Among the various Anabaptist groups of the 16th century, perhaps none had so much opportunity for a systematic Christian upbringing of the youth as the Hutterites, who on their large collective Bruderhofs in Moravia could organize and systematically take care of the entire education from the nursery school to kindergarten and through the grades. Education beyond that was expressly declined as nonconducive to the fear of God—the highest goal of all Anabaptist education. That Hutterite education had a very high standard can still be seen from all their handwritten books, done with excellent penmanship, good spelling, skillful style, and as for contents, with excellent Bible knowledge and often deft arguments—things not so commonly found among people of the 16th and 17th centuries.
The organization and spirit of Hutterite education is known through a number of preserved documents. The earliest perhaps is the Handbüchel wider den Prozess . . . of 1558-9 (see Bedenken), which in its section XII contains an Ordnung und Brauch wie man es in der Gemein mit den Kindern hält (A Regulation Concerning the Upbringing of Children in the Brotherhood). Here we read for instance, "That our children are dear to our heart before God according to truth, and a precious concern, to this God would testify for us on the Day of Judgment." Most likely this document was written by Peter Walpot, later bishop of the brotherhood, from whom we also have an Address to the Schoolmasters, 5 November 1568 (Mennonite Quarterly Review 1931, 241-244), and a School Discipline ("Schulordnung") of 1578 (Mennonite Quarterly Review, 1931, 232-240). Also of 1578, we have further the report of a sympathetic observer, Stephan Gerlach, later professor at Tübingen (Bossert, Quellen, 1106-1107). There exists also a catechism or Kinderbericht, used in Hutterite schools, of which two versions became known, of 1586 and of 1620 (Archiv für Reformations-Geschichte, 1940, 44-60). It gives the impression that it was written by Peter Riedemann (died 1556), the author of the great Rechenschaft, with which it shows much similarity. There is among the Hutterite manuscripts a third brief Kinderbericht which deals extensively with the ordinance of baptism and communion. The use of the Kinderbericht in child training accounts for the fact that the Hutterite prisoners always had a ready answer to the court questioner when on trial and also for the fact that they so often agreed word for word with each other.
Each Bruderhof had two types of schools within its organization: the "Little School," a nursery and "Kindergarten" (age 2-6), in operation three centuries before the modern European Kindergarten was developed, and the "Big School," i.e., the grades (age 6-12). The latter was actually more than a mere school, and may be compared to a children's home where they lived and were taken care of practically throughout the year, in conformity with the Hutterite principle of community living. The two documents by Peter Walpot (above) laid down the principles which should guide the entire upbringing, and which were to be obeyed by the schoolmasters, the schoolmothers, and their assistants (Kindsdirn). "Let each schoolmaster," Walpot declared, "deal with the children by day and night as though they were his own, so that each one may be able to give an account before God . . ." (Mennonite Quarterly Review 1931, 240). The spirit which permeates the school regulation of 1578 is that of a free and cheerful discipline in love and the fear of God, peaceful in spirit. To be dutiful and peaceful is conducive to good discipline. One cannot take too much care of the children, and the adults should always be mindful of setting a good example, since the children watch them and learn from their behavior. Walpot takes great care to instruct the teachers how to handle difficult cases. The use of a rod may sometimes be necessary, but great discretion and discernment should be exercised therein, for often a child can be better trained and corrected by kind words whereas harshness would be altogether in vain. The exercise of discipline of children requires the fear of God on the part of the teachers and high sense of responsibility. Children should be trained to accept punishment willingly, and care should be taken that they do not become self-willed. But above all they should be trained to love the Lord and to be diligent in prayer.
Great care was also taken of cleanliness and healthful living—in an age when those hygienic principles were by no means generally accepted. Even small details are regulated and enjoined, about eating, washing, sleeping, the children's clothing, and then above all the separation of the sick and the special handling of their laundry. The major emphasis, however, is laid on the right spirit and the ever alert responsibility of those in whose care the children are entrusted, so that the honor of God may always be promoted.
Basically these principles have been preserved fairly unchanged among the Hutterites up to the present day, though documents of later times are lacking. Bertha W. Clark, who visited the Brethren in South Dakota in 1923, describes the Hutterite system of education in the Bon-Homme Bruderhof, showing that in spite of certain necessary adaptations to American ways the spirit of the upbringing of the youth is by and large the same as of old. It is true that in the grade schools the legally prescribed curriculums have to be taught (if possible by Hutterite teachers—though the teachers are usually non-Hutterite, since Hutterites do not meet the educational requirements of the state for teaching), but the nursery and kindergarten is still today "really Hutterian."
Clark, Bertha W. "The Hutterian Communities, I." The Journal of Political Economy (June 1924): 372 f.
The Handbüchlein of 1558-59 is discussed by Robert Friedmann in Archiv für Reformations-Geschichte (1931): 105, 111.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 717.
"A Hutterite School Discipline of 1578 and Peter Scherer's Address of 1568 to the Schoolmasters." Translated by Harold S. Bender. Mennonite Quarterly Review 5 (1931): 231-244.
Loserth, Johann. "Der Communismus der mährischen Wiedertäufer im 16. and 17. Jahrhundert: Beiträge zu ihrer Lehre, Geschichte and Verfassung." Archiv für österreichische Geschichte 81, 1 (1895): 278-285.
Loserth, Johann. "Aus dem Liederschatz der mährischen Wiedertäufer." Zeitschrift des Deutschen Verein für die Geschichte von Mähren und Schlesien (1925). Discusses hymns with a pedagogical content.
St. Gerlach's report of 1578 in Bossert, Gustav. Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer I. Band, Herzogtum Württemberg. Leipzig: M. Heinsius, 1930: 1106 f.
Wiswedel, Wilhelm. "Das Schulwesen der Hutterischen Brüder in Mähren." Archiv für Reformations-Geschichte 14 (1940): 38-60. Contains the catechism in toto.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 149-150. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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