Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Amish Values (Education and the Role of Reading; Competition v. Kindness)

Another fascinating aspect of Amish culture that is mentioned throughout Amish Values is the love the Amish apparently have for reading.  The Amish are formally schooled only up until eighth grade.  During those years, they attend Amish schools with teachers who are not college graduates.  Interestingly, the teachers rarely make a career of classroom teaching.  Instead, they teach school for a year or two before moving on to something else.  Children are taught in small schools with lots of local control.  In Amish pedagogy, there is plenty of time for active, outdoor activities.  Children are not cooped up all day, chained to a desk.   

Fascinatingly, the Amish also believe that educating the young is a “community responsibility,” which Ms. Fisher notes is quite different from the mainline American belief.  (p. 71)  Most Americans seem to push the responsibility of educating children off on others ( i.e., the state or a private entity we pay) to do it almost unilaterally for us.  Alternately, we “English” (as the Amish refer to non-Amish Americans) assume full responsibility for our children’s education by homeschooling.  Few of us seem to have a sense of communal responsibility for educating the next generation, but education apparently is viewed as a huge responsibility in Amish society.  To understand this perspective, Ms. Fisher observes that children are valued in part because the Amish understand that their community will die if the next generation is not trained correctly.

Despite receiving less formal education than most Americans, the Amish are apparently a people of avid readers.  It is a great joy in their lives.  Ms. Fisher recounts a Trivial Pursuit party hosted by an Amish friend of hers.  As she described the evening, she explained:

I took my seat and hoped all my synapses were firing.  I used to be pretty good at this game, but I knew enough about the Amish to know that this would be a challenge.  These people were readers, and their minds were refreshingly uncluttered from TV and movies. Their memory for detail always astounded me.

Ms. Fisher then noted how different the Trivial Pursuit party was than if it had been hosted by an English family.  The Amish “foster a culture of kindness.” (p. 183)  Competitiveness was not supreme.  There was gentle joking and laughter, but no cutting remarks or sarcasm.  At the end of the evening, families helped the hosts clean up and put things away, then headed home “[h]appy and satisfied after an evening of fun and fellowship, just as it was meant to be.” Ms. Fisher observes:

It’s a shame that kindness is almost rendered meaningless in our culture.  It isn’t modeled much.  Just the opposite.  At times, I think the popularity of reality television has to do with a pleasure we take in meanness, in seeing someone humiliated.  The more sarcastic, the ruder the comments, the more drawn we get.  Would American Idol have soared in popularity without Simon Cowell’s acerbic tongue?  Someone said, it’s like all of America attended Smart-mouth College.

Proverbs 9:9 (Common English Bible)

Teach the wise,
and they will become wiser;
inform the righteous,
and their learning will increase.

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