Those poor, dumb Amish folk

By Shelley McKinney
web posted July 10, 2000

Don't you feel sorry for the Amish?

Those plain clothes, those buggies, those houses free of modern conveniences, and all that horse manure to deal with. No televisions, no tractors, no telephones, no SUV's, no Internet.

And apparently no good sense when it comes to raising their children, either. You just have to pity them, the bucolic rubes of our modern, consciousness-raised culture. These people, I assure you, are so bereft of cultural awareness (and possibly even intelligence) they don't even know that their farms -- their backward, land-that-time-forgot farms -- can be dangerous places for children to live, work, and play. Pitiful, isn't it?

Researchers have developed a new board game for Amish children to teach them how to safely negotiate the hazards of the family farm. The director of the research project was Kathleen Fisher, who is an assistant professor in Pennsylvania State University's School of Nursing, and she and her assistants gathered information from local newspapers and from Amish people themselves to find our exactly where the dangers lie down on old McYoder's farm.

"Injuries on Amish farms can be quite different from those on modern farms because of the community's distinct way of life," said Dr. Fisher, who has a finely-honed scholastic talent for stating the immediately discernible. Perceiving that there was a problem that needed to be addressed, she and her fellow researchers developed a new board game to peddle to the Amish market called "Amos and Sadie's Farm: A Pathway to Safety." It costs $10

The title alone is enough to make you lose your appetite for shoo-fly pie, but there's no time to quibble over nomenclature when there are more important issues at stake, such as why Dr.Fisher and her band of eager assistants -- non-Amish, every one of them -- think that Amish people are thickheaded and incapable of teaching their own children the basic safety rules for living on the family farm.

The Amos-and-Sadie game is designed for two to six players, each of whom rolls a die and draws a question card. An example of one question card is thus: "What are the two potentially dangerous things in the hayloft?" The answers are 1) the pitchfork, and 2) the hay hole. For you city-folks reading this article, I'll tell you that a person generally climbs up into a hayloft via a ladder and uses a pitchfork to throw hay down to the livestock's stalls and boxes below through the "hay hole" which is a self-descriptive term. I can give probably a 100% guarantee that there isn't a farmer alive, either Amish or "English" (as the Amish refer to the rest of us) who hasn't accompanied a child on his first visit to the hayloft and explained the dangers that can overtake the careless. It's as if the researchers believe that Amish farmers allow their children free run of the barn with no strictures placed upon their activity. While I agree that barns can be very fun places to play (lots of nooks and crannies for a really great game of hide-and-go-seek) all the farmers I have encountered in my life were very careful to let me know that a barn is NOT a danger-free playground.

Chris Hanna, the director for the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety says, "Unique to the Amish is the fact that, at the eighth grade, they're done with their formal schooling and they then begin working. So you've got younger kids taking on more full-time- exposures to hazards on farms."

I could also offer a percentage-rich guarantee that the typical Amish eighth grader is as different from the average middle- schooler in our society as-- well, as different as straw hats with brims are from backwards-worn baseball caps. Although a fourteen-year-old Amish child has not reached the legal age of majority, he or she is considered to be a young adult in the true sense of the term, which is to say "a trustworthy and responsible individual." Amish children are susceptible to the same growing pains that "English" children are, but they are generally raised to be more thoughtful and responsible than our run-of-the-mill mall rats. It seems ridiculous to have to point out to an Amish youngster that it can really, really hurt if a draft horse steps on your foot. ("What are two dangerous things that could happen to you while in a stall with a horse or a cow?")

There have been several times in my life when I have lived on the outskirts of Amish communities and met with them daily. Even now, there is a large Amish settlement only twenty miles from my home. What I have learned about these proud people is that they have humor, intelligence, wit, and great kindness. They are private, unassuming people who work hard and take great pride in what they do. The Amish are dedicated craftsmen, whether they are planting a field, making a rocking chair, sewing a quilt, or baking pies for a restaurant. On the whole, they raise good children, the greater percentage of whom remain with the Amish faith for life. My own personal snit about this board game comes from this knowledge: the Amish don't need a bunch of university-types telling them how to raise their own kids. It's insulting and demeaning, in my opinion. It's also rude, intrusive, and smacks of an elitist "We know better than you how you can live your life, you poor, ignorant things" that is one of the hallmarks that helps us recognize the liberal agenda.

Besides, one of the unwritten codes of liberalism in our politically correct society is that accidents are never supposed to happen. In fact, I believe that this is a curious paradox in liberal thought, which I often find to be completely uninhibited by logical progression from point A to point B: liberals are constantly on the alert for the worst to happen, yet when it sometimes does, they all yelp and run about in aimless circles, looking for someone to blame. If a bad thing happens, it must be someone's fault.

For instance, in the suburbs, if ten-year-old Zach maneuvers his in-line skates improperly and crashes onto the neighbor's stone driveway, it's the often the manufacturer of the skates who is to blame, or maybe it's the neighbor's fault for not providing a better place for a kid to land, or perhaps it's the quarry's fault for not providing spongy rock for their customers. A driveway covered with cotton balls would be much more neighbor- friendly. On the farm, if ten-year-old Zeke slips on hay at an awkward moment, falling through the hay-hole onto the barn floor below and breaking his leg, that happened because his parents didn't make him play this silly game, right?

I know it pains liberal thinkers to hear this, but accidents will always happen, which is why Webster's Dictionary defines the term as "an event occurring by chance." It's just an unfortunate fact of the physical world, and all the board games in the world can't keep accidents from happening. The best anybody can hope for is to make children aware of possible dangers around them, and that is one of the full-time jobs of being a parent: I don't believe that this is something that can be accomplished by sitting down for half an hour to play a game. Good parenting requires a lot of talk, and talking about farm safety is part of every farmer's job. It isn't something they neglect when it comes to the safety of their children. By the way, just in case you "English" farmers feel left out, I'll tell you that there is an Iowa State University Extension publication titled "Farm Safety" which advises farmers to "apply brightly colored hazard decals to all areas that should be off limits for children. Tell the children what the decals mean." If that doesn't insult your intelligence, then I suggest an alternate career in dandelion-chain-making.

I must now away to do some research of my own. I'm developing a new board game myself, you see. I plan to call it "Liberal Educators and Politicians: A Pathway to Minding Your Own Darn Business and Leaving Everyone Else Alone."

Think it'll sell?

Shelley McKinney is a staff writer at Ether Zone and freelance writer and can be reached at ecaillie@earthlink.net. Political correctness obviously drives her insane.

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