Review of Yoder School: A Memoir, by Phyllis Miller Swartz (Cascadia Publishing House, 2019)
Memoirs have been produced and enjoyed for centuries, but until the digital age, only handwritten or typed copies were available or affordable. Among many interesting memoirs, Swartz’s book stands out as a story on several levels.
On one level, it is memories of a little girl as she grows up, marries and has her own family. On another, it traces the growth of beliefs and practice in this girl from a Conservative Mennonite family.
The title suggests the theme that binds it all together – a critique of the educational process. Since Swartz is a great storyteller, this makes an engrossing story as well as informative reading.
Swartz begins on her first day of first grade at Yoder School, a a three-room school in western Maryland, attended by “Plain” children. Alvina, Swartz’s first-grade teacher, proved exceptionally receptive to individual needs and abilities of young children, and young Phyllis vowed to become a teacher like her.
All the rest of Swartz’s educational experience – city elementary, junior high, high school (with senior year at Lancaster [Pa.] Mennonite School), practical nursing school, community college, Antioch College (in Yellow Springs, Ohio), and beyond – she measured by Yoder School and Alvina’s teaching.
Swartz’s storytelling gifts make her story flows, through memories of her family’s move to the city after her first-grade year, and of growing up in a family involved in city mission. Supportive as their daughter dealt with being a Plain Mennonite in the city, her parents were also excellent educational role models: Swartz’s father graduated from college and her mother achieved a high school diploma.
Phyllis Miller and Steve Swartz married soon after high school and continued their own pursuit of education together while starting their family. Steve became a church worker and counselor, while Phyllis had a multi-faceted career in education. She continues to serve in various capacities in retirement.