2021 JAPAS Article of the Year Award
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Amish education; school choice; new localism; parental choice; public schools
In response to 20th-century industrialization, parents of the Amish tradition established parochial schools, segmenting away from an increasingly secular society. In the 1972 Wisconsin v. Yoder case, the Supreme Court codified the right of Amish parents to withdraw children from compulsory attendance after eighth grade, and many did withdraw. Yet, nearly a half century later, some Amish parents still send their children to public schools, but only limited research has explored why. This study identifies the factors that contribute to Amish families choosing to attend public schools. The researcher, doubling as the superintendent of a district in Elkhart County, IN, where one K-8 Amish-supported public school is located, conducted semi-structured interviews with 26 Old Order Amish parents randomly selected from this school. Thematic coding revealed that parents consider institutional, instructional, and social factors when deciding to send their children to public school. Amish parents do relinquish control on some issues, including no prayer or religious songs and the presence of modern music, information-communications technology, and exposure to non-Amish influences. However, on balance, the utility of learning skills and dispositions for the future makes pragmatic negotiations with the public education system worthwhile. Ultimately, parents felt that if they instill values consistent with their faith in their children at home, their children will benefit from public education, learning to navigate contemporary society, learning to think for themselves, and, ultimately, selecting to remain in their faith, dually equipped with reason and skill sets for a changing world. [Abstract by author.]
I want to acknowledge the School Board of Trustees of Fairfield Community Schools for providing permission for my research, and I appreciate the Amish parents who volunteered for this study and for the trust the community placed in me during my 12 years in the district.
Thalheimer, Steve. 2021. "A Little More in the World: Why Amish Parents Choose to Send Their Children to Public Schools." Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies 9(1):27-54.