Rumspringa: To be or not to be Amish

I winced when I saw the cover.  I was sure this book would be another lightweight voyeuristic Hollywood look at the Amish.


Yet Shachtman seems to reserve judgment and present the Amish even-handedly throughout Rumspringa:  To be or not to be Amish.  He seems to have a heart for the kids involved, presenting their tales with compassion and respect.

At the same time, like a good documentarian, he largely avoids outright condemnation of the ‘other side’.  Shachtman calls a spade a spade and gives the Amish culture its due, as when he points out the miniscule rates of divorce, unemployment, and substance abuse among Amish adults.


Thoughtful analysis

Rumspringa: To be or not to be Amish is not just an ‘Amish in the City’-like  freakshow peek into these kids’ lives;  Shachtman attempts to analyze the myriad issues at work in the mind of an adolescent during Rumspringa by examining the cultural aspects of the Amish.

He shows how things like shunning, the reverence held for farming as a traditional occupation, formal education (or rather, lack of it), faith issues and a number of other subjects all play into the typical Amish youth’s decision whether or not to join the church.

The voices of the kids and the concerned adults stand out above all…they could belong to any suburbanite mother-father-teen combination, as you listen to them voicing their concerns, moms worrying who their kids are running around with, teens trying to act ‘cool’ and fit in with peers.

I was pleasantly surprised by the work, and would recommend it for anyone who is interested in learning more about the background of the Amish as well.  Shachtman seems to have gotten his facts right, relying alot on scholarly sources as well as his own observations and interviews–you can tell he’s done his homework.

In examining a touchy subject for the Amish, Shachtman chooses analysis over exposition, and readers gain as a result.  A lot deeper than what it’s shock-value cover intimates, it’s a book worth checking out.  And it is a page-turner–I knocked it out in three days.

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    1. Thanks for introducing what appears to be a very interesting book. I will look for it.

    2. missymess

      The cover photo is from the movie “Devil’s Playground”, so I wonder if he was involved in that movie. I finally saw it recently and it’s quite disturbing. I realize these kids aren’t church members, but they still live in their parent’s home. Thankfully communities like the one shown are in the minority.

    3. Great Ruth, it’s worth a read.

      Shachtman was involved in making that documentary. I have not had a chance to view it.

    4. Tom Shachtman

      Actually, I wasn’t involved in making the documentary, but used several hundred hours of their taped interviews as a source of information, then went further and did my own, partly out of a belief that the somewhat skewed viewpoint of the documentary — concentrating on drugs — did not tell the full story of Rumspringa or or the Amish. Thanks for a review that understands my perspective and the work put into giving a true (warts and all) portrait of the Amish.

    5. Rumspringa factors among different Amish groups

      Thanks for clarifying that, Tom.

      I spent 3 months last summer in Elkhart/Lagrange and Nappanee, as well as in the Swiss Amish settlement of Allen County. I probably met on some level at least 90% of the families with school age and younger children in those areas so often caught myself wondering if I knew any of the individuals that show up in your work.

      I am currently back in the diverse Holmes County, Ohio settlement. With all the variety among the Amish, I have often wondered if certain affiliations, (ie Swartzentruber or Andy Weaver) have youth that tend to ‘go more heavy’ during Rumspringa, or if it’s more a factor of the church district/youth group they belong to, or none of those things.

      Affiliation must matter some, as I know the so-called New Order Amish come out strong against bundling, alcohol and tobacco, for example, tending to promote a cleaner lifestyle among themselves and their youth.

      I wonder if you came across any evidence of affiliation-wide tendencies during your research?

    6. Yvonne

      I have been told that “true” Amish do not follow the behaviors of menonites, ie Rumspring., yet they refer to themselves as Amish but they are not.Please respond.