Origins of the Old Order Amish

The Amish, called "The Plain People" or Old Order Amish, originated in Switzerland about l525. They came from a division of the Mennonites or Anabaptists (Re-baptizers). They opposed the union of church and state and infant baptism. They baptized people only as adults at about age l8. Adult baptism was a crime in the l6th century. Therefore, the Amish come from an impressive list of martyrs. They were put in sacks and thrown into rivers in Europe. There are no Amish left in Europe; The Amish were saved from extinction by William Penn who granted a haven from religious persecution in America. Since early colonial days the Amish have lived in the United States preserving their distinctive culture, dress, language and religion in peace and prosperity.

A few years ago they were again accused of crimes -- failing to have their children attend school with state certified teachers or failure to send them beyond the eighth grade. Until the United States Supreme Court in the case of Wisconsin vs. Yoder ruled in l972 that it was unconstitutional to force Amish into high school. The decision was based on the Constitutional legal issues of Parental Rights and Religious Freedom. Since the Amish believe in "turning the other cheek" and do not defend themselves, the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom and its attorney William B. Ball of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, defended them in court.

It may seem strange that failing to send children to school past the eighth grade would be a permitted or acceptable practice. But the Amish society is itself a school. They train their young people vocationally -- how to be homemakers and farmers, carpenters, and tradesmen from very early ages. By the time an Amish girl is twelve years old she knows how to cook a meal for a whole crew of Amish workers, and a young man knows farm operations by the time he is a teenager.

The Amish therefore have practically no unemployment, since their society is a vocational school. The Amish operate one-room parochial schools and are taught by teachers with only an eight-grade education. However, the teachers have learned how to be teachers with on the job training by an older and experienced Amish teacher. The Amish pupils have been tested with standardized tests by the U.S. Office of Education, and the pupils usually perform above the norms when compared to public schools pupils in their communities. The students are not therefore educationally deprived. Furthermore, it is difficult, if not impossible, for a non-Amish teacher to teach the values of humility, quietness, and shunning of technological things like automobiles, television, video games, movies and fashions. Some people think the Amish are ignorant because they shun technology, but the Amish are also making profound statements about the environment. They do not use gasoline, electricity, commercial chemicals, CFCs -- all of which pollute the environment.

The Amish live in nineteen states, Canada, and Central America. However, 80 percent of the Amish live in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. The Old Order Amish take their name from an early Swiss Anabaptist, Jacob Amman, who became their strict Bishop and taught them the Amish ethics -- Living non-resistant lives (They do not serve in the military, but only in hospitals or alternate service), with brotherly love, sharing material aid and living close to the soil and following the Bible literally. They cite the Bible which says, "Be ye not conformed to the world" as their chief tenet.

To this day they endure as a distinctive folk group because they have preserved a mentality of separation from the world and the sentiments of persecuted strangers in the land. They wear plain clothing fastened with hooks and eyes, not buttons. Their men wear broad-brimmed black hats, plain-cut trousers and the women and even little girls wear bonnets and ankle length dresses. They generally oppose automobiles, electricity, telephones and higher education beyond eighth grade.

Their congregations number only about 300. They worship in homes and not in church buildings. They do not drive cars or ride in airplanes, but drive horses and buggies. This keeps their communities small and close-knit, and their children do not live all over the world. Family values are important to them. They are slow to change and speak the German language along with English. They drive horses and buggies for transportation. They practice "shunning" for any of their members who break their rules.

Although many people do not understand their simple way of life, the Amish are maintaining a very profound position. They want to be prepared for the world to come rather than for becoming rich or famous in this world. They would rather maintain a close-knit family life than travel all over. The norms and educational goals of our society which stress product centered, high pressure, technological and secular values are antithetical to Amish beliefs. Therefore, they practice old ways, slowness of pace, simplicity, close-knit agrarian living. The 80,000 Old Order Amish oppose higher education because it violates their morals, their religious convictions and takes their children away from the simple ways of the Amish.

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Revised 12/27/97