The Ramifications of Wisconsin v. Yoder, Conclusion

This is the conclusion of my paper The Ramifications of Wisconsin v. Yoder. I have bolded the compelling arguments, as before.

If the Supreme Court had required the Amish to educate their children through tenth grade, the Amish may have found a creative way of integrating this education into their communities, rather than send their children to public high schools.

If the Amish had turned some of their ingenious methods of protesting the compulsory education laws into developing their own schools to the tenth grade, much strife could have been avoided. This would help not only those who leave, but also those who remain in the community. Today, fewer than half of Amish families earn their living from farming. As fewer Amish maintain the agrarian lifestyle, I believe higher education will become essential for them to survive.

There would be challenges to starting a tenth-grade system, but if the first generation of teachers were to find the training they need so that they can teach the two additional years, the Amish would not need to create a new system — rather they would lengthen the one they already have because each subsequent generation of teachers would teach the way they were taught. Once the system was under way, it would become self-sustaining. Instead of having two standards — one for the Amish, the other for all other children in this country — there would be one standard for everyone in education and child labor laws. The Amish child would also be equipped “with the knowledge and skills that will help him choose whichever sort of life best fits his native endowment and matured disposition.”[1]

There is one more aspect of this case I must mention. Justice Heffernan wrote: “With our ostensible solicitude for the fate of children who are in other legal situations affected by conduct of their parents, it is surprising that no guardian ad litem was appointed to represent these children’s interest.” This is indeed shocking, especially considering that the parents had their advocate.

Dr. John Hostetler testified as an expert witness before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, advocating for the Amish to be allowed the exemption. There is something inherently wrong with this — the children who needed advocates didn’t have them, but the parents who could have spoken for themselves had someone speak on their behalf. But there is even more to this. Dr. John Hostetler grew up Amish and found that he enjoyed studying more than he did farming. He left the Amish to pursue his education and subsequently acquired his PhD and authored the book, Amish Society, which became theauthority on Amish for many years. Had I ever gotten a chance to meet Dr. Hostetler, I would have asked him how he reconciled his testimony in court with the choices he made in his own life. Did he really want to consign other Amish children to the life he chose to leave?

I often wonder what would happen if this decision were to be reconsidered by the United States Supreme Court, given all the changes that have taken place within Amish communities, such as the migration off the farms, unemployment, reports of physical and sexual abuse, and alcohol and drug problems. If this case were to be reconsidered, I hope some of those of us who have left and struggled against all odds to acquire an education would get a chance to advocate that this ruling be overturned. It is too late for any of us, but it is not too late for all the future generations of Amish children to have the education they need to choose the life that is best for them.


1. At the time I wrote this paper, I did not yet know the context in which Dr. John Hostetler testified on behalf of the Amish parents. When he began his scholarship as an anthropologist, the Amish were not well-liked in this country. Dr. Gertrude Huntington articulated this well in the PBS documentary film The Amish that aired on American Experience in February 2012. While I understand the context in which he testified on behalf of the parents, I still believe that someone should have advocated on behalf of the children — of not him, then someone else. After all, it was not the reputation of the Amish that was on trial — it was the right of Amish children to have an education that extends beyond the eighth grade.

2. You can visit the website about Wisconsin v. Yoderin the U.S. Supreme Court, which includes an audio transcript of the deliberations.

3. In an ironic twist of fate, the Yoder family — as in Wisconsin v. Yoder — did not remain Amish.

[1] Feinberg, Joel, “A Child’s Right to an Open Future,” in Freedom and Fulfillment, Philosophical Essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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3 thoughts on “The Ramifications of Wisconsin v. Yoder, Conclusion”

  1. Thanks for posting this series, Saloma. I haven’t commented up to now because this touches such a deep nerve that I have trouble moderating my language.

    I have always respected the Amish for their conviction, but my respect has taken a serious knock. This treatment of their children, in my mind, amounts to nothing other than callous and systematic abuse. Good question indeed, why was nobody representing the interest of those who could not speak for themselves? If a non-Amish family treated their children like that, social services would be all over them like a rash!

  2. Ian, thank you for your comments. I am sorry to knock your perception about the Amish, but thank you for sharing your thoughts on the subject. As I said, this is what I am most passionate about in all the topics of Amish culture. I always say that if there was one thing I could change about Amish culture, it would be that they educate their children beyond the eighth grade.

    What you say is true… social services would intervene if someone were to withhold their teenagers from school at thirteen and then make them work for the family… especially some of the dangerous shops the young men work in, with potential for getting seriously hurt.

    I will be posting more about Amish education and the obstacles those of us who leave face in acquiring an education. Stay tuned…

  3. I have enjoyed becoming better educated myself by reading this series of posts on this ruling. I totally agree that the Amish children are not being represented at all in this case. It does seem to me that the best solution, for all involved, would be the same educational requirement as for all other children in this country – which could be accomplished with their own schools in their own communities. Then, whether the young stay or go, they would have a much better chance of being successful adults in their professions.

    Interesting that Dr. Hostetler would support the Amish in this, when he himself left & got a higher education. I’d like to ask him the same question you would, Saloma! Also interesting that the Yoders left, after all this hub-bub about schooling and the subsuquent decision…

    I wonder what it would take to try to get a whole new ruling on this issue??

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