Keeping the Values of Life Simple

Missouri’s Amish center their lifestyle on family. Note: Although this first was published by the Associated Press, 1987, much of the information is still relevant today.

Missouri’s Amish center their lifestyle on family. Note: Although this first was published by the Associated Press, 1987, much of the information is still relevant today.

Down a dirt road running through recently harvested farm fields stands a link to the past — a o?ne-room Amish schoolhouse that church leaders say is vital to maintaining values.

Without such schools, leaders say, the Amish religion would die. The Amish reject materialism and seek a return to a simple, family-oriented life without electricity, telephones or cars.

Students receive an education through the eighth grade in the frame schoolhouse o?n the outskirts of Jamesport, a town 65 mile northeast of Kansas City. But more important to the rigid Amish code of conduct, the students learn obedience and respect for their elders.

The eighth grade probably is the highest-level formal education these children will receive.

In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case originating in Wisconsin that Amish children were exempt from laws requiring them to attend school to age 16.

The decision noted that the Amish oppose high-school education because it places Amish children in a competitive atmosphere with pressure to conform with their peers.

Before the ruling, the Amish sometimes tried to keep their children away from high school by enrolling them late or encouraging them to flunk. That way, the children would be no higher than the eighth grade when they became 16.

"The ruling saved us," said a teacher in o?ne of the six schools serving the 150 Amish families living near Jamesport.

"Our children are attracted to evil things, just like other children out there, in high school, with the drugs and all that, there wouldn’t be any Amish, or the Amish would become so liberal they wouldn’t really be Amish."

The teacher did not want to be identified because he feared that some members of the Amish community would resent him for speaking to a reporter.

The o?ne-room schoolhouse has no electricity and is heated by a wood stove. The teacher comes to class by the traditional Amish mode, a horse-drawn buggy. The students – the girls in black bonnets and unadorned dresses closed at the neck, the boys in plain blue shirts and trousers – walk to class.

If a student were to gaze outside he would see — out past the boys’ and girls’ outhouses — rolling farmland, grain silos and a barn.

But the students don’t gaze outside. It’s not permitted.

"I won’t tolerate them looking around; then everything would come apart," the teacher said.

He said unruly students are brought before the "board of education" – a wooden paddle hanging o?n the wall next to the blackboard.

The Amish schools have earned the respect of Joe Dyke, the supervisor for the public-school district encompassing Jamesport.

"I think some English-speaking people laugh at their schools and say they’re a joke," he said. "But they haven’t been in there. Their schools are sometimes more quiet and tightly disciplined than our schools."

The Amish, who speak German at home, refer to Americans outside their church as "the English". Classes are conducted in English, and it is a school that many Amish children first are exposed to the language.

The Amish have communities in about 23 states. In 1953, attracted by cheap farm land, they began settling near Jamesport. About 3,500 Amish live in Missouri in some 16 counties.

One of the six bishops in the Jamesport area said radio and television has lured some youths away from the church but most return.

Some Amish also believe their church is threatened by the influx of tourists to Jamesport.

More than a dozen antique shops operated by non-Amish merchants have sprung up in the four-block downtown area in the last few years. There is also an Amish-owned shop o?n the out-skirts of town.

Non-Amish merchants have begun sponsoring crafts fairs. O?n weekends when the fairs are held, tourists — many attracted by the Amish — flood the streets. "It’s getting to be a regular nuisance," the bishop said. "It’s a matter of amusement (for the tourists), like going to Worlds of Fun."

Source: Associated Press, November, 1987 The Kansas City Star, Sunday, Nov. 8, 1987