An Amish School Guidelines Booklet

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.

Indiana Regulations
Photos by ShipshewanaIndiana

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).

Discipline Problems
From the “Special Discipline Problems” section

(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.

Outside Students
“Pupils from the outside may be admitted to our parochial school system if they are willing to comply to standards of our 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.

Attendance Guidelines
“…it is expected parents do not mix home schooling with parochial 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.

Discipline Rules

 

Discipline Guidelines

 

Discipline Honor God

 

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    24 Comments

    1. Greg Stutzman

      Having grown up in Holmes County, Ohio I am very familiar with the Amish Schools dotting the landscape. I attended both the second and third grade in a 2-room East Holmes public school located in Bunker Hill just out side of Berlin, Ohio There stood a 1-room Amish school directly adjacent to the tiny Bunker Hill public school. In grades 4 through 8 at Berlin Elementary we would play the Wises Amish School boys in softball each year and typically get our butts kicked.

      I would be very interested to read the disciplinary sections of the manual if you would be so kind as to post them. Even at the public Berlin Elementary the paddle was freely applied to those of us who, in the sole unilateral opinion of a teacher would dare to misbehave. Mr. Loil Brown was the 5th grade teacher at Berlin Elementary and was a legendary paddler. Each person who received the wood was asked to write their name on his huge solid wood paddle and after he applied the business end of that thing to my backside he showed me my own father’s name written upon it.

      1. Corporal Discipline in Amish Schools

        I’ve just posted the Special Discipline Problems section above. I think I’m missing a bit of the booklet but by the way it’s written, it looks like it is just this one page or not much more. There’s not much there on how teachers are specifically expected to discipline, though there might be more in a bit that I don’t have.

        Does the paddle live on in schools today? Karen Johnson-Weiner in Train Up a Child shares that corporal discipline is a part of even mainstream Amish schools, though the teacher quoted suggests it’s not often used (pg. 119). In the section on Swartzentruber schools, KJW writes that “corporal punishment is acceptable”, and quotes a teacher who says “If you don’t spank the children that need it, you could lose your job. The school board wants discipline.” (p. 46-47)

        1. Dody

          Where can I find a copy?

          Can I purchase a copy of this for myself?

          1. I may be wrong but I don’t think these are sold. I have photographs of the booklet’s pages but not the booklet itself.

        2. Greg Stutzman

          Thank you for posting these Erik. As usual, the information is fascinating.

    2. OldKat

      Ironically ...

      … the Amish scholars are probably far better prepared for the world they are most likely to face than the graduates of our public schools are for the one they will face.

      I think that the model that the Amish use will probably out outlive the public schools in our country. What I see happening is a slow drift to the point that private and parochial schools will displace public schools. The public schools will still exist, but only the people who can’t or wont pull their children out will see them “educated” by the public schools. Everyone else will send theirs elsewhere.

      This is not easy to say for someone who not only attended public schools for 11 of their first 13 years of schooling, but also taught in the public shools, is married to someone who retired after teaching for 36 years in public schools and raised two children who attended public schools from K through 12.

      My 2 cents.

    3. Trish in Indiana

      I love the way the procedures for dealing with a complaint about the schoolteacher is modeled on Christ’s instructions for internal correction, with the addition, “If the parent remains dissatisfied, maybe he should teach the school himself for a period of time.” It sounds to me like a nice way of saying, “It’s not as easy as you think.”

    4. As someone who is in my 33rd year of teaching math — many years of higher-level math — in public schools, I can only dream of teaching in an Amish school. Within a system where the norm seems to include respect for authority and Biblically sound values, the students and their families should gain many benefits that get lost in much of our public education. My favorite statement in the excerpts posted was the same one Trish+in+Indiana quoted: “If the parent remains dissatisfied, maybe he should teach the school himself for a period of time.”

      I know that our world has many jobs that require more education and training than the Amish children receive in their 8 years of school. But I can’t help but wonder if many of those scholars are not better prepared at the end of those 8 than many of our students are at the end of 12 or more.

      1. OldKat

        Kudos to you Pam

        Anyone that can teach in the public schools for more than 3 decades should be recognized; for their unbelievable endurance if nothing else. I went from being a strong proponent of public schools to one their harshest critics during the years that my wife taught elementary school, the vast majority of which were in our little town of 4,000.

        So it was not like she was teaching in an inner city school, she was teaching in the county seat of a county where up until a few years ago cows outnumbered people by a fairly wide margin. This is a small town, middle America school. It should have been an ideal situation. It was not, in fact it was far from it.

        Donna, or “Mrs. OldKat” as I like to call her, had told me for years that she would teach “as long as I continue to enjoy it”. Over the last 6 to 8 years that she taught I could tell that she was enjoying it less and less. Two years ago last month she suddenly told me “When school starts next year I am not going back”.

        I told her that I already knew that & of course, she wanted to know how. Especially since she had just made the decision that week. I told her “It is really simple. When August 1st rolled around you didn’t go down to the school and spend all day everyday for 2 &1/2 to 3 weeks getting everything ready. You spent 1/2 of ONE DAY, the day before in-service started”, yep I knew right then that she was done.

        The sad part is when we are talking to friends and neighbors whose children or grandchildren are majoring in education at college. They want to tell us about it, thinking that we will be excited for their child/grandchild … when in reality neither of us can think of a single reason that ANYONE should pursue that field as a career choice. If someone asks me directly, I will tell them that I don’t know a single young person that I dislike enough to encourage them to become a teacher.

        BTW: When I hear someone criticizing teachers I encourage them to go substitute teach so they can “Show those teachers how it should be done”. Funny; few have ever taken me up on it, but those few that did suddenly became way less vocal in their criticism of teachers!

        1. Melissa Irons

          Teaching in Amish Schools

          I have been teaching in a public school system for 24 years, and I would love to teach in an Amish school where students are respectful and kind. Can a non-Amish, state certified teacher teach in an Amish school or is that unheard of?

          We have a small Amish community and they are planning to build a school. They are currently discussing the requirements with our Dept of Education.

    5. Rich Stevick

      My major professor's observations from a visit to a one-room school

      “While touring through Lancaster County, a professor from Texas Tech University who specialized in educational research visited a one-room school. In relating his experiences to me, he was visibly moved in recounting the interactions of the students with each other and of the pupils with the teacher. Although she was obviously in charge, all her pupils called her by her first name or simply ‘Teacher.’ In addition, she knew the families of each student. The visitor watched as the eight graders listened to the second graders read or helped them with their times tables and spelling words . . . He concluded, ‘That school is modeling what we profess to value. The classes are manageable, and the teacher cares about each pupil, both as an individual and a learner. She clearly knows what she is about. It is obvious that students feel valued, competent, and safe with her and with each other. We have a lot to learn from them.'” End Quotes from pp 74-75, GUA. (For anyone who wants to really learn about Amish education, Karen Johnson-Weiner’s book, Train Up a Child, is a must.)

    6. Naomi WIlson

      Very interesting! I would like to read the whole booklet. We are in our first year of home schooling and are using Amish Pathway and Schoolaid curriculum materials. We are very pleased with the quality of the curriculum, and find it better than the 1st grade curriculum in the public school where my husband teaches. Yesterday, the children were delighted to start learning subtraction when Spunky, the donkey, got a little too frisky and some hay bales fell off his wagon! I have often wondered if an Amish school would permit attendance by “English” children. Our church has a nice, small parochial school, but we live too far away for our children to attend.

      1. Trish in Indiana

        Naomi, re: English children attending

        I don’t know about Amish schools near you, but part of the booklet quoted in the article says “Pupils from the outside may be admitted to our parochial school system if they are willing to comply to standards of our schools.” It also points out that this may be referring to Old Order Mennonite pupils, whose lifestyle at home would be considerably more similar to that of their Amish classmates than a typical “English” child. But certainly,I think you could inquire about the possibility.

    7. Al in Ky

      Is this book for all Amish schools in all Amish districts in the state? I’m thinking specifically about conservative Amish groups
      such as the Swartzentruber Amish in the Orleans area and the conservative Old Order Amish in the Paoli area.

      1. Good question. At the least the State standards discussed in the book would be something they’d have to adhere to. I don’t know how much input otherwise would go into this booklet from those more conservative churches.

    8. Carol

      Rural schools book

      A book, “Memories of the Heart: Rural Schools in Illinois” by Warren Royer is an interesting read. One of the teachers profiled taught in the Amish area near Arcola.

      P.S. The reason that the book is interesting to me is that my mother is one of the profiled teachers, but not the one who taught in the Amish area.

    9. Jerry

      Not related but I need some help

      I often visit an Old Order Mennoite area in Synder County, Pa. I have established a relationship with these farmers. The Saturday before Thanksgiving was the last day the produce stand was open and I went there to buy a couple of pumpkins, Yukon Gold potatoes and some turnips for Thanksgiving dinner. The girl that I deal with walked up the lane and presented my with a pumpkin pie baked in a pyrex plate. It was the best pie I’ve ever had. I told her that I would return the plate but it would not be anytime soon. She replied “No hurry…no worry”. I love that response. But now I have to return the plate. My Mom always said to never return an empty plate. What can I add to the plate that would be proper. I can not make anything that would equal what they make and I’m thinking that I can fill the plate with Hershey kisses. Would that be OK or what else could I fill the pie pan with? Please help. I’m hoping that someone out there with closer ties to the culture can suggest the proper return gift.

      1. Trish in Indiana

        Jerry: Here's a thought

        You were presented with something they make well. Why not present them with something you can make well, something they wouldn’t usually have from your “English” world? Yes, the wrapped kisses could be good, but why not fill it with marshmallow rice krispie treats instead? (I like chocolate chips in mine!)

      2. I like Trish’s suggestion, but if you’re not a baker I don’t think they’ll mind other sweets including store-bought. I do like the idea of not returning a plate empty, never heard that one before. Sounds like they appreciate you Jerry!

        1. Trish in Indiana

          Erik, you COOK rice krispie treats, not bake. 🙂

          1. Aha, well, then I vote for Rice Krispies treats. They were always a favorite. So simple, yet so good.

    10. Jerry

      Thanks,

      Thanks. Rice Krispy treats it is.
      Jer

    11. Barb Zimmerman

      Elkhart/Kosciusko County Schools in Northern Indiana

      I do remember some English friends in this area mentioning that they attended Amish schools for a year or so before going to public school. I know it is allowed, but very rare these days. I hear some English parents talk about it, but I don’t think any of them have followed through. I think they figured out that the extra involvement required from them (the parents) was more than they were willing to do.

      I substitute in the Wa-Nee schools (Nappanee & Wakarusa, Indiana) and have noted quite a number of Amish kids attending Junior High and some in high school. Some have told me that they attended Amish school long enough to learn English then started public school in second grade. They tend to sit by themselves, especially during lunch, and very few socialize with English kids. In fact, the two groups tend to ignore each other unless an opportunity arises to ask how the Amish teaching on something differs. Then the English kids get interested and ask them questions, too. Some of the Amish kids no longer remember the Amish school because they have been away from it too long.

      Over in Lagrange and Noble counties a few of the public schools around Topeka, Emma, and Lagrange are predominantly Amish/Mennonite. It is probably the only place in the world where the school systems try to hire someone to provide special needs in Deusch (Deutsch?) as well as Spanish.

      1. Mary Porter

        Amish schools

        I spent 15 as a special ed teacher aide. I specialized in caring for autistic students. An exhausting dangerous profession each day. Whay I learned in college and what public school is like bare no resemblence. Parents are multigeneral welfare. Ignorant, violent and demanding. Administrators want to to hear norhingvabout problems. It’s about their bonues and keeping up the numbers for full classes. Good teachers burn out fast. At 59 I was attacked by my much bigger and stronger student. He tried to stab a coworker in the back with a pencil. I knocked it out of his hand. He beat me and fractured my hand. Recontructive surgery has left me unable to ever be normal gain. I had to retire at 60. Public schools are a nightmare of entitled brats and their families manipulating the system. Our tax dollars are wasted on the majority. Kids are just graduated because there is no hope of them learning anything useful. I live in a small rural village. It’s all farming. A large Amish population. We farmed up until 4 years ago. Know many families. School rooms on e ery road here. The kids wave when you drive by. All families are very envolved. Kids have recess with alot of running aroynd and ball playing. Young unmarried girls teach. The kids learn very basic subjects. At 14 school is done. This is not not expose them to more worldy ideas. The girls work in the local Maish shops or assist at home. The boys begin farming or working with their familes at whatever trade they have. Kids in my little neighborhood are respectful and well mannered. They do NO household chores at all!. None. No snow shoveling. No leaf raking. No nothing. The stupid stuff they “learn” at public school has no bearing on real life. Forget college. My neighbor teaches higher math at a prestigious college. The kids can’t do simple math. Keep pouring money into failing schools…