By Kevin Williams
I've had this story sitting on my desk for the past two weeks and there's more I wanted to do with it, but at the rate I'm going the story would be old news if I waited much longer. But I love this whole article because it illustrates how adaptive the Amish culture can be. There is definitely an openness to technology among the Amish if they can do it in a way that preserves their way of life and cultural integrity.
I am going to link to an article on Skype's blog. Keep in mind the article was written by an Amish eighth-grade girl at NorthWood Middle School in Wakarusa, Indiana named Regina, so you are hearing directly from her. I doubt the piece was edited much. She's an excellent writer and communicator.
The photo of her was a little surprising but keep in mind that the Amish are not baptized into the church until they reach adulthood so that the "rules" are often more permissive with younger people, especially in regards to having photos taken.
I reached out to Regina's teacher Valerie Anglemyer, a 2006 graduate of Purdue. Doing a story like this makes me feel ancient. I've done several Skype calls over the years. Several. That's it. Regina Schwartz or her teacher could run circles around me with Skype, it's just crazy how technology has permeated every part of our culture and somehow I've missed out on a lot of it.
Valerie Anglemyer teachers 7th grade humanities (language arts and social studies blend) at a public school in Indiana. Anglemyer says about 15 percent of the students are Amish and that they do a good job of balancing their traditions with technology.
"I've observed Amish students picking up new things involving technology just as quickly as their peers. They may not come into the assignment knowing the latest apps, etc., but by the time they are in middle school, they have used technology enough to know the basics," Anglemyer says.
She goes onto to use Minecraft as an example.
"This was our first year trying anything in the program, but our students, including our Amish students who had never played the game, picked it up remarkably well with very little guidance from us (teachers)," Anglemyer says.
Of course, as someone who has been around the Amish for a long time, I wondered about the "publicity" aspects of the award Regina won: photographs, the trip to New Orleans, the non-conformity aspects, but everything was done in a way that balanced Amish traditions with technological tastefulness.
"I was sure to ask Regina's parents before nominating her for the award. I was only able to nominate one student for the award, so I wanted to be sure that not only could she get the recognition, but also participate in the trip that accompanied the award. Regina's parents were incredibly excited and supportive. They were able to attend the awards ceremony with her in New Orleans and, other than opting out of photographs, participated like the other students/parents that were at the event," Anglemyer told Amish365.com
Which brought me to my last question: what do you feel the future holds for the Amish and ever-advancing technology? Here is Valerie Anglemyer's answer to that question:
"I feel that I can best address this from my lens- As a teacher, I always look for technology that enhances my instruction in ways that were not possible before. While there is absolutely a place for direct/traditional instruction, technology in the classroom is providing my students with opportunities and experiences that they would not have had in any other situation. Skype is a perfect example of that. I am able to take my students to faraway places, have them speak with experts, and talk with student their age around the world through the use of technology. I think that parents see the value in this and have found them to be very supportive. I also am continuously aware and conscious of some of the cultural and religious beliefs, so I am sure to communicate with parents about experiences that we have in class. As you know, requirements vary from church to church, so sometimes certain students are able to participate in different ways than others. For example, I had an Amish student last year who was unable to be photographed but could participate in live Skype calls. Technology also allows my students to have an authentic audience. One of my favorite projects this year involved my students creating a lesson for primary students on one of the Sustainable Development Goals (created by the UN). I loved watching my students, including my Amish students, share information with schools around the world through Skype. Schools that practice effective technology integration are looking to technology to enhance instruction, not replace it. Our school is about to begin our first year with 1:1. Because of our Amish population, we will not be sending devices home with students in grades K-8, but students will utilize them in their classrooms when the device enhances instruction. I am blessed to work in a school and community that is incredibly supportive of our schools and students. I am so excited that Regina is receiving such positive recognition! "