Plain & Pious or Greedy?: Why the Amish Don’t Go to High School

by | Published on Jul 15, 2021 Last updated Dec 19, 2023 | Amish Religion, Wisconsin v. Yoder

If your son or daughter’s school released a statement declaring, “We feel that if we give the child an education that allows 'it' to get a job and also be a good, moral person, we have done our duty as a good school”, wouldn’t that statement enrage you?

“We feel if the child has received instruction that will enable it to earn an honest living and lead a Christian life, few would deny the child has been adequately educated,” states the Regulations and Guidelines for Amish Parochial Schools of Indiana booklet. However, this is a flawed statement. It holds the idea that being educationally prepared for ANY morally acceptable job––regardless of that job’s industry, opportunity for job growth, or any benefits offered––equates to receiving an adequate education, so long as that education also prepares a student for a Christian life. However, can such an education prepare one for a non-Christian (or even just a non-Amish) life?

If your son or daughter’s school released a statement declaring, “We feel that if we give the child an education that allows it to get a job and also be a good, moral person, we have done our duty as a good school”, wouldn’t that statement enrage you? First, it would be hard for any school to teach anyone to lead a good life and be a good person when that school’s mission statement openly admits the school sees a child, not as a person, but as a thing––as an “it”. Second, the ability to get a job should NEVER be the defining characteristic of having an “adequate education”. Talk about scraping the bottom of the educational adequacy barrel.

Somebody who can barely read or write can be a cashier at McDonald’s or get a job scrubbing toilets. There’s no shame whatsoever in those jobs; they are HARD work. But society wouldn’t accept a school saying that simply because its graduates can perform those jobs, that means it’s a good school, or that proves its graduates have received “an adequate education”.

What about that measure of education for non-Amish or non-Christian children? The Guidelines booklet––and the US Supreme Court case of Wisconsin v. Yoder, which allows a system of inadequate schools and educational deprivation to exist––would have society believe that the impact from Amish education on the non-Amish or non-Christian child is irrelevant, because these schools are specifically set up by the Amish for the Amish. However, the booklet mentions in passing that the schools would accept non-Amish children as students.

As a result, any child sent through this educational system is prepared for no future other than as a “farmer” or a “housewife” (as stated in the 1972 Wisconsin v. Yoder case document), or whatever occupation is deemed acceptable by the Amish clergy depending on what year it is.

For example, farming is no longer a viable option for the majority of Amish because of Big Ag and technological advancements, so replacement labor-intensive and no tech or low-tech occupations for males have been approved. However, the future for women and girls still hasn’t changed from 50 years ago: there’s no alternative for girls except to remain single.

Therefore, is such a system honestly adequate? 

In the Wisconsin v. Yoder ruling, Chief Justice Burger states, “Children must acquire Amish attitudes favoring manual work and self-reliance and the specific skills needed to perform the adult role of an Amish farmer or housewife.” What he really seems to be saying is “the Amish only need to learn to be farmers or housewives because that’s all the Amish will ever be”. His assertion neglects to acknowledge that the Amish child is a child.

Amish children don’t ask to be Amish. Merely by having been born to practicing Amish parents, the children are likewise considered practicing Amish even though they haven’t even officially joined the Church yet and are too young to even know what practicing a religion means. Wisconsin v. Yoder holds that in permitting parents to willfully neglect their children by depriving them of an education, the United States is fulfilling its legal obligation of upholding religious freedom. Well, Wisconsin v. Yoder is upholding the parent’s religious freedom, but in doing so, it’s forsaking the children’s religious freedom. 

“Whaat?” I hear you ask.

Let me explain. This system of ONLY teaching kids to be practicing Amish actually is designed to FORCE them to be practicing Amish FOREVER.

If a child spends his or her entire life being told they can only ever become a farmer or a housewife, and if this child only has an 8th-grade education, and if that education only consists of reading, writing and arithmetic, but with no STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), and if this child is told that if they leave the practicing Amish community, not only will they receive no help to survive in the outside world, they will actually be cut off from or shunned by the community and even by their own family, how can such a child have, or exercise any, “religious freedom”?

By might or by right, they’re destined or designed to be religiously Amish.

It’s extremely challenging to leave the community as it’s all one knows from birth, and that’s by design. Certainly it’s understandable that in a society in which those who leave the Church are cut off, parents want their children to practice the religion so they can remain involved in their children’s lives. It’s also understandable for the Amish Church to want to retain its membership. However, the Amish method of retention utilizes a system of educational deprivation, lack of financial resources, fear of abandonment, and abuse. Through this system, the Amish force their members to unwittingly be dependent upon the practicing community to survive. Thus the Amish, particularly the children, are for all intents and purposes enslaved.

To maintain this enslavement is part of the reason Amish education stops at the end of the 8th grade. Amish children don’t go to high school because, according to the religion and Wisconsin v. Yoder, exposure to such worldly institutions and with such large numbers of non-Amish would lead to sin and corruption in this life, and eternal hell in the afterlife. In reality, there’s nothing stopping the Amish Church from allowing teenagers to continue to learn in Amish-only schoolhouses. Nothing, that is, except greed: by age 13 or 14, the Amish child is physically strong enough to perform physical labor and help support the family. For free.

The parents and Amish Church want the young, strong children working on the farm, in construction, or at Amish markets and bakeries. The Amish adolescent begins to “earn a living” from a very early age. However, the “living” that the teenager earns isn’t their own; the wages are given to the father, as he’s the head of the family. Amish children have no choice but to leave school and perform unpaid labor until their marriage inside the Amish Church. Only to repeat this cycle of enslavement, child labor, and educational neglect….

The Amish Heritage Foundation is fighting to change that. You can help us ensure that every child, regardless of religion, is allowed to receive not only an education, but an adequate education––one that evolves as the world evolves. Please consider giving $1 or any amount at

To education,
Summer Intern, Amish Heritage Foundation

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