All of the children in our county went back to school this week, well all but the Amish children. The Amish have their own schools and their children start school a bit later and let out for the summer earlier than the children from their neighboring English homes. Opening day of school is but the first of the many differences which exists between these two groups of children neither of whom had any say as to which community they were born into. And while the observation can rightly be made that most of the children born into traditional homes are downright spoiled and on the lazy side, an Amish child is born into a life of hard labor.
An Amish child usually draws their first breaths of life in the family home and more times than not they are delivered by their father. The pregnancy of an Amish woman is monitored by a mid-wife and they only seek help from the medical community if a problem is suspected. Hard as it may be for us to imagine, it is not unusual at all for an Amish child to reach adulthood without ever seeing a member of the medical community. Depending on the child, the first three to four years of their life is very similar to that of their English counterparts with one glaring difference. In an effort to protect their young children from any ill effects exposure to the world around them would provide, Amish children are spoken to only in German, (or some may refer to it as Pennsylvania Dutch), until they start school. Thus German is considered the first language of the Amish. The children begin to have simple responsibilities and chores in the home as soon as they are able and tasks are added as the child grows.
An Amish child enters their school system at five to six years of age. Amish schools are located within walking distance of their homes, generally not in excess of three miles. In our community children are allowed to use roller skates with metal wheels as a means of transportation however that varies with each community. The school houses here have no indoor plumbing or water and the students drink rain water collected in barrels and chronic cases of parasites are not unusual amongst the children. The children are taught only enough to provide them with the most basic and elementary skills which are required to function in life. Learning and knowledge is discouraged as a means of keeping their young people from leaving the Amish community. After the children have completed their school day they must again make the long walk this time returning to their homes where another long list of chores waits for them.
Amish children go to school only until they are fourteen years old at which point for all intensive purposes their "childhood" is over. The girls help their mother's tend to all the needs of running the family home and caring for the younger children and the boys go to work holding the same full time jobs as the grown men. While the Amish do not encourage their children to marry young the children do remain in the family home contributing all or the majority of the money they earn until they marry. The young people do have a period of time when they are allowed to mingle with the outside world without fear of being shunned before they make their decision to stay within the community and join the church. However most for many obvious reasons never think of leaving the security and comfort of their families and all they have ever known.
Talking to an Amish child, regardless if they can understand what you are saying to them or not, is heartbreaking. Looking into their young, innocent eyes reveals a mixed bag of emotions. Fear, distrust, envy, curiosity, all because they have been told you are not to be trusted because you are different and of the world. It really is driven by one emotion instilled in them since birth and it is the same one instilled in their parents since birth; fear. Fear that their children will see the world thru their own eyes and dare to decided for themselves how they want to live. Which is why they limit their education as they do. Without any education it is nearly impossible for them to leave the confines of their isolated community and support themselves in the real world.
Which brings me to my point; who is watching out for the health and welfare of the Amish children? How is it that Amish parents are exempt from affording their children the same medical, educational and standards of living as the rest of the parents in the United States? I am well aware that I must tread carefully with my answer, so with that said I will suffice to say that I suspect as with most things in life it all comes down to dollars and cents.
Until we meet here again, I pray God bless you and keep your loved ones safe.