since Amish schooling is decentralized and you generally have one within walking distance, most children get there on foot, scooter, bike, or horse-powered transport, and the driving hazard and thus justification for snow days is reduced.

        For example, one of my friend’s children would basically have to cross one road and then walked across fields to reach their school. Others walk on the road but they are low-traffic rural roads, a 5-10 minute walk from their home.

        A couple of posts on the holidays topic, which can vary by community (besides the big onesyou mention):