Wednesday, June 25, 2008

ABC Primetime: The Outsiders: Amish Community Speaks Out

ABC Primetime, on Tuesday June 24, broadcast an intriguing opening to a series called “The Outsiders.” This hour program, with correspondent Jay Schadler, examined Amish teenagers contemplating leaving home for the freedom of the outside world.

The teenagers face a stark choice between “freedom” and “family”. If they live in the mainstream world that most of us know, they will be outsiders looking in on the culture that raised them.

The Amish religion, as many know, rejects most modern technology and limits education beyond the eighth grade. It says this is necessary to eliminate temptation of the sin of “vanity” and destruction of “the family,” which “does things together” and remains emotionally cohesive to honor the parents’ marriage. Amish moral values seem based on the idea of mandatory sustainability. They also believe that the family and religious structure must control all life within their universe of opportunity.

The four teens were Harley, Lena, Nelson and Danny, all growing up in southern Ohio in Ashland county. The film showed the hilly countryside on the western end of Appalachia. A journey that takes two hours by buggy takes about twenty minutes by car.

Two other teenage boys arrange a midnight escape for “Danny” and tale him to a country house, covered with green shingles, where some ex-Amish live in a fraternity house environment (not exactly the ABC Family “Greek”). The boys seek manual labor and construction work since they have only eighth grade educations, but one wants to get a GED and go on to study computers. Danny eventually gets in trouble with the law with some vandalism and gets thirty days in jail. When Schadler interviews him, Danny does not seem to have any concept of “personal responsibility” that the freedoms of the outside world require, and of what the consequences of misdeeds can be. The moral climate at home kept him from developing the individualized sense of personal responsibility (harmlessness, at a minimum, for example – even the “Golden Rule”) that is well known in liberal democratic societies.

One of the other boys is not recognized by his younger siblings on a return visit home until he puts on Amish clothes. Some parents accept their kids back if they want to return. The Amish are willing to forgive “Danny,” just as they were forgiving of the perpetrator of the Nickel Mines disaster in 2006.

At the end, two of the teens decide to live “on the Outside” and two return to their families. An Amish person joins the church as a teen and must give up everything in the outside world. But Amish allow a “time for running around,” or “rumspringa”. The film “Saving Sarah Cain” (Fox Faith) had depicted Amish teens as extremely strong and healthy because of physical activity; that film was a drama in which a reporter gets custody of Amish kids (discussed here in my movies blog).

ABC News provides the following story by Samantha Edders of the show, titled “The Outsiders: Amish Community Speaks Out: Amish Elders Described Difficult Choices, Recall Past Temptations,” link here.

I had posted notes about the Amish tragedy at Nickel Mines PA in October 2006, here.


Metro_boi said...

Hi, I watched most of this special but had to leave before the end of the show. Can you tell me the names of the teens who remained Amish and who stayed on the outside? Do you know of any full length video of the show available on the web right now? I tried and YouTube but found only bits of it.
Thanks. =D

Bill Boushka said...

I believe that Nelson and Danny stayed, and that Harley and Lena left. The parents were interviewed in silhouette. I don't think ABC sells DVD's of this series the way PBS or History Channel would. You'd have to try their "contact us" link at