Amish: Significant Ideas and Philosophy

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All communities eventually change at some point in their histories. No matter how big, and powerful these societies are they do eventually fall. A fairly recent community that seems to be growing rather than diminishing are the Amish. Yet, the Amish community does not do things that are typically associated with a growing community. Such as not utilizing new technology to make doing every task much more efficient. Instead of a constant pursuit of innovation and technology the Amish are content with their old ways of life. The Amish are against the concept of individuality and are not very fond of innovation. Amish children are condemned from thinking and interpreting things critically. This is shown in the essay “Becoming Literate: A Lesson from the Amish by Andrea Fishman. Fishman, an educator, tells of Eli and Mary who attends a “preschool day” in which they are shown what to expect when they attend 1st grade and how to behave. Also how these things that Eli and Mary learn effect their way of life outside of school and how outsiders can use this system to help out the outside schools. Fishman gives many examples of things that both Eli and Mary did that doesn’t typically happen in “English” (the term used by the Amish to refer to non-Amish people) schools. The Amish know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to raising their children the way they believe is right and how to accomplish those goals. The Amish are not set up for future failure as they are all about keeping the community intact, the Amish parents are in complete controls of how their kids are raised and have been growing as a community in most recent times rather than regressing.

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The Amish try to do everything they can to make sure that their community stays together no matter what the circumstances. Making sure that their children are loyal to the Amish faith and the Amish way of life is incredibly important to the Amish. In the online article “Amish Studies” by Elizabethtown College shows how the Amish value community over individuality. Community and tradition also play important roles in Amish life. It is stated,“The welfare of the community ranks above individual rights and choices. Communal wisdom, accumulated over the decades, is valued more than the opinion of one person” (Amish Studies, Elizabethtown College). The community knows the best to the Amish and will do whatever it takes to maintain that idea. The Amish tries to do this by attempting to de-individualize a person and make them think as part of a group or community. So personal opinions although are taken into consideration are not taken as serious as a group conscious. Whatever it takes to get the community doing better. This is something that Terrence Brunk, an author, is against in terms of reading. Brunk invites the reader in his essay “Reading, Ratification, and Risk” to not read books and information for what he calls “ratifying” your own beliefs. Meaning not the read a book or ideas just to confirm your ideas, but rather, read to expand your knowledge and grow your ideas. This is something that communities in general including the Amish typically do not do. Brunk asserts “As members of a community, for example, as citizens, readers may want to affirm shared values, for the sake of stability or solidarity, for the sake of continuity and an orderly life” (Brunk xix). The Amish as a community want to affirm their shared values as explained by Brunk all to keep the continuity going with no conflicts. And although to many non-Amish people this may seem like a foreign concept but this has been going on for many years and the Amish are reluctant to change their ways. This is just one way the Amish had been able to retain their members and children without any type of “rebellion” or retaliation from the members. By keeping them ignorant of many subjects and learning only about what they believe should be known.

The Amish are taught to interpret the text for what they are. There are no critical thinking skills that are taught by the Amish. The Amish children are also not taught to interpret the things they read or see in any other way rather than the literal definition of that word or thing shown. This is shown in the essay “Becoming Literate: A lesson from the Amish” by Andrea Fishman where Fishman tells of the story of young Eli jr., and his first preschool day. This is a day where Amish kids who are too young to go to regular school are shown the ropes and how to behave and what to expect once they get to these schools. During the day Fishman tells of how these students aren’t taught to critically thinking let alone critically read. Fishman tells “Critical reading – individual analysis and interpretation – of the sort considered particularly important by most people who are mainstream-educated or mainstream educators is not valued by the Amish because of its potentially divisive, counterproductive power” (Fishman 246). The Amish believe that critical thinking is divisive which is something the Amish will avoid at all costs. The Amish do not want any type of hostility or splitting up of their community. Rather than face the consequences of teaching them critical thinking they would rather avoid the possibility of confrontation. Confrontation is counterproductive and that is not something that the Amish want as they set to grow their community. Dr. Marlow Ediger, a college professors, writes about the Amish education system and how the Amish are taught in schools and in life in general. This is in his essay “Old Older Amish Philosophy of Education”. Ediger is very straightforward in how the Amish educational system works. Ediger writes “Critical and creative thinking as well as problem solving is not emphasized in school” (Ediger 423). Ediger explains that the Amish are not looking for new ways to improve their life as a modern approach to things like farming is generally frowned upon in the community. They strive to keep everything the same and to not change their approaches for as long as possible. Preventing progress in certain areas does help control the community. Keeping the community together is key for the success and growth of the Amish community.

Another reason of how the Amish can continue to grow is with the power that they parents and elders have on the children of the community. If the kids are not given the chance of seeing and experiencing the outside world other than in “rumspringa” then the desire to become worldly or English is rather nonexistent. The Amish does everything in their power to make the outside world seem as something that shouldn’t be want as possible. Also if an Amish person that has been baptized by the church decides to leave or break the rules of the church they will be shunned. Which is a way of publically shaming the person for their own wrong doings. Elizabethtown College mentions shunning in their article “Amish Studies”. Although joining the church is not required it is greatly shoved upon the younger Amish. As a result they state “These disciplinary practices place great weight on the baptism decision for young people. Only church members can be excommunicated and shunned” (Amish Studies, Elizabethtown College).Shunning and excommunicating is a way the Amish controls their members. Rejection from a group is a strong way to retain the members of the Amish community and combine that with the almost nonexistent want to leave makes it very difficult for non-church members to not conform to that way of life. In the story of “No Name Woman” written by Chinese-American author Maxine Hong Kingston, she tells of the story of her aunt which was given no name due to her committing adultery in village. As a result not only was Kingston’s aunt excommunicated and shunned she was completely forgotten to have her completely erased from ever existing in their memories. Kingston tells of her aunt’s family reaction to the baby when they said “You killed us. Ghost! Dead ghost! Ghost! You’ve never been born” This led to her running away to the fields where she would eventually kill herself with her shame and guilt. Excommunication is a powerful tool that the community has on its members and when used can have extreme consequences on those that have been excommunicated. Although the Amish are not as extreme as in the story of Kingston, just the fact that they can use that tool makes the community with a lot of control.

Another way the Amish community controls its members and kids are by what they read. Reading is a very powerful tool and is something that can greatly expand one’s intelligence and one’s perspectives on things. Fishman tells in his essay about little Eli jr. and how his parents carefully control what books they get and what books they have available for Eli to read. As the Amish knows as well that reading is an extremely powerful tool and can drastically grow and change a person. Fishman tells “Eli and Anna attempt to carefully control the reading material that enters their home. Anna buys books primarily from a local Christian bookstore and from an Amish-operated dry goods store, both of which she trusts not to stock objectionable material” (Fishman 239). By letting their child only read what is approved by their parents prevents little Eli from learning things from a new perspective. He just learns what his parents want him to learn. As suggested many of the books that they purchase are religious in some way shape or form. These books are also not worldly in their eyes which helps them control Eli Jr. from learning anything they do not want to know. Add the fact that Amish children like Eli are limited in what they can read, they are taught to read in one way only. This is something that Brunk does not welcome, rather, wants readers to stay away from this type of reading and thinking. Brunk wants readers to interpret everything in their own way based on their own ideas and perspectives. Brunk states “Paying close attention to someone’s words is an act of respect and a form of inquiry, a way of taking the world seriously. When you think about the ways a writer’s words relate to what you know of the world, you take your own ideas and experiences seriously too.” (Brunk xvii)This way readers can learn new ideas and see things from a totally different perspective that may have never been available to them. This is something that the Amish know will cause conflict in terms of ideas which is not something they want to deal with let alone learn from. So by preventing them from obtaining these things, the children remain of ignorant of these things and are less likely to pursue new thoughts and ideas.

Despite all the things that the Amish do that many would consider detrimental to a community the Amish has almost perfected this system and it’s shown by their retention rate. In the article of “Old Order Amish” presented by Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online it is told that the Amish are steadily growing even if a third of their members leave. GAMEO tells “Even though a large proportion (probably one third) of the offspring of Old Order Amish parents do not join the church of their parents, the Old Order Amish are still listed as one of the fastest growing religious bodies in the United States. This is, of course, due to their high birth rate and high retention of children in the group” (GAMEO). Few religions and beliefs are growing as quickly as the Amish and they look to continue this trend. Their control and way of life is working in retaining their children. The Amish are very aware of their system and are very aware that this system has been working. As long as they continue to have the majority retention rate, then they’ll continue to grow and expand as a whole. There are more statistics that shows that even though some Amish communities have something that is called “Rumspringa” which means “running around” and the teens are allowed to do whatever they choose to do outside the community. Those communities still have a high retention rate. In the page Q and A #2 presented by the Amish Religious Freedom website. The author Joe Whittmer answers commonly asked questions about the Amish. One question being what is rumspringa? There is answers exactly what it is and what typically happens during that time. Whittmer also explains the high retention rate of the teens that take part of rumspringa. Whittmer states “In my opinion, to have been judged as fair and balanced, the documentary and TV show referred to above should have included interviews with rumspringa age kids from the 85% or more who do not choose to rebel and explore the “world.” (Whittmer, Amish Religious Freedom). If the Amish are able to retain a retention rate as high as the one they have currently then there is no reason why that community will fail. They are doing everything they can without breaking any laws or consent to continue growing.

In short, the Amish seems like a community that will continue to thrive and grow as they currently are. With things like high retention rates, complete control over what children see, hear, or read and their great sense of community and keeping that community together will help the Amish continue to grow. Although the Amish are very similar to many religions, one that thing that differentiates them from many of the religions are the fact how much in control the elders and adults have over their members. They can continue to grow their population and keep their members as they want them to be. The lack of progressive thoughts and ideas although seems to be a thing that holds them back is rather helping them thrive. The Amish are very intuitive and have the recipe to create the “perfect community” in the sense that it will not rebel or completely topple over due to conflicting ideas as long as the control still belongs to the elders of the communities. As long as the church remains the top priority to not only the ones in control of the community, but the members of the community. They have every reason to grow and will continue to grow for a very long time. The Amish are not set up for failure with how their current system works. As long as they keep this system in place they will continue to grow as a community. A community growing up the Amish way.

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