Category Archives: school

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.

 

MOP April 13: Vindication

I was pretty bad at academic writing when I started college, which was hard on my ego. I mean, I’d published a book and stuff, how dare my teachers make notes in the margins of my papers telling me to take a writing class?

Humph.

Still, being of a practical frame of mind, I signed up for an entry-level writing class the next term.

Our first paper was supposed to be an essay about “the worst job I’ve ever had.” I wrote something clever and funny, and brought the rough draft to class to get critiqued. I think the idea was to get into small groups and critique each others’ papers, but as the teacher wandered from group to group giving helpful hints he decided to grab my paper and read the first paragraph out loud.

Oh no. My paper was not funny and interesting as I had previously thought. It was, instead, vague and confusing. At least, the first paragraph was. That’s all he read before flippantly dismissing it, and I went home with my writer ego a squashed mess.

I ranted to my mom about it over a cup of tea.

“I once had a writing teacher who absolutely tore my work to shreds in front of the whole class,” she said. “Then when I became a successful writer I saw him again, and he praised my work up and down, and I felt vindicated.”

After I got over the sting of criticism, I re-wrote the first paragraph to be less vague and confusing. The next class session, my teacher immediately came up to me. “Emily! I’m so sorry last class ended before I had a chance to critique your paper!”

“Um, yeah, well I guess the beginning was kinda confusing so I changed it,” I said, tentatively handing my paper to him.

He began reading it. “Yeah, this is great. This makes so much more sense.”

My writer ego scabbed over nicely.

Today, five years and several colleges later, I was finished with class and walking back to my car when someone yelled at me from across the street. “Hey, it’s the girl in the red rubber boots!”

I laughed as my former writing teacher crossed the street and came up to me, shaking my hands as if I were the celebrity and he was a fan. “I love your blog!” he said.

Mwa ha ha ha ha, vindication at last.

 

Stress

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Photo Credit: Esther Mae Wilcoxson

I understand that stress is a normal/needed biological reaction, but doesn’t it seem a little ridiculous to you that our body has the same reaction to schoolwork as it does to being chased by a bear?

I go to great lengths to decrease the level of stress in my life. I take a lighter course load even if it means I stay in college well nigh forever. I miss the hippest parties so I can recharge after a busy week. Unchecked stress causes both physical and mental illness for me, and the trade-off isn’t worth it.

Still. Being in college means that stress is inevitable. It swims in softly, circles around me, threatening, until dead week due-dates approach and it clamps down on my abdomen with its cold spiky teeth.

(In my head I imagine stress as looking somewhat like an angler fish.)

“It’s just a test,” I tell myself. “I could get a B. Or even a C. It wouldn’t really matter. I’d still graduate.”

But the angler fish seems immune to logic, and it never swims away until the tests are over and the slap-dash assignments are handed in.

So here’s a question: Is stress at school inevitable? Or are we doing it wrong?

I have several rants that are constantly simmering in my head, ready to boil over if anyone says a trigger word. This is one of them:

WHY is success in college measured by how much effort you put in instead of how much you actually learn?

College students are supposed to put in 2 hours of homework for every 1 hour of class time. Why is this? Who decided that this was a good idea?

In college, I’ve had a few classes that didn’t just teach me things, they fundamentally altered how I viewed the world and humanity. One of them was a history class at Linn Benton. I loved it so much I immediately signed up the next term for another history class from the same teacher. Another was a population geography class I took this term.

But here’s the thing: These classes were not stressful. They had almost no homework. In fact, the other day I realized that even though I took them at different colleges, the classes were structured almost identically:

  1. A short, relatively easy quiz every two weeks
  2. A discussion every week on something we’d talked about in class, with the scoring based more on scope of thought than on following a specific formula
  3. A bit of in-class work
  4. No final exam

So here’s a parting question: If learning and stress are not directly proportional, why do schools treat them like they are? Why is there an assumption that more homework = more learning?

 

What We Do for Extra Credit

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I gotta say, dressing up and lip-syncing to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is the weirdest thing I’ve ever done for extra credit.

I posted this picture on Facebook and multiple people asked me for the full story. Goodness. How do I even begin to explain that class?

I guess I should have known what I was getting into. After all, I did go online and register for a class called “Small Group Communication.” But see, by the time I got around to registering, classes had mostly filled up, and I was blindly clicking on anything that fulfilled my graduation requirements.

It didn’t really occur to me until the first day of class that I had just signed up for lots and lots of group work. (Which, if you have ever been to college, you know can be ab-so-lute-lee brutal.)

This class though. About 1/3 of it is lecture, and the other 2/3 is group activity. One day your team is stacking oddly-shaped blocks. One day you’re trying to come up with a solution to the feral cat problem, while trying to ignore the team behind you telling each other wild stories about their aunt’s friend’s cat who mated with a bobcat and had a half-bobcat kitten. One day you’re crawling on the floor trying to get through a desk-and-string maze.

Let’s just say, I’ve gotten to know these classmates better than I usually get to know my classmates.

On Friday, my teacher pulled out the ULTIMATE class activity. Unlike other class activities, this was actually worth something. If your team got 1800 points, you would get 10 points of extra credit.

There were five rounds. Three were played Friday, and the last two were played today.

Now, I should probably add that for nearly all of the games, tests, assignments, etc, our class is divided into three teams. There is my team, “The Emilys,” which consists of me, two other girls named “Emily,” a guy named Marcus (who interestingly enough is married to a girl named Emily), and a girl named Grace. The remaining 7 girls in the class have a team, and the remaining 4 boys in the class have a team.

Round 1, each team randomly drew a card. The cards were worth an arbitrary number of points. My team got negative points. Lucky us. The boys got the most points, so they got to choose a team to humiliate. They choose us. We had to hum “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Rounds 2 and 3 were also mostly based on chance, and involved drawing cards. My team wasn’t particularly lucky. The girls got “humiliated” and had to do the bunny hop. The boys got “humiliated” and had to crow like a rooster for a minute and a half.

Just another day in a small group communication class.

Anyway, just before class was out, my teacher pulled up a song on youtube:

“On Monday,” she said, “your team will lip-sync to this song. Teams that do well in this exercise often bring props and costumes. Goodbye, have a good weekend.”

“How badly do you want to win this thing?” Marcus asked us.

“Really bad! I can make a lion mane! Can I be the lead singer? I have an African shirt!” I said.

I love this kind of thing. Not gonna lie. And furthermore, it seemed like we were finally going to get a chance to gain points based on effort, not luck.

So, I made a lion mane that weekend. I listened to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” over and over until I had all the lyrics memorized. I dug in the attic this morning until I found an African shirt. I tried it on, and it fit, but I couldn’t get it off so I wore it all day.

Unfortunately, the girls all showed up with jungle-animal costumes and choreographed dance moves. They were awarded 750 points, while my team got 500. The boys completely winged it, using the chalkboard eraser as their “microphone” and slapping it periodically to release a dramatic cloud of white fog. They got 25o points.

We went into the last round with the girls sitting pretty, and the boys and us duking it out for the remaining points. This also involved a complicated system of drawing playing cards, in which we were, once again, quite unlucky.

The story ends sadly: Everyone got their 1800 points, with the 10 points of extra credit, except my team.

Yep. That spectacular lion mane was all for nothing.

Now, throughout all of this none of us could figure out what the point was. All our games and activities are supposed to teach valuable truths about small groups, but what do playing cards and lip-syncing have to do with anything we’ve been studying?

“Now,” said my teacher, as my team slumped dejectedly in our chairs at the end of the game, a discarded lion mane on the desk. “That exercise was about power.”

Class was over.

“We’ll talk about it more on Wednesday,” she said.

So. I memorized a song, made a lion mane, and wore an African shirt all day until my Mom helped me wiggle out of it when I got home. And I got no extra credit. However, not to worry! I learned all about power! At least, I will on Wednesday.

ETA: My mom read this and said it comes across like a very juvenile exercise, and will make people question why on EARTH I am paying good money to take classes like this.

Fair enough. It was a juvenile exercise. However, I have to say, as strange as this class is it is oddly effective. I’m guessing, as far as retention goes, I’ll remember what I learned in this class much longer than in my lecture classes, because I’ll have these unique activities to tie the concepts to. (And also, this is by far the silliest thing we’ve done so far. So there’s that.)