Clara Edelman

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At my house I have a lovely little wooden fruit bowl decorated by wood-burning and inscribed underneath, “Xmas 1904, Clara Edelman.”

Clara Edelman was a country schoolteacher in Lancaster County, PA, in the one-room school attended by my grandmother, Edna Shirk. Most schoolteachers in those days were single women and whether because they weren’t paid enough or because single young women did not live alone, they lived with the families of their students. In this particular case, Miss Edelman stayed a few months with my great-grandparents at their farm and then a few months with another family and so on.


There was no question in those days about what Miss Edelman would be teaching. The subjects were the three R’s, with some history and geography and possibly some science. Miss Edelman probably was expected to play the piano to accompany singing.

There was also no question about the values being taught in the schools. They were the values of her pupils’ parents. Miss Edelman shared those values. And if she didn’t, I doubt she would have lasted long at the school.

Fast forward a century and what do we have? If you’re a parent, do you really want to know? Here is a small sampling:

Since Miss Edelman’s time, the general and specific preparation of teachers has changed drastically, and this has resulted in an entirely different attitude in the classroom. In general, today’s teachers graduated from colleges and universities where an overall hostility to traditional values prevailed, so that as they studied literature, history, sociology, psychology, etc., their studies tended to undermine any traditional beliefs and values they might have brought with them.

As far as their specific preparation for teaching, the mission of the educator underwent a transformation in the last century. Instead of transmitting the common culture to the next generation, future teachers were taught to see their mission as transforming that culture to a more enlightened one, largely as result of the efforts of education reformer John Dewey. Instead of teaching the values of the parents, education was supposed to replace the benighted values of the parents with the enlightened values of the educators. (It is a sign of their partial success that there is no longer a common culture.)

An example is sex education. Educators felt that parents were not doing a good job educating their children about sex, so they, the educators, would have to do the job instead. In fact, some of the instructional materials used specifically warn the teachers not to discuss the content with parents, who would likely object.

Communists regarded Western Civilization as their enemy and the family as the basis of that civilization. When communists took power in Hungary in 1919, one of the first things they did was to introduce sex education in the schools in order to break down the family. In those days, however, people apparently had more sense and they threw the rascals out.

I am not suggesting that teachers in today’s schools think they are trying to destroy the family, but it doesn’t really matter what their motives are. It’s the results that matter.

In September 1995, I listened one evening as our son’s 11th grade English teacher told us that she would be teaching her class about the Deism of the Founding Fathers (in English class?). I was somewhat puzzled but have since learned that today textbooks commonly teach that the Founders were not Christian, when in fact most of them were devout Christians. To ignore or disparage the role of religious devotion in our nation’s founding tends to undermine all religious belief.

This teacher assured us she would not tell her students what to believe, only that they must be able to defend their beliefs in compositions. Why should adolescents have to defend their religious beliefs to their English teacher?

In the Bethlehem (PA) Area School District, several elementary schools have “Family Centers.” Someone from the Family Center pays a home visit to the family of each child about to enter kindergarten and interviews the parents. This is for the purpose of “evaluating the home environment” of the child. I think Great-grandma and Great-grandpa Shirk would have been quite amazed if Miss Edelman or her surrogate had come to have a look around for the purpose of evaluating their home environment and parenting practices.

The governance of schools has moved farther and farther away from the local community. First to school districts, then to larger, consolidated school districts. Then the state and later the federal government began to have a say. Now parents have no power at all over public education and are at the mercy of an education establishment that often regards parents as obstacles to their ends.

It would be nice to think there is an up-side here, but it is the unfortunate truth that the Clara Edelmans of 100 years ago turned out a more educated and literate citizenry than today’s schools.

Might vouchers help? They certainly would give parents a greater measure of control over the education of their children than they have now. They would improve our public schools as any service is invariably improved when the providers have to compete. I’m not so sure that they would be good for our religious schools, but that will have to be a story for another day.

To see this article, go to:

”’Margaret L. Snyder is an adjunct professor and hopes she is as effective as Clara Edelman. Reach her via email at:”’