Michigan has always been a leading force for formal education in the United States of America. From the very beginning education has been understood as vital for growing a civilization. From the very first settlers educating the Indians, having roaming teachers travel to local schoolhouses, writing educational beliefs into the constitution of 1835, and having professional teachers do the teaching rather than being taught at home like most of the country, it is highlighted how much the citizens of Michigan emphasized the importance education. This makes a lot of sense when you look at the people who inhabited Michigan from the beginning. These people were hard workers who came here to improve their lives on their own backs rather than be under the thumb of a small minority of wealthy land/plantation owners. With such a drive as theirs for self improvement and the belief that each person should be able to grow to their own individual abilities, except certain minorities, it only fits that this group of people would be a leader in education as education is a primary way for individuals to grow and develop themselves and ultimately their civilization.
Taking a look at early education in Michigan with this thought in mind there are different bits that can be pulled to support the emphasis the Michiganders had on education. In the book Michigan Voices it is documented that Eliza Moore had moved to Smithville in January of 1866 and between January 22nd and February 5th she had an increase from 25 students to 89 students in her single room schoolhouse. That is 64 new students with a 14 day period. This shows that one, Ms. Moore was a good teacher that many families wanted as their teacher, and secondly that people put enough emphasis on their families education that they were sending their children in high volume to be taught from someone who cared about their pupils’ education. This example shows an inside look at one community and how they approached education and the belief of the importance of education. Now some may argue that the students were only sent to school because it was winter time and there was no need for them at the family farms during that time of year (our school system is set up around a agrarian society where students can be home in the summer to help on farm and at school in the winter when the farms are slower). This is only true to a certain point, owning a farm is a lot of work and for most families, there would always have been a chore that needed to be done that the children could have been doing instead of their working on their education but it was the education that the families focused on. A school house that was most likely no bigger than a 20ft by 30ft building did not hold 89 students because the parents wanted their children out of their hair but instead because they held the belief that education was vital for individuals and a group of individuals to grow and improve their way of life.
Taking a step away from the local view of education and looking at it state wide we can see a couple indicators of Michiganders’ view of the importance of education. 1809 is the first we see a law written for education that came in the way of a tax of $3-$5 to go to local education. This also included a mandate of a township of 50 or more residence to staff a “teacher of good morals” (Rubenstein & Ziewacz, pg. 158) and a township of over 200 to offer higher education in certain skilled areas, this higher education acted as a modern high school or skills center where pupils would go to gain further understanding of certain subjects. The initial idea of having a “trained” teacher full time in an area derived from Massachusetts but that was quickly added. The large townships eventually got broken down into smaller groups called districts where elected men were in charge of and they would report back to the superintendent of the township, similarly to a principal and superintendent relationship we have in modern education. This was a change made in 1829 according to Rubenstein and Ziewacz in Michigan: A History of the Great Lakes State.
The next major progression in education came in the constitution of 1835 where it was written in that a superintendent oversee not only the primary schools but all higher education institutes. The constitution of 1835 had state funding for schools based off of land for sale and each school would get a certain amount of money depending on how many students were in the schoolhouse/district in question. This is just like today, or local taxes goes to education and schools get a certain amount of money based on how many students attend that school. The 1835 constitution also supported higher education. This act shows the belief in the importance of education that Michiganders held. If one does not truly believe in education as being a major source for growth then he/she will not support education past the basic level but here we have support for furthering education written into a constitution, not just law. Michigan even had the reputation of being “The School House State” (Rubenstein and Ziewacz, pg 161) because there were so many little red schoolhouses throughout the land.
With all this emphasis on education it is no wonder that Michigan and it’s citizens were on the leading edge of education. Michigan was ahead of the curve in both student participation, training of the educators, and family participation and financial support within the school districts. This is very similar to the case in Michigan today. Speaking in general terms, because there will always be a few outliers that do not fit a specific mold, today’s schools in Michigan are on the leading edge of using new research based practices in the classroom. This can range from curriculum taught, technology in the classroom, or how the classroom is managed. When it comes to training teachers, Michigan is the only state in which you can get a teaching certificate and use it in any other state. If someone holds a teaching certificate from another state they must get re-certified in the new state in which they desire to teach. The schools are progressive in their practices. In Saginaw there are Montessori schools that are a newer development focused on earlier education to get students reading and writing sooner. List Elementary in Frankenmuth, Michigan is an example of the use of new technologies and research based practices in a classroom with using whole group instruction in a flexible and open classroom setting with the students leading the education as they learn from exploration in a subject that interests them.
Now all these beliefs are not universal and held by everybody within the state of Michigan, but the varying ideas is what makes the world turn. Today there is a spectrum of students and families that put an emphasis on education and there is are families who do not view education as important, or at least do not have the time to emphasize the importance of educating children (and sometimes themselves). Eliza Moore wrote that she had families that were really involved in the education system and there were families who could not have cared less, and that is still the case today. With all this, the constitution of 1835, the reputation of having schools all over the place, the trained teachers, the state funding of schools, and the shear volume of students attending these places of learning shows that the citizens of Michigan have always held a strong belief that each person must grow to his or her highest level and that education played a major role in doing so.
Fun note! The featured image is of one of the “little red schoolhouses” in Ostego County, Michigan and was built in 1884 according to the author of ostegocountyfairgrounds.org.
Grimm, J., (1987). Michigan Voices; Our State’s History in the Words of the People Who Lived It. Detroit Free Press and Wayne State University Press, 1987.
Rubenstein, B., & Ziewacz, L. (2014) Michigan: A History Of The Great Lakes State. John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2014.