The "Learning To Be Successful In The Old Order Life" Story
It was an ordinary day. Driving from the Pennsylvania town of Lititz to another small town known as Manheim when I took a wrong turn onto Fairview Road.
One-room school on Fairview Road.
Happened upon a one-room Amish school which was stark silent. Nothing unusual since school ended a few months ago when growing season began in the farming community of the Amish and Old Order Mennonites. The school is one of more that 300 Plain schools that can be found on country roads in Lancaster County. These schools began to dot the landscape in the 1930s and are all built by the families that use them. They house students in grades 1 thru 8 in one classroom. Lancaster's Amish community schooling stops with eighth grade when they are sent into the world with very little pomp and circumstance. If they happen to graduate before the age of 15, they must go to what's known as a "three-hour school" until their 15th birthday. The right to stop at eighth grade was won in the Supreme Court in 1972. It was said that further schooling would take teens away from their culture and destroy the community for you see, the schools are more than just academic; they play an important part of their culture. While in school they are taught what is needed to lead a successful Old Order way of life. The objective of the schooling is to create a person who is an asset to the Plain community. School is both a place for academic subjects as well lessons in cultivating the values and dispositions needed for having a successful Old Order life. Competition in academic subjects is discouraged while cooperation is encouraged. Bulletin boards show when a "group of students" has mastered a lesson rather than tracking the success of individual students. Recess is a necessary part of school and the students are encouraged to form new teams every day so there aren't ongoing rivalries among the students. The classroom environment is structured for formal religious texts like hymnals, prayer books and the Bible. In 1950 an Old Order Book Society was founded which evaluates the books that are used in the schools. Fathers of children in each individual school serve as the school board for that school. They make the decisions on books, hiring teachers and pay. The teachers are eight-grade graduates of Amish and Old Order Mennonite schools and usually women aged from 17-20. When a woman marries and begins having children, they retire from teaching. Very few male teachers exist, but there may be one from time to time. Pay at present is anywhere from $50 to $75 daily. Teachers from the different schools meet every six weeks to share ideas. Some schools have written tests, like assessment tests, but they are not required to by the state. School starts in mid-August and ends in mid-May with about the same amount of days as non-Amish schooling.
Lavatory facilities and stalls to hold ponies.
Since there are so many Amish school around Lancaster County, students walk, ride their bike or scooter or get a ride with an older student who may have a pony cart. The school I saw today on Fairview Road was in excellent condition with Boy's and Girl's outhouses and a small area to tie a pony if needed. There were swings beside the school and two backstops for ball fields. The grass had been recently cut, perhaps by a nearby farmer, and the school had been recently painted. If only it could be this easy in our "English" way of life. It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.