Freedom and Democracy Absolutely Fail Children in the US

by | Published on Feb 8, 2021 Last updated Dec 19, 2023 | Amish Culture

Children are human beings, not property owned by adults who gave birth to them. We need a movement that acknowledges and enforces the Constitutional rights of Amish and other children, such as Ultra-Orthodox Jewish, fundamentalist Christian, Jehovah’s Witness, and Native/Indigenous.
Part 3 of 3 – See Why Is STEM Education in the US So Important to Big Tech? for Part 2


The prevailing secular political force that continues to influence the educational system of the United States is democracy, the form of government upon which the U.S. Constitution was founded. During the post-war or cold war era, democractic ideals such as freedom and equality, and a concurrent goal to advance global citizenship, have conflicted with ideologies influenced by communism and fascism around globalization and education (Reimers, 2017). For example, one of the effects of the rise of populism, seen especially during the Trump era, is a move away from preparing students for a globally-minded citizenry due to the idea that one “is defined by citizenship, not by membership in humanity” (Reimers, 2017).

Perhaps the greatest example of how democracy has, and continues to, influence the U.S. educational system is seen in John Dewey’s work. To Dewey, a democractic education was “the right kind of education” (Mintz, n.d.). This meant, among other things, an educational system that embodied the ideals of individual liberty (e.g., allowed students to thrive in their studies) and the public good (e..g, prepared students for civic engagement and contribution to economic growth), not just domestically but also globally.

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Democracy and social reform are linked in Dewey’s mind and throughout his career, he continually made the case for “the importance of education not only as a place to gain content knowledge, but also as a place to learn how to live” (Talebi, 2015). Considering that spreading democracy has been a major foreign policy goal of the United States for decades, and that the Biden administration is returning to a mindset of global democratic leadership as opposed to national populism, it is not surprising to see that the force of democracy continues to strongly shape the U.S. educational system, despite the disagreements over which democratic values should take precedence over others when deciding on what to teach, how to teach, to whom to teach, and when to teach.

All the above said, freedom and democracy don’t apply to Amish children––and children of other insular religious groups such as Ultra-Orthodox Jewish, many fundamentalist Christian, Jehovah’s Witness, and the list goes on. Neither are the rights of Native, or indigenous, children of this land protected. Children are human beings, not property owned by adults who gave birth to them. We need a movement that acknowledges and enforces Amish and other children’s inalienable rights, as well as Native/Indigenous peoples’ rights.

Until then, the assertion that the United States is a democracy, the land of the free, and the home of the brave is a blatant lie to a 15-year-old Amish American girl who was forced to endure a childhood of torture (because the U.S. Supreme Court decided it was okay to strip her of her rights as a citizen in favor of the Amish religion’s rights) and escape in the middle of the night just for a chance to be free and go to school past the 8th grade. It’s also a blatant lie to the Native peoples of this land, who were slaughtered, raped, enslaved, and experimented upon for generations and who are still the target of heinous violations and abuses by the United States (e.g., the United States forbids Native nations from prosecuting a non-Native who rapes a Native on a reservation; thanks again to the U.S. Supreme Court: Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe).

This is the country that claims to be the beacon of democracy and freedom.


Carleton, D. (n.d.). Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647 (1647). In, The First Amendment encyclopedia. Middle Tennessee State University. Retrieved February 05, 2021, from 

Graham, P. A. (2005). Introduction. In Schooling America: How the public schools meet the nation's changing needs. (14-20). Oxford University Press. Retrieved February 05, 2021, from 

Gray, P. (2008, August 20). A brief history of education. Retrieved February 03, 2021, from

Gutek, G. L. (1991). An historical introduction to American education, 2nd edition.

Matzat, A. L. (n.d.). Massachusetts education laws of 1642 and 1647 [History of American Education Web Project page]. University of Notre Dame. Retrieved February 05, 2021, from 

Mintz, A. I. (n.d.). What is the purpose of education? Dewey's challenge to his contemporaries. [pdf] Retrieved February 05, 2021, from

National Education Association. (2021, January 08). Students and educators can’t take four more years of Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump. Retrieved February 03, 2021, from 

Reimers, F. (2017, August 03). Rediscovering the cosmopolitan moral purpose of education. Retrieved February 22, 2018, from

Schrager, A. (2018, June 29). The modern education system was designed to teach future factory workers to be “punctual, docile, and sober”. Quartz. 

Talebi, Kandan. (2015, September) John Dewey- Philosopher and educational reformer. European Journal of Educational Studies. [pdf] Retrieved February 28, 2018 from

End of Part 3 of 3

To education and children’s rights,
Executive Director, Amish Heritage Foundation

By <a href="" target="_self">Torah Bontrager</a>
By Torah Bontrager

Torah Bontrager earned her BA from Columbia University in New York City and is the foremost expert on Amish life, culture, and education. She's the author of Amish Girl in Manhattan (a memoir) and Amish Insider blog, and Founder & Executive Director of the Amish Heritage Foundation. A sought-after leader, she helps legal and health professionals, educators, and creatives become culturally literate so they can expand their missions to successfully serve the Amish population. Take her free quiz How Much Do You Actually Know About the Amish? or get her free "54 Popular Myths About the Amish" PDF.

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