‘Not Our Way’

December 05, 2006 1 min read

A description of coloring by students, whom Amish call “scholars,” in a school run by the Swartzentruber Amish, the most conservative of Amish groups in the United States.

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“Coloring itself reflects community values. Scholars are encouraged to draw only subjects appropriate to Swartzentruber life, including barns, animals, and flowers. Drawings of cars, people or other elements of the non-Swartzentruber world are discouraged because, as teachers tell students, ‘That’s not our way.’ Moreover, just as in real life behavior must remain within the limits of the Ordnung, in coloring the children must learn to ‘stay between the lines’ and to make things appropriate colors. There can be no blue horses or polka-dot houses because that is not how things are in the world. As one teacher explained, ‘Scholars have to color in the lines. They learn that in first grade, and if they scribble, they don’t get to color. Sometimes they don’t know what color [to use], so I tell them. If they use strange colors, I tell them not to do so.’ Swartzentruber first-graders routinely raise their hands to ask what colors to use in their so-called freehand drawings. One first-grader, told to make the pigs in her picture pink, then raised her hand to ask what color to make the trough, and then the barn.”

—Karen M. Johnson-Weiner in Train Up a Child: Old Order Amish and Mennonite Schools

A version of this article appeared in the December 06, 2006 edition of Education Week as ‘Not Our Way’