Editor's Note: Yesterday post an interview with Lynette Sowell who coincidentally was a student of Dr. Richard Stevick's once. So, small world, the world of "Amish studies." Growing up Amish is a terrific book that peels away the different layers of Amish youth. I would have been fascinated to write such a book, just because the topic is so multi-facted: you have the convergence of unchanged traditions stretching back hundreds of years with the urgency and newness of technology and innovation unimaginable even 15 years ago. Add to that the volatility and universality of youth and you have the ingredients for a compelling read which Dr. Stevick delivers.
Gloria Yoder wrote about courtship during the summer and I found it fit in with Dr. Stevick's research quite well. The differences between New Order and Old Order are definitely more nuanced and complex than one group simply being more "progressive" and the other being more "conservative."
And, lastly, Dr. Stevick and I both agree on which Amish settlements are the most beautiful (although I have not been to Oakland, Maryland)...I'd add to his list, Adams County, Ohio!:)
How did you become involved in this field of study?
As a high school teacher, counselor, college professor, parent, and grandparent—and ex-adolescent, I hope--I have been fascinated by youth all of my life. I am also continually amazed how the Amish are so successful in capturing and retaining their young.
What is the most common misconception that the public has about the Amish and Rumspringa?
That the majority young people are involved in a perpetual spring break or as one “reality series” put it, “a walk on the wild side.” Most, meaning the majority, of Amish Youngie, are not into wild partying and drunkenness. In the largest settlements, however, a significant minority temporarily abandon their plain life for weekend partying, English clothes, and pickup trucks or even leased cars. But most still live at home and have Amish-only friends.
How has social media changed the way Amish youth communicate and do they have difficulty giving it up once they marry and are baptized into the church?
In my first book, Growing Up Amish: The Teenage Years, I devoted fewer than ten words to Amish youth and cell phones. Seven years later, I have 19 references just on Smartphones. It is safe to say that thousands of Amish teenagers are on the Internet, using Facebook, Twitter,Instagram, etc. The first concern of Amish ministers and parents is Internet pornography and the second is the issue you raise: Once the young are on the Internet, will they be able to give it up and become plain and simple Amish adults? Time will tell.
What surprised you most about changes in Amish youth culture between now and when your book was first released in 2007?
The numbers of Amish youth who are Internet-savvy and the extent of their sophistication and Internet use. Their sophistication goes far beyond checking the weather or ordering items from Cabellas. Most know the pros and cons of smart phones and internet providers, band widths, how to share their photos on Flickr and their videos on YouTube, how to download movies from Netflix and music from Pandora, etc., etc,. etc. I was amazed.
I enjoyed and found interesting the comparisons and contrasts you outlined in your book between New Order Amish and Old Order Amish dating? Can you discuss the biggest single different between the two groups and their courtship practices?
It depends on which Old Order group we are comparing with the New Orders. In our area of Holmes-Wayne-Stark Counties area, there are ten different Old Order Amish affiliations or levels. If we compare the plainest or “lowest” group with any of the others, with one exception, the Swartzentrubers still practice bed courtship or bundling. (This too has been sensationalized by writers and commentators, a section that I devote time to in the book.) On the other hand, the New Orders require church membership before their youth are permitted to date, and they also expect “hands-off” courtship from the couples. Finally, courting and marriage tend to occur later in New Order groups than among the typical Old Orders.
What do you think are the strengths of your latest book, Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years?
The subject matter is very current, the book has been carefully researched, it shows specifically the challenges to parents and the challenges to the youth who are transitioning into responsible adulthood, and I believe that the writing style is clear and hopefully engaging.
Finally, its coverage of Amish youth and the Internet is not only current but raises issues that should concern all adults, Amish or English.
What is your favorite Amish settlement to visit and why?
Kevin, you have saved your toughest question for last. For sheer beauty of the surroundings, I would say Pearisburg, VA, Oakland, MD, and Rexford, MT. And at the risk of offending my many Lancaster County, PA, Amish friends, I would have to say Holmes-Wayne-Stark Counties. I love the mixture of rolling hills, wooded ridges (brilliant with color at this timeof year), and fertile valleys and bottom lands. But the mixture of Amish and English and of Amish and Amish is so fascinating with its multilayered Amish affiliations. (My wife calls this area the Anabaptist Reservation.) We are finding so many things to see and do here, and we find the residents, both English and Amish, to be delightfully open, friendly, and helpful.