Messy notes on Education & Identity (part 3)

This post is part of a series. Read part 1 here, and part 2 here

Still here? Want to read more from me, about matters largely over my head? Great, I want to write it. (The rest of you can just cringe along, I suppose.)

Okay, so next up at the conference, following a faspa filled with rousing conversation, we jumped into the subject of Education and Identity in Canada and Mexico, chaired by Kerry Fast (see what I thought of her findings on Steinbach Pride, here).

First, Conrad Stoesz (MHV archivist) with his paper entitled Was it Really About Education? The Sommerfeld/Bergthaler Split of 1893 Re-considered. I scrawled into my stupid notebook: “Sommerfield/Bergthaler is thought to have split b/c of MEI/education (I didn’t know this).” My handwriting is dangerously messy and I am dangerously forgetful so I may have written this down wrong: “Ewert believed Mennonites in Manitoba were stubborn and distrusting heathen.” (I’m squinting at the scrawl of “heathen” in my notebook. Hmmm. I don’t know what else I meant for that scrawl to be.) Ewert was an American, ties to evangelicals, on gov’t payroll… I’d kind of known that stuff somehow… I think it’s from the few books I’ve peered at… but hearing it said in this way made it come together differently in my head, positioning Ewert as possibly not to be trusted by certain Mennonite groups of the late 1800s in Manitoba. I wrote, “placed emphasis on radical conversion experiences” … “public declarations re: the inadequacy of the old community” … ” concerned violence would break out at the baptism” … “Conrad argues that the split was actually about guarding against foreign ideas” … “Ewert changed his viewpoint — wasn’t consistent in his views over time, but then, few of us are.”

Next, Rodger Toews spoke to us virtually on The Mennonite School Petitions from 1916 to 1921. I don’t think I took any notes here! I cannot remember why. I did write, “Mennonites love the land they live on, not necessarily the land they live in,” which I believe Rodger stated during the Q&A. I liked that, it felt true to me, I wrote it down.

A note on the feature photo — it depicts lawyer Blake Hamm asking presenter Rodger Toews a question during the Q&A. I think this is an extremely cool picture because it clearly shows Blake and Rodger interacting at the conference, though miles apart physically. (If you’re looking for a lawyer who’s really into Mennonite history, email

Abe Wall shared his important paper, Tu Puente: Transnational Schooling Initiatives Connecting Ontario and Mexico. I think I remember what this was about. He’s an educator who noticed the same group of Mennonites were constantly moving between Ontario and Mexico, which created educational challenges in school in Ontario… so several organizations (I think including the school division from Ontario, MCC, and the local government in Mexico? I didn’t write it down, these are my impressions — this partnership is significant though) worked it out that the same educators from Ontario go down to Mexico to educate the same kids there when their families relocate. This way the educational gap is filled and they have consistent educators in both Ontario and Mexico. I’m sure I’m garbling this, but it’s pretty innovative and impressive.

Emma Hoebens’ paper is Schooling and Autonomy: Village Schools in the Old Colony Community of Salamanca, Quintana Roo, Mexico. I wrote “How schooling and language protect the traditional Old Colony way of life in Salamanca, a new settlement established 2003 by OC Mennonites from Little Belize” … “no internet, radio, TV, phone, rubber tires — horse and buggy only” … “the gov’t sees its opportunity to have these people here” … “a buffer” … isolationist/protectionist … “religion is a complete and total fact” … “no change, we keep things as they are” … “street villages, one school, girls and boys separate, collectivity, obedience, humbleness, religious authority, no teacher training” … “ritual language” … “they learn to write a language they do not speak, and speak a language they do not write” … “they learn to copy, not question”.

Hearing a barrage of papers read, all along a niche theme (Mennonites moving to Latin America) highlights for me a common thread, which is that governments continue to place Mennonites in places strategically, like chess pieces, for good or ill.

Both Andrew and WordPress tell me this is too wordy, so ‘bye for now. More to come!