“The Brightest and the Best” by Olivia Newport takes place in 1918 in Ohio. The Amish community’s one room schoolhouse is in sad disrepair to the point where it is unsafe to use. The county officials, under a new ruling by the state, are determined that the Amish children will be taught in one of the community schools and also that all children will attend school until the age of 16. The Amish send their children to school until the 8th grade. After that time, the Amish children are taught the lessons of life, farming, homemaking, gardening, husbandry and all things that will make them productive members of the Amish community. The school’s teacher is engaged to be married and since at that time no woman could teach while married, they are left without someone to take over the classes. This is a story about the tensions between the county and the Amish. The fathers will not allow their children to go to the public school because they do not feel that the teachings are compliant with their religious beliefs and are too worldly. The county is adamant that these fathers comply. Eventually it comes to the point where the Amish fathers are imprisoned and the children taken into state custody and it is up to the courts to sort out this dilemma.
I enjoyed reading this book I did a little research on my own and discovered that there indeed was a case where this very thing happened. People were imprisoned and children were taken from their parents. It fell to the high courts to decide that the laws infringed upon the religious rights of the Amish people. I was recently in an Amish community in northern Indiana and researched that region’s complicity with the laws. Most of the children in that community to go to school until graduating from the 8th grade, but thereafter, are vocationally taught by their families and community. However, it is becoming more prevalent that the children wish to receive a higher education and so there are a few Amish children who are being educated in the public high schools. I find this fascinating that in this modern world, the Amish way of life is still being preserved and is flourishing in some parts of our nation.
I was sent a print copy of this book by Barbour Books in return for my honest review.