Monday, July 11, 2011

One Room Kansas Schools

The idea of a one room school is not unique to Kansas, nor is it unique to the United States. One room schools exist wherever parents hold out the hope for a better future for their children. Communities come together to build the schools knowing that education holds the key to a better future.

At its beginning, the founding fathers of the United States recognized the need to provide for the education of its citizens. Unable to tax citizens directly, the job of building schools and paying for teachers was a local respnsibility. Nevertheless, with the expansion of the United States into territories across the Appalachian Mountains, the Federal Government took steps to insure that schools would have a source of funds. Thus, the Land Ordinance of 1785, adopted in May of 1785 provided a means to raise money from the sale of land across the Appalachia acquired at the end of the American Revolution under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1783). Land was systematically surveyed into square townships, six miles (9.656 km) on a side. Each townships was sub-divided into thirty-six sections of one square mile (2.59 km²) or 640 acres. The unique feature of the law was that section 16 in each township was reserved for the maintenance of public schools. Many schools today are still located in section sixteen of their respective townships, although often the land was sold for the maintenance of existing schools.

Kansas did not benefit from the provisions of the Land Ordinance. Rather, education at the local level again became the sole responsibility of the settlers and the communities that they created. The Federal Government did step in with respect to higher education with the passage of the Morrill Act of 1862 (aka Land Grant College Act). This law created the land grant colleges. Each state received 30,000 acres of public land for each Senator and Representative, the land to be sold to raise money to support colleges emphasizing agricultural and technical/mechanical education.

One room schools in Kansas were part of the earliest settlement of the territory. Missionaries working with the approval of the Federal Indian agents and the many Indian tribes located in the territory of Kansas established schools to teach English and later manual trades. Among the first was the Shawnee Methodist Indian Manual Labor School, the result of an agreement in 1838 between the Office of Indian Affairs and the Methodist Episcopal Church to operate a school at the Shawnee Methodist Indian Mission - in present day Kansas City, Kansas - to teach English, trades, and agriculture to children of all Indian nations. A year later a trade school was begun at the new site of the mission, now preserved as the Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site in Fairway, Kansas. Kansas Historical Society, Indian Mission Schools.

The Everett School (renamed Grant School in 1923) which opened July 1, 1844 at 4th and Everett in Wyandotte, now Kansas City, Kansas claims the distinction as the first free public school in Kansas. Its doors were open to Indian and white children alike. History of Wyandotte Public Schools.

Subsequently, wherever settlements were made, schools were built. The struggle thereafter was to be between the one room school house and the larger public schools which were built in the cities and towns. 

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