Why do you think it was important to the Amish people that they be the ones to teach their children? Why do you think it was important to the State of Iowa that they be allowed to monitor certify the education of these students?
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Schools for Amish Children

In 1728 the first group of Amish people crossed the Atlantic Ocean and arrived in the "New World" to freely practice their religious way of life. The Amish were mainly farmers, and as the United States grew westward groups of Amish people migrated to the farm lands of Iowa to settle in communities composed only of Amish people.

A Farming Life

Most Amish believe that farming is the simplest and best way of life. They use old farming methods. "A tractor gets the work done more quickly, but horses and the love of hard work keeps us nearer to God," one Amish man explained. Clothing and homes are kept as plain as possible. Decoration of any kind is avoided. The Amish discourage knowledge of the world outside their settlement.

To teach their children this way of life the Amish have their own schools. Amish teachers teach reading, writing and arithmetic. At home children learn farming, cooking, sewing and gardening.

Problems Between the Amish and the Government

In Iowa there have been arguments about the Amish way of schooling. The State of Iowa is responsible for the education of Iowa children. The state law says that school teachers must be certified. Often, Amish schools were taught by young girls with only an elementary school education.

In 1965 officials closed an Amish school because the teacher was uncertified. The parents were told they must send their children to public school. When they refused, heavy fines were demanded. All over the state people talked about the Amish school issue. They wrote letters to the editor in the newspapers. The governor made his views known.

The Amish based their right to have separate schools on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, the state said these schools were below standard. The Iowa General Assembly debated the school issue. They decided to amend the Code of Iowa so that the Amish could educate their own children but must request permission each year to open their schools. The schools would be inspected every year before they could open. Permission was granted every year until 1971, when the State Board of Public Instruction denied the Amish request. Once again, Amish parents refused to send their children to public schools. Finally in another vote, the Board decided in favor of opening the schools

No More Problems

Amish schools continue to operate across the state of Iowa. They are different than the typical Iowa school. They are much like the one room schools of the 1800s. Iowa’s state government has continued to allow the Amish to operate their schools a little differently than other schools. The Amish schools are special schools in many ways.

Adapted from original article in The Goldfinch 2, No. 4. Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa.
© State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa

 

 


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