Among the farms and mountain hollows of Franklin County, there is understanding and sympathy for the members of the Old Order of the German Baptist Brethren who have withdrawn six of their children from the public schools here.
There has been change enough in this mountain community, say the farmers, and it is not just the Brethren who put plain living over progress.
he Dunkards, as they are nick named because of their practice of full immersion battism, withdrew their children from the schools last week because Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 makes mandatory what church doctrine forbids - co-ed physical education classes.
No one including their parents will say that Title IX is the only reason for the Dunkard children's departure. It is simply the last and most visible sign of the abiding and deep-rooted changes that threaten the Dunkard's very survival.
The Dunkards are dairy farmers carpenters and the owners of small farm oriented businesses for the most part, and they are all governed by their church's teaching to "live apart from the world."
Dunkard men wear dark clothing, long beards and broad-brimmed hats and, as it says in the New Testament of the Bible, "In like manner also, (the) women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriely, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly array, but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works."
Dunkard women wear long cotton dresses with small capes that fall from shoulder to waist and their pale faces are surrounded by white prayer capa.
Inside, their homes are sparel furnished, bright bare floors reflecting firelight and the dilignece of Dunkard housekeeping. No television sets gleam in the corner, no radios blare songs of love either lost or longed for. But the washing machines spin energetically and outside are parked the late model cars and farm equipment that the 20th century has made necessary. Only the conveyors of entertainment have been forbidden.
There have been Dunkards in these mountains for almost 200 years now. For much of that time it was not too difficult for them to have live apart from the world, since the farms and villages of Franklin County were not about to step sprightly to society's tune in the first place.
Now, say those who have lived their lives here, the changes are coming quickly, too quickly for the dairy and tobacco farmers. Once a majority of the county's population, they are in the minority now, as industries have moved in and started plants here and the developers have moved in to build bedroom communities for the office workers of nearby Roanoke.
The development has swollen the county's school population and, say some farm parents, changed it, bringing in teen-ages wise in the sophisticated ways of the suburbs. There is beer drinking at Franklin County High School and marijuana, now, although not enough to raise much more than smile from the school's principal.
As a veteran of the Alexandria school system, Jerald B. Hubbard finds Franklin County's brush with the cosmopolitan lifestyle rather mild by comparison, but he finds the Dunkards' fear entirely understandable. "It threatens," he said, "their entire way of life."
Nevertheless, until the requirements of Title IX went into full effect this school year, an increasing number of Dunkard children had been graduating from the country school.
Schooling became necessary, say the Dunkards, as times changed, and agribusiness moved in. It became increasingly hard for the young Dunkard men to get started on small farms on their own. New skills were needed and a diploma became necessary to acquire them.
The Franklin County school system bent to accommodate them. Church teachings on the importance of modesty prevented the Dunkard children from wearing the traditional gym shorts even in sexually segregated classes and so the Dunkard daughters performed headstands with long skirts tucked carefully between their ankles.
But Title IX, that strict injunction against sexual discrimination in the schools, was too much. "It just goes against wverything Ma and Pa ever taught me," said one 13-year-old Dunkard girl whom school officials described as one of the brightest children they had seen in the classroom.
The girl is taking correspondence courses now to get her diploma and spends her days hepling at home. "It's all right," said her mother, as she looked through her Bible for St. Paul's teaching that in her eyes clearly proved that men and women were not equal. "She has her quilting to do. It's not like she weren't busy."
For some of the children who quit this year, Title IX made little difference. They had planned to leave anyway. One young Dunkard boy planned to leave last year after a schoolmate offeren him a marijuana cigarette, while for others it was not so simple.
Delbert Bowman, 16, was baptized as a full-fledged member of his church last summer and decided then not to return to the high school where he would have been a junior.As a member, he began for the first time to wear the garb of the church, and for the first time, was visibly set aside from the rest of his young society. "It just becomes too hard," he said, of the temptations of "worldly people." In the end, he said, "you have to make a choice," and Delbert chose the church.
Others seem not to choose but seek a sort of refuge in a modest escape. "he reads," said one Dunkard mother of her son. "He reads all the time. Sometimes he doesn't even hear me calling him, it's like he was in some other world."
Not all of the Dunkards have withdrawn their children from the schools and this in itself has been the source of some dissension among the Brethren. The controversy is not one they can well afford, one Dunkard father explained. "To live plainly as we do, we need the support of our own," he said. "Every year, we need each other less and less, and yet every year, the world comes closer and closer."