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K-State Today

February 26, 2016

Learning from past can pave way for education's future in Kansas

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

February is the anniversary of historic legislation that created Kansas' public education system and higher education institutions. Teacher preparation programs forever linked colleges and the public schools, and fortunately education has always been paramount in Kansas and the country, even in times of turmoil.

The Kansas Territory came into existence by way of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, repealing the Missouri Compromise and the geographic line dividing the North and South. The Kansas-Nebraska Act introduced popular sovereignty, allowing each state the choice to be a slave or free state. This made Kansas a magnet for proslavery Missourians and abolitionists from the northeast. The ideological clash inspired the term "Bleeding Kansas" and made Kansas the tipping point for the Civil War.

What does this have to do with education? In a word, everything.

A year into the chaos of the Civil War, what did President Lincoln do? He signed the Morrill Act, which established land-grant institutions in the nation. Kansas State Agricultural College, now Kansas State University, became the nation's first operational land-grant when it was founded in February 1863. A simple truth came to light that is as true today as it was then: Education has never been easy; it just has to be a priority.

Kansas had already made education a priority in 1858 with the territorial legislature's vote establishing the public education system and 10 institutions of higher education — three years before statehood. Our forefathers realized highly trained teachers were the cornerstone of a quality education system and laid the foundation for successfully preparing homegrown educators.

In 1867, less than a decade later, Kansas State Agricultural College — K-State — and Kansas State Normal College — now Emporia State University — produced the first graduates from public institutions. Two of K-State's five graduates became educators, and both of Emporia State's graduates became teachers —  a "normal" college's sole mission was teacher preparation. Interestingly, K-State and Emporia State share the distinction of each preparing half of the state's first generation of Kansas educated teachers. Wildcats and Hornets stand tall and strong in the history of teacher preparation and student success in our state and nation.

Another historic link between the universities is abolitionist Issac Goodnow, a founder of Bluemont Central College, K-State's forerunner. Goodnow was elected to the Kansas Senate and was a member of the education committee where he used his influence to establish the agricultural college. He was elected as president of the Kansas State Teachers Association in October 1863 and also served as an ex officio member of the Board of Regents for the State Normal School, or Emporia State.

We encourage those who care about education to celebrate the state's earliest lawmakers and their vision and investment in the public school system. A collective understanding of the value of education was required in 1858, and those same values will serve us well for the next 150 years.

Debbie Mercer, Dean, College of Education, Kansas State University
Ken A. Weaver, Dean, Teachers College, Emporia State University