Friday, May 22, 2015

Schools and how they suffered

One-room schools: Once common
If anything was confounding about Indiana's development in the years surrounding the Civil War, it was its approach toward the common education.

The General Assembly approved a measure providing for free education in the state, though the notion was far from a mandate. In Franklin County, barely 51 percent of the voters saw free public education as necessary. Those who opposed it did so largely on religious grounds.

But the law stood. What came next was probably both amusing and confusing. And the court system didn't do much to improve matters.

Logan Esarey, who produced a history of Indiana in 1918, takes a look at how the school system functioned.

"The actual management of the schools was with the board of township trustees. It was essentially a township system. Each civil township was incorporated as a school township, taking the place of the old congressional township which disappeared as a corporation."

Township taxes, Esarey says, paid for the schools, as well as teacher salaries. The idea was considered significant reform over how schools had been managed prior to 1848.

As a result, with a form of financing in hand, schools were built somewhat regularly in what was still almost totally a rural environment.

Then the modifications began. In 1852, the state legislature decided to fine-tune the taxing system, hoping to see "a schoolhouse in every neighborhood."

Schools weren't in very good shape and as time went on, hundreds of replacement school houses were constructed. "These were the little "red bricks" of literature, though as a matter of fact nine out of 10  were log or frame."

With so many new schools, education became convenient -- by the standards of the 1850s. Most students had to walk less than a mile to class, and tuition was free. (Prior to 1848, students paid tuition to go to school.)

 The improved taxation methods had allowed for libraries to be constructed in most townships as an attempt to place good literature at the disposal of all.

A uniform guideline on textbooks was in the works.

"Finally it was hoped that by a judicious selection of teachers and by training in teachers' institutes the reign of brute force in the school room might be brought to an end."

Women were finding their way into the system, though they worked for less than male teachers, many of them proved to be durable, valuable and loyal to the process.

Indiana's education was on the way up.

So, what went wrong?

Opponents to the process were not in a distinct minority. Again,  only about 51 percent of the voting public (all white males over 21) at the time approved of free education. By 1855, those challenges would matter.

The court system didn't do education any favors, Esarey concludes.

"The enthusiasm of the friends of education was equaled by the determination of its enemies. There was opposition everywhere, not only to the necessary taxation, but also to the administration and conduct of the schools."

Township trustees, at times beholden to special interests, frequently made bad hires for teachers or school officers. Taxes were levied irregularly, sometimes without much concern about who paid what, to whom and how much.

Schools were being beaten up by the ineptitude of the people who had been chosen to run them.  "The courts were resorted to continually to prevent the collection of the school taxes."

By 1854, the Supreme Court ruled that a local tax assessment was unconstitutional.

And as the mess bubbled over, even more parts of the state school law were tossed out as illegal. As a result, many schools received no tax money at all, partly because some taxpayers believed the court had ruled they didn't need to pay school taxes.

Oddly, one of the more important decisions came as a result of lawsuit filed in Franklin County, in Springfield Township. The school law of 1852 had merged two school funds  -- a Congressional and a Common -- into one.

Esarey explains:

Springfield Township, which had a large Congressional fund, brought suit to prevent the state from merging this and distributing it equally. In a decision by the Supreme Court, Dec. 28, 1854, it was held that the Congressional Township fund by the terms of the grant in 1816 was limited to the use of the people living in the congressional township."

School funding was thrown into chaos.

The state spent the next several legislative sessions looking for solutions to its school funding dilemma, and the laws were rewritten frequently. Not much seemed to work.

The confusion that emerged from the Springfield Township ruling basically ended with the creation a tax equalization process.

"It was provided that no money arising from the Congressional fund should be diverted from the township in which it originated. Thus the decision of the Supreme Court was avoided."

School control was constantly under attack. Most rural communities wanted to manage their own affairs and local attempts to dictate policy were broadsided in 1855.

Writes Esarey:

"This backward step of the Assembly was almost as disastrous as the adverse decisions of the Supreme Court. Under this provision the township trustees were required to number the school districts in their township and then each patron attached himself to whatever district he chose. On the first Saturday of October each year the patrons met at the schoolhouse, elected a director of the school, chose a teacher and began those interminable district quarrels which never ended until the old directorate system wore itself out about 1900."

Springfield Township rose to the fray again, "just as loath to see their direct taxes distributed abroad as the income from their Congressional Township fund. They immediately enjoined the county auditor and treasurer from distributing the Common School fund under the law."

This time, Springfield lost.

As time rolled on, new and diverse challenges to the way Indiana ran it schools emerged, and once most townships had obtained a decent school building, some folks decided that they didn't need to spend any more money on school buildings.

So they all decided to challenge the taxation process. Again.

Some opponents sued, claiming the taxing system had created better schools in the cities and towns, where there was more money to be raised, than in the more rural common schools.

The Supreme Court disagreed with that. The common schools took another smash to the face, it seemed.

The court's ruling of 1857 almost destroyed the school system, Esarey concludes.

In 1861, the legislature rewrote the school law again, modifying the selection process for trustees and refining their duties. There was more clarity, it appeared, and helped stabilize the system, if only to reduce the incessant challenges to its legality.

The township management process was extremely popular. Libraries were expanding in stability and in the number of volumes available. "The books were selected with great care."

Still, education at the time was largely a disconnect between the educators and the public. Illiteracy was still quite common and those who entered the teaching profession were miles ahead of the people they had been trained to reach.

Esarey reveals:

"The reports of the early state superintendents are flowery with visions of a millenium produced by universal free education. The writers indulged in language which common people of Indiana did not then understand and never have greatly appreciated. "

In a phrase, any education at all was certain to confound the average Hoosier farmer.

But as the schools evolved, so did the requirements for teachers and what was expected of them upon receiving a teaching certificate, usually obtained in no more than 2 years.

The school term was established. No longer was it uniquely tied to the fall harvest or the spring planting.

By 1859,  the General Assembly reorganized the township government, placing it in the hands of one trustee, elected annually, and abolishing the township secretary and treasurer. The trustee gained major control over school affairs, though hiring of teachers was left in the hands of the public. As well, the school building was effectively deemed public property.

The Assembly of 1865 rewrote most of the laws concerning common schools and simplified the taxation process.

Around that time, the university system began to grow. Purdue University was founded, and a state "Normal" college for training teachers was set up.

Schools remained segregated.

In 1873, the legislature scrapped the whole thing and started over again, repealing all the other school laws.

It's probably changed that many times since that day and it's not likely to remain static for long.

Esarey's 1918 analysis:

"At its best, the district school turned out the self-made, common school-educated men whose biographies are met with now so frequently. The best of these schools have not been surpassed, the poorest were indescribable. The best were a happy combination of community and teacher for which the system can take little credit. The individuality of the teacher, now largely lost in our organization, then was the chief force in the school."


In 1854 there were 938 townships, 82 cities and towns, or a total of 1,020 school corporations. The first enumeration, 1853, gave 430,929 children, and 2,491 licensed teachers, but there was no report of the number of schools or of the actual attendance.

In 1854 there were reports from 2,622 schools and it was estimated that there were about 5,937, while it would require 8,915 schools to accommodate the children.

It was thought as late as 1857 that not less than 3,500 districts were without schoolhouses of any kind. In 1854 there were 666 female teachers and 2,432 male teachers.

The total cost of the schools for a year was about $500,000. The average term in 1854 was 2 1/2 months. The average wages for male teachers was $23.01 per month, for women $15.62.



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