Two Reasons Why Amish Limit Education

In the video below I explain two main reasons why Amish restrict their children’s schooling to eight grades. If you’d prefer to read this in post form, you can do that here.

Some additional things to know about Amish & schooling:

  • Amish school teachers are usually young women in the community (though some men do teach, perhaps around 10%)
  • Not all Amish attend one-room schoolhouses; public schooling is common in some of the larger settlements in particular
  • Amish schooling can vary between groups. Some groups use archaic textbooks; others a more up-to-date curriculum
  • In some states Amish children are required to attend school until age 15. In these cases they’ll attend classes once per week until reaching that age
  • Amish value the ability to have control over what and how their children learn, and thus take schooling seriously in order to preserve this arrangement

Video runtime: 3:47.

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    16 Comments

    1. Geniuses are Everywhere

      Hello Erik,
      You mentioned how there are many Amish who are spatially, hands on, intelligent well beyond their formal education. Case in point: I know of an Amish man, now deceased, who was a master at building & repairing clocks. (It all started as a child when he was given a broken watch.)
      One day, as an adult, he visited the Smithsonian Museum with an English friend who had scheduled a visit in the “bowels” of the Smithsonian where they were greeted by three anxious curators who had many unanswered questions about 17th & 18th century clocks in the collection. The highly educated professionals didn’t know how the clocks worked or why they didn’t work. There was no owners manual included.
      When this Old Order Amish clockmaker arrived, the curators had a table of clocks laid out to be inspected.
      Our Amish clockmaker spent hours examining the clocks and explaining the workings of the timepieces to the curators. He even offered to make some replacement parts out of similar dried wood he had at home from the 1800s & invited them to visit him homestead.
      I still marvel at this cultural experience and laugh at the idea that he taught the professionals a few things they didn’t know. Not bad for an 8th grade education.

      1. Jayne

        The Clock Master

        Enjoyed your article very much. Thanks for enlightening so many.

        It’s obvious to me that the Amish are very intelligent aside from the fact they generally only have 8th grade educations. When one looks at the expertise they display in their building abilities, sewing and quilt making, baking and jelly making, I believe they are far above the average 12th graders of today that can hardly read or write legibly, much less count out change.

        1. Dennis Vernier

          Today's life is to complex

          Many things today have gotten way to complex. Sometimes while at work I wish that I could turn the clock back to 1950, a year before I was born. Technology, can be a good thing, but when you start to have to serve the technology it can be rediculous. The wheel doesn’t have to be constantly re-invented. I’ve witnessed people with “degrees” who lack any basic form of common sense. Just my thoughts.

      2. Love that story Jim, thanks for sharing it. Sounds like the Smithsonian might want to think about hiring him!

    2. Barbara Libeng

      Amish teacher

      I was one of the few non-Amish who taught in their schools. I taught at Hollow School between New Holland and Intercourse and at Westview w School , just east of Intercourse. It was a wonderful experience. Before we moved to Arkansas, one of my scholars and his family had a farewell gathering. All the families from Hollow had representatives there, either the parents or the scholars or both. There were several families from Westview there also. I keep in touch with several of the families.

      1. Must have been an enriching experience. And I think a pretty rare one. Can I ask how you happened to find yourself in that job?

    3. Along 340

      8th Grade education

      Living in an Amish community and having visited Amish one room school houses, I can also point out that Amish school children (called Scholars) have a lot of respect in the classroom. Their teachers do not have to spend half their educational time disciplining unruly children. When the teacher says “quiet” … you can hear a pin drop within seconds of her saying quiet. The Scholars take school seriously and there is also a large parent participation in the class to help along the way. They also have outside break time to run off energy and eat lunch. Often times a parent or grandparent will bring homemade snacks for the class to enjoy. Again, the Scholars are well disciplined and respectful of each other as well as adults. When guests visit the classroom, the Scholars will sing songs to welcome the guests to their classroom.

      1. I’ve always enjoyed how the Amish call them scholars. At first blush it feels a bit archaic but perhaps it imbues the role with a bit more seriousness than does the term “schoolchildren”. Although Amish children of course have their fun and some will misbehave as well.

    4. Walter Boomsma

      Well done! In general, the Amish are such practical people! As others have pointed out, parental/community involvement in their schools is a noteworthy factor. It might be a third reason for the limitation of formal education in that Amish don’t “send” their children to school in the sense the Englisch do. In fact, we might challenge the word “limit.” The Amish are a good example of “lifelong learners.” Their education is perhaps better described as “different” rather than limited. (This is not a criticism, Just an attempt to provoke thought.)

      1. And it’s a good thought-provoker. I think you put it well as “different”.

    5. Barbara Libengood

      Amish teacher

      I was working at Zimmerman’s Store in Intercourse with an Amish man who knew I had been a teacher. When an opening in Hollow School became available, he told the Amish school board about me. I was interviewed and hired. I was there 4 years. Several years later I was contacted in December to teach at West View just east of Intercourse. I was there a year and a half.
      It was an amazing experience! I am still in contact with some of my scholars.

    6. Reasons amish limit education

      I enjoyed reading everyone’s post and certainly agree. I just want to say it is sad in the English schools have no prayers and divide state and religion. Your not allowed to bring a Bible and did away with the pledge to our flag and seems so odd because our currency is printed “in God We Trust”. In my experience growing up in high school was a waste of time, it’s the electives they have. All you need is basic education reading, writing, math, language.
      It’s smart to be taught what you will be doing after you finish school.

      1. Amish children and school

        Diane P; I don’t know which public schools you or your children have attended, but in our school district, a very liberal one, any child can bring his/her bible to school if he/she so chooses. If that student wants to read her/his bible during study hall or recess, that child most certainly has the right to do so. However, that child is not allowed to proselytize.”In God We Trust” first appeared on American currency in 1864 and was placed on all currency in 1955. Conservative Christian judges made that decision, not our Founding Fathers. The First Amendment protects us from an imposed religion. It says that Congress cannot establish, or set up, any religion as the official faith of the United States. It prevents the government from establishing a state religion. This rule is called the “establishment clause”. Our constitution is a secular document. It prohibits the use of religious tests for federal officeholders. It guarantees the right to practice the faith of one’s choice. It bars the state and federal governments from establishing an official religion. That is why there is separation of church and state. As for high school being a waste of time, for some kids, it is, but for most, it is not. I agree that high schools should offer an academic or technical/vocational choice. An advanced education enables people to learn critical thinking skills. A limited one usually does not. And yes, some people with a higher education have no common sense. 2016-2020 is proof of that!

        1. Vicky

          RE: Janice Reamer says "2016-2020 is proof of that"

          And now with 2020-2023…the person who has spent their entire life in politics, and who should know better, has almost destroyed the USA. During 2016-2020 we had achieved energy independence, the economy was growing, Blacks were employed at greater levels & higher pay than ever before, and the border was secure. In less than 3 years all of that has been destroyed.

          1. Correction needed

            We produce more oil now than ever in the history of the United States. An easy fact to look up. Finally, due to huge job shortages, some minority groups are now being offered opportunities they didn’t have before. This is simple supply and demand.
            The border needs more guards, that take resources. Congress isn’t acting quickly enough. The border has never been completely secure. Currently some countries are in desperate situations. That leads to more people seeking a new start. Hence the border issue. There is not now, or has there ever been an open border. Just woefully understaffed, and while other countries have modernized their laws regarding foreign workers, the USA has not.
            None of these problems are new, and the country needs to act with updated laws that allow the issue to be addressed completely, not in the haphazard way it is set up now.
            Your “the sky is falling” scenario is just nonsense. We need to get Congress to act. Nothing else is needed. This can has been kicked down the road for 40 plus years. Let’s deal with it already!

    7. Reziac

      Old Primers

      I note in the photos some quite old-style “primers” (schoolbooks that were in use until about 1940). Those primers were much more rigorous than anything used in public schools today. Any Amish 8th graders who are taught from those old primers will have better fundamentals than the average “English” college student.