Amish, Large Families, and Hochmut

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Last Friday, as the last hurrah of the summer before starting our homeschooling year, we jumped in our Chevy Suburban with the extra after-market "rumble seat" in the rear, attached our trailer, and visited Shipshewana, Indiana, an Amish tourist destination about an hour-and-a-half from our home. We were hoping to possibly buy some desks for our new homeschool room, but didn't find any within our price range.

It's interesting to see the looks you get from people when you have six children. You often get stared at more than if you were Amish. What was really strange is to see how we get looked at by both the Amish and the tourists at the same time. I think the tourists probably wondered why this particular Amish family could get away with not wearing the traditional garb. I think the Amish were just flabbergasted to see outsiders with more than two children. ...but I digress.

On the way, my wife read the Wikipedia entry for Amish outloud for all of us to hear. We found the following excerpt of particular interest...

Hochmut and Demut

Two key concepts for understanding Amish practices are their revulsion of Hochmut (pride, arrogance, haughtiness) and the high value they place on Demut or "humility" and Gelassenheit — often rendered "submission" or "letting-be," but perhaps better understood as a reluctance to forward or assert oneself in any way. The willingness to submit to the Will of God, as expressed through group norms, is at odds with the individualism so central to the wider American culture. The anti-individualist orientation is the motive for rejecting labor-saving technologies that might make one less dependent on neighbors, or which, like electricity, might start a competition for status-goods, or which, like photographs, might cultivate individual or family vanity. It is also the proximate cause for rejecting education beyond the eighth grade, especially speculative study which has little practical use for farm-life but which may awaken personal and materialistic ambitions. The emphasis on competition and the uncritical assumption that self-reliance is a good thing, cultivated in American high schools, are in direct opposition to core Amish values.

I have a similar "revulsion" toward the Hochmut of individualism that is worshipped in the public education system. While I would not recommend resorting to the isolationism of the Amish, homeschooling and large families provide a certain antidote to this sinful tendancy.

The large family factor is explained in the cover story of this month's Christianity Today:

What happens in larger families? Children are more tolerant. They learn that they are one part of a whole much larger than themselves and that the common good usually takes precedence over their particular desires. They also discover the principle of scarcity; they learn to conserve. Their clothes are on loan and passed on to others when they are done. They have to share their toys. They cannot take more food than they can eat, or someone else will not have enough. They can't take long, hot showers, or someone else gets a cold shower. They learn that their singular behavior affects multiple people. They are not the center of the universe.

Children with multiple siblings are also more accepting. They practice living with a variety of temperaments, quirks, and ages. Older children cannot stay safely within their own peer group. They learn to hold babies, sing lullabies, and change diapers. A teenager cannot retreat, morose, into his bedroom every afternoon to listen to his music—his 3-year-old brother will jump on his back and demand a gallop around the room. A 16-year-old girl will trudge through the door from school, worry on her face, to be greeted by a flying 18-month-old jumping into her arms.

Children from larger families have to work together. Every morning, the grump, the overachiever, the early riser, the dreamer, the snuggler, and the toddler must negotiate their separate concerns toward a single goal: to get out the door and to their respective schools on time. In summer, for a family with a commercial fishing operation like ours, the goal is to pick all of the fish from all of the fishing nets before the next meal. The children have to help each other. They have to work together in storms on the ocean.

Yes, they fight. Sometimes they do it all badly, and 1 Corinthians 13 love—which is patient, kind, and keeps no record of wrongs—is nowhere in sight. But there are other times when they lay down their lives for one another: a sister holding her injured brother's hand as he lies on the ground, waiting for a helicopter ambulance; the oldest brother risking himself to snatch his youngest brother from a fire.

And this observation is from a mother of six who does not homeschool. As a father of six who does, I can tell you that the effect is magnified greatly by homeschooling. And this observation is from a father who also happens to be the founder and president of a Michigan Public School Academy (charter school), Marshall Academy.

My philosophy of education has changed somewhat since we began homeschooling our two high school age daughters (Marshall Academy only went through the eighth grade at that time). Now we have all six children at home because we want all of them to enjoy the benefits of homeschooling.

It is a particular joy to witness the dynamic of a large family homeschool in action, regardless of what it looks like to tourists, Amish, uninformed relatives, and others.



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