Thoughts on Amish/Mennonites and Education

I walked into town. It was a perfect, crisp fall day. Everywhere I looked there were either Amish people, or people staring at the Amish.

A big yellow school bus roared up the street. It was full of adorable Amish children, with their bonnets and bowl cuts, peeking out the windows.

Now I was staring too.

“Do the Amish schools hire school buses?” I asked my landlady that evening. “Or do Amish children go to public school?”

“Oh, some Amish school children go to public school, and some go to Amish schools,” she said.

“What about the Mennonite kids?” I asked.

“It’s the same way. Some go to public school, and some go to Mennonite schools.”

I must have looked amazed, because she qualified her statement. “The public schools here aren’t like other public schools, you know,” she said. And then, I don’t know how she worded it, but she made it sound like the area has enough Amish and Mennonites that they have a good say in what happens at the public schools.

I found this so fascinating.

I know that both my parents went to public school when they were young. But now, I don’t know of any Mennonites in Oregon who send their children to public school. Paris, TN was the same way. Public school was not an option.

I wonder how this switch happened. From what I know about Oregon, it happened because the small country public school consolidated into a much larger school in town, so local Mennonites had much less influence over what and how their children were taught.

I’d be so curious to know how it was in other places. And why the attitude is different in different areas. Does it come down to how much influence the parents have at the school? Or is there more going on than that?

In general, I am fascinated by people’s attitudes towards education in different places. In Oregon, it would never have occurred to me to drop out of high school, and my parents would never have allowed me to anyway. Still, some Mennonite schools in our area do stop at 10th grade. I’m not sure why. But both here in Ohio and in Paris TN, “normal” was going up to 8th grade.

Still, in Paris TN, as far as I know I didn’t meet a single Mennonite who’d been educated past eighth grade (although to be fair, not every single person told me how far they’d gone in school)(and many of them did get their GED). But here in Ohio, I’ve already met a number of college educated people. Maybe it’s just because there are SO MANY Mennonites in Ohio, that your chances of finding another college educated person is that much higher?

One quick note before I end this musing: I was emphatically told, after my last blog post, that I absolutely cannot judge all of Holmes County by this little stretch of Hwy 39 between Sugarcreek and Berlin. That the bizarre tourism here is not the “real” Holmes County at all.

I am sure this is correct, but I do have two things to say regarding this.

First, I didn’t for a moment connect the Amish tourism with the actual Amish, or even the Mennonites. I assumed that it was caused by non-Amish coming to stare at the Amish, and other non-Amish deciding to capitalize on the this tourism by opening gift shops and “Amish” variety shows.

I would be very curious to know to what extent the actual Amish people benefit from the tourism. I’m sure that it happens, because people are eager to buy Amish made products. But I still feel like actual Amish have nothing to do with the weird showy touristy stuff.

Second, I don’t want to ever pretend that I understand an area just by living in it for a month and making a few observations. I welcome any and all insights from locals, and will always assume that you know what’s up, and I don’t.

With this in mind, I would LOVE to hear about the Mennonite/Amish relationship with education in your area, whether you’re from Oregon, Tennessee, Ohio, or anywhere else.


9 responses to “Thoughts on Amish/Mennonites and Education

  1. I`m a fan of your blog, and I`m doubly a fan of this post and the last since i live here in Holmes County. I find the description of berlin rather hysterical, and yet, so TRUE, about the weird touristy portion of it. My brothers and I have long considered berlin to have some of the weirdest shops around.

    Thnx for writing. Markus

    P.s. I work at a thrift store between Walnut Creek and Sugarcreek, called Harvest. The entire store is 50% off tomorrow and Saturday, so be free to stop in:)

    On Thursday, October 25, 2018, The Girl in the Red Rubber Boots wrote:

    > Emily Sara Smucker posted: “I walked into town. It was a perfect, crisp > fall day. Everywhere I looked there were either Amish people, or people > staring at the Amish. A big yellow school bus roared up the street. It was > full of adorable Amish children, with their bonnets and bowl cu” >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brenda Christy Fall

    Most of us here in our OORB community home school.
    My husband and I visited the Hazelton, IA community and the way they educate was very intriguing. They had the typical, one room schoolhouse schools found in the Amish communities, but they were taught by ‘English’ teachers. I am not sure if they were considered parochial and had the state certified teachers to meet state education code requirements or if they were public schools with only Amish students that attended and the parents had a lot of influence on what books were used and who was hired to teach.
    Whatever the case, it was quite interesting to see the students in the school yard with their Amish garb interacting with a teacher in non Amish garb.


  3. Virginia Troyer

    I’ve been enjoying your blog for a while, and it’s been especially interesting to follow along on your travels. Your stay in Holmes County is of particular interest to me since I was born and raised there, and most of our families are still there. My husband and I moved to a small community in southern OH 20+ years ago. The 8th grade education mindset is hard to get out of the Amish mentality since making a good living and working hard is probably more important to them than any education. I also went through public school and would agree that the schools there are generally better than elsewhere, because we would never have considered public here for our children. As far as high school, we are still working on pushing it more here, but it takes time to get people to think differently. We took more drastic measures in order for our son to complete his high school. After Abeka homeschool for the first two years, he is now finishing his junior/ senior years at Faith Builders. It’s been hard to let him go but we love what it’s doing for him! Keep on blogging, I enjoy it! Our oldest daughter has a YouTube vlog/lifestyle channel, (she goes by Lynette Yoder) and it’s been interesting to see the interest in the Amish/ Mennonite lifestyle that she receives from that. Blessings!


  4. So interesting to hear your perspective on Berlin. I have lived here since 1988 moving here from Northern Indiana. The public school system is unique here in East Holmes. Not only do the Amish children attend public school, there are 3 elementary schools that are specifically for the Amish and they go through 8th grade so they don’t have to go to Hiland to finish out 8th grade. They also offer home economics and woodworking etc that aren’t offered to Hiland middle school to prepare them for the workplace. A lot of the younger amish are getting their GED and classes on business and other trades are offered to the Amish youth through the career center.
    Everyone, Amish, Mennonite & “English” benefit from tourism. Even though, I often am weary and frustrated with the traffic that it brings, it all trickles down.
    I personally don’t like that everything has Amish in the name, but usually it is “Amish Country” this or that. Some of the Amish have capitalized on it with businesses that cater to the tourists but others are non mennonite/amish. Enjoy your stay in Homes county. BTW, The theater puts on a really good family friendly show.


  5. As far as the public schools here- your host is correct. The Amish and Mennonites have a lot of say. There are several public schools in the area – for instance Flat Ridge and Wise, maybe Mt. Hope , where the students are almost ALL Amish. And there are plenty of Mennonite teachers in the public schools. Mennonites on the school boards, etc. and they consult w the Amish to see how they can make the schools more friendly to them-
    As to the economy. All of us here in Holmes County benefit from tourism. One example- The booming economy means there is lots of building going on. The Amish are builders, craftsman,etc. You will also find many Amish families have businesses where they sell directly to tourists. Many of these could be put in the categories of food and furniture, but not all. If you get a chance go to Hillcrest Orchard in Walnut Creek. There you will find a booming business all run by one large Amish family.
    As to the Main Street of Berlin-sigh- that’s probably the last place I would consider representative of the culture. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Emily, I enjoy following your blog, and I was hoping your travels across America observing Mennonite “cultures” would include Holmes county. Simply because it’s always so interesting to me who has been here all my life, to hear what others from smaller Mennonite communities observe when they are in our midst. Tho I’m on the very eastern end of that stretch on 39 actually in the next county:)and actually one of the last mennonites on this end, I’m right in with them, Because we get so used to being surrounded by “Christian” environment I fear we get quite callous or easily used to many “gray” areas and I have a burden that many only follow the motions or jump from church to church since there seems to be that availablility when people don’t agree rather than work out differences in love or live from the heart. I welcome perspectives from outside our community because I’m afraid us from living in it can’t see ourselves so well (it’s too close.).. does that make sense. However, there’s much here I love and appreciate and value dearly. A large Christian school is one, as well as my family close by.
    We loved having your smart mother here speaking at our women’s conference a few years ago. I gain much insight from her writings as a fellow mom.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is so interesting! I had to laugh at the various comments about Main Street Berlin and traffic;) yes.. I hear lots of locals fuss about the traffic.. it’s a pain, but honestly, our economy would be quite low if it wouldn’t be for all those tourists! My parents own a shop on Main Street that caters to the local Amish an Mennonite population. We do get tourists into the store quite a bit an view that as our little mission field right here in Holmes County!


  8. This is fascinating!! I grew up in a Beachy church. Since then I have spent time in a Charity type church, a Conference Mennonite church, and a unaffiliated but very Mennonitsh church, all in the state of Virginia. In all of these churches I have been in, the people do not even consider sending their children to the public schools. They either have a church school or they homeschool. I myself, as well as almost everyone I knew who was younger then my parents had gone to church schools.(My parents are 70.) At some point in my life, I started to wonder if the Mennonites around me know what they are talking about when they speak negatively about public schools, since most of these opinionated people have never set foot inside a public school. Or for the older people who have gone to public school 60 or 70 years ago, isn’t their information a little outdated for us to be basing decisions on??
    In the past several years, I have studied public education in college. I have spent a lot of time observing in public elementary schools and have been a substitute teacher. I have recently earned a degree in education and a state teacher’s license. I have concluded that many of the things Mennonites have told me about public schools are simply false. I have been astonished at how much the local people, particularly parents and teachers, can change what happens at school. Yes, some decisions are made at a state level, but how those decisions are carried out depends on the principals, teachers, and parents at each school. I have been wondering what would happen if all the Mennonites in a community would send their children to the public school and also have a few Mennonite teachers at the school for good measure. Could they influence the school enough that they would be pleased with the education their children would get? I would love to try this, but no Mennonites I know would even consider it. I had NO IDEA that there is a place where that exact thing is actually being done. THANK YOU so much for telling me about this!! This fascinates me.


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