Thursday, July 2, 2009

Questions and Curiosities: Answers!

I received several questions about the Amish from Tuesday's post. And the questions are very good ones! I'm going to answer them according to what the ex-Amish I know have said, and according to what I know from my Amish in-laws, from my husband's experiences, and from my own personal experiences. So, here we go!

1. Joanne asks: "I'm kind of curious about the gender separation, Dee. How early does it start? At what point, for instance, does a boy stop sitting with his mother at church? And what other things do they not "mingle" with?"

When I went to my first family reunion with my husband, I noticed that the men and the women stayed in separate groups. They came in as families, but then settled into distinct women-over-here and men-over-there pods. I think they do this just the way we English do in our tend to talk to men and women to women in social settings.

In church, the men and women sit apart for religious reasons: 1.They each have different roles in church services and, 2. The emphasis is on the family of God--not the individual family. From what I've seen, most Amish dads are quite comfortable handling toddlers, so I think when boys become old enough to sit on their own, they are placed with their dads in church. Church is held in people's barns or sheds, so there is no formal church building. A bench wagon is driven to each home and the barns are cleaned. The benches are set up in the barns or sheds, and church is held every other week. My husband was raised in the Mennonite church, and until he was in his teens, the church still practiced the separation of men and women in their Mennonite services.

2.Calina asks: "Do the Old Order and New Order Amish communicate or does the Old Order turn their backs on the New Order ways of thinking? You may have already done this post, but can I ask, How did you meet your husband? What does your family think of your marrying an Amish man?"

The Old Order tend to NOT mingle with the New Order Amish. It is part of their tradition to not be conformed to any but their own Ordnung. The New Order church typically is perceived by the more conservative churches as "modern". However, I think it really depends on the location of the Old Order groups. In my area of Ohio, the Old Order are very inward and have little contact with any other churches. But my husband's family have New and Old Order groups that mingle at reunions, etc. They are all from the Holmes County, Ohio area where the Amish seem to be a bit more tolerant of other Amish traditions.

My husband isn't Amish, but his dad was. His family is mostly still Amish or conservative Mennonites (there are several groups of Mennonites, too--that's another story!). Since I grew up in area of Ohio with Old Order Amish, who are surface friendly, but not as open to English as my husband's family are, there was some concern in my family that the Yoders might not be welcoming.I was ahppy to find out that tis was not an issue!

Also, sadly, in my area of Ohio, rumors of abuse among the Old Order groups have permeated the Englisher's view of the local Amish. There was some concern from my family because of those rumors, too, when I first began to date my husband. I even asked questions about that myself, but abuse is not something I've heard any rumors about in his family group. I do address that issue, though, in my novel.

3. Andrea asks: "From the outside, the Amish appear to have the makings of a beautiful family unit. Is this true?"

In most cases with my husband's family, I believe it is true. But since the Amish are very patriarchal (the men rule the family), it is really dependent on what the men in the family tolerate or allow. It is also true that a certain church group could be more stringent with their women and children than another group.

I do know that, in some cases, women and children are not treated as well as we in the English world think they should be. In the case of abuse (physical and sexual), the church has the final say in how abuse is handled. Often, a man will be "punished" by being banned from the church service for a period of weeks. You can imagine what a slap on the wrist a punishment such as this would be for a man with a really abusive nature. Since most of these abuses are not reported to outside authorities, abused wives and children could be very isolated for years in their situations. Again, a good, kind man would would tend to have a pretty happy family, just as in any English home. But if a man is abusive, there is a chance that his family would suffer in silence for many years. Also, unlike English cultures, parents have authority over their children for LIFE. So having unhappy parents could result in many years of unhappy children.

4. Sunny asks: "What percent of young Amish leave their families after being out on rumspringa?"

The interesting thing about rumpringa is that among the very conservative Old Order groups, rumpringa is HIGHLY frowned upon and is not allowed. If it happens, the teen will have a most uncomfortable home life! Among less strict churches, it is allowed, but not at all promoted. Many times, if teens are rumspringa, they are hiding this from their parents. If parents know, they pretend not to know. It is not discussed! And is NOT encouraged at all.

One man, who left a very strict Amish group, said to me just last Saturday that he laughs when he hears English talk about rumspringa--it didn't happen among his group! You joined the church--or else. But among those who leave, it is a very small percentage who leave the church permanently. This is one reason why rumspringa is sometimes "tolerated", among a group. About 90% will return to their Amish community and join the church. Since it is REQUIRED for a young person to join the church before being married, most do join--especially when they have a love interest in mind.

The ex-Amish that I have knowledge of are leaving their Amish culture. Period. They are not rumspringa, or testing their wings. They just want out. Many are leaving because they have become born again Christians and that is not allowed in their conservative groups. They would love to have the best of both worlds, but they have no choice. They are either in...or they are out. Some have not joined the church before they left, and in their cases, the Amish families are a bit more tolerant of allowing visits. But for those who joined the church and THEN left, shunning and ex-communication are for life.

Of those I know who have left, many are barely of age (18) and a few are even younger. It used to be that the law was not called when an under-aged child left their Amish family, but lately, bishops are starting to encourage parents to call the local law authorities if doing so will bring the child back home. The ones I know have left as soon as they could. If they know others who have left, they will cling to them. The ex-Amish young people will more often leave, too, if they know they have somewhere to go and others from their families or communities who have also left.

5. Sunny asks: "Also I know schoolteachers in Amish schools are young women
(often under 20?). How do they know what to teach, without outside influences? What books do they use for history and Science? Or don't they teach those subjects?"

The Amish do have publishing companies that can supply their schools with books. A great selection of these resources can be seen in many Amish stores (or Amish Wal-Marts, as my Amish cousins call them!) Since they don't educate past the 8th grade, any girl who is intelligent and has left school in the 8th grade may teach. Many do until they marry.

One of the worst things about Amish education is that often the ex-Amish are inadequately prepared for the English world. Their studies are fairly simple: reading, writing, and arithmetic taught as basics only. I don't think they do much history or science, and when they do, it is elementary. In some communities, Amish are schooled with English children in public schools. I know of many Amish kids who attended elementary school with my husband. It depends on whether there is an Amish school available and whether the local bishop allows this kind of schooling.

The biggest problem that many of the ex-Amish face is knowing English as a second language. They only learn it when they begin school, and it is rarely spoken in the home. To study and gain their GEDs takes time and much patience. Some will give up and not receive their GED at all. It can be very difficult for them.

Thanks for these great questions! I hope I've answered your questions, but if you have more, please feel free to leave a comment.


Seema said...

Dee, thanks for sharing all this info. It's fascinating to read about a different culture.

Yvonne Blake said...

Thanks, Dee! This has been very interesting. I can't wait to read your book.

Joanne Sher said...

Fascinating, Dee. Thanks for addressing my questions! It really is like a different world.