You can’t solve a problem that you can’t name and you aren’t allowed to talk about. Yet, we keep pretending that we can.
(Keep scrolling for the video version of this post.)
Schools have immense value in our societies. They educate our children and help them grow into capable, fulfilled citizens, equipped with the tools and abilities to pursue their passions and make their mark in the world. More than that, they serve as a key space for social and emotional development: making friends, facing disappointment, winning graciously, and dealing with failure.
For many of us, schools were the site of our first crush, where we realized who we wanted to be, or a space with crucial mentors and critical relationships. Many of these major events are incidental as the result of requiring education, but other key elements of schools are . . .
. . . structural, changes that require laws and policies and continual fights to protect them. For example, free and reduced lunch programs help combat food insecurity, health classes help students develop an understanding of the risks associated with drugs and alcohol, and mandated reporters function as a safety net to catch students when their families can’t, or won’t.
Amish children don’t receive these key benefits. By virtue of attending one-room school houses, taught by a young woman with a grade-school education, Amish children aren’t permitted to see other paths for their lives outside of being farmers, carpenters, or housewives. This is intentional, as many leaders in the Amish community seem to lack the faith that young people would continue in their way of life if they felt like they had another, viable choice, and were exposed to further opportunities. However, by limiting children’s access to the outside world (which often occurs in an educational environment for non-Amish children), the authority structures are putting their children at risk.
When children do not have access to safe, trusted adults outside of their immediate circle, they have no one to turn to in cases of abuse or neglect. Perhaps even more seriously, by limiting a child’s learning to reading, writing, and arithmetic, children are denied the language to express the abuse they experience, or even the awareness that what they are experiencing is abuse. This is especially true for instances of sexual abuse, where Amish children often have no way of understanding what is happening and no way of explaining it to any one else. As much as we all want to believe that all families have children’s best interests at heart, that is often not the case as most child abuse occurs within the home.
Wisconsin v. Yoder was a Supreme Court decision that determined that Amish parents could not be compelled to send their children to school after the 8th grade, due to their religious belief that further education would be a corrupting influence and the Amish way of life only required the skills taught before the 8th grade. Much has been said about the damage that educational neglect can cause children, but we need to also keep in mind that yanking children out of school prevents them from making the connections and developing the knowledge that could be the lifeboat in an abusive situation.
Give kids the tools and language to talk about if bad things happen to them. It’s the only way to keep kids safe.
Watch the Video (coming soon)
Keep scrolling for the video version of this post.
V.B., Summer Intern for the Amish Heritage Foundation
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“Education is the key to freedom.”— Torah Bontrager, Amish Educator, Writer, Author, Speaker
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