I recently spent a day in Philadelphia, followed by a day in the Amish country in Lancaster County, Pa. Much of the area known as north Philadelphia is plagued with economic decline, slums and a culture of poverty. Sixty-five miles to the west I found the bucolic beauty of Lancaster County. The Amish community is thriving and has zero poverty.
I found it intriguing that Amish children attend one-room school houses and only through the eighth grade. Teachers are noncredentialed members of their community. The Amish also resist utilizing computer technology. These are indices typically blamed for the educational and economic performance gaps between the poor and the advantaged.
The Amish community thrives due to a rich set of values based on strength of family, personal responsibility, hard work and reciprocal commitment to community. I am not so naive to think that Amish life is utopian, but it is clear that American contemporary culture has a great deal to learn from them. Until we openly acknowledge that much of the gap in economic and life success is the result of decay in family and poor personal choices, we will continue down the entitlement path with little or no improvement in outcomes.