Josh asked me why I thought that the educational system in Arkansas has struggled so much over the years. His answer was culture. The culture for Arkansans hasn’t always put a value on education. Some think that people who are educated seem pompous, a word they probably don’t know. I agree with Josh completely. Since Arkansas’ statehood there has been, as said by one state official, an “indifference that pervades the public mind on the subject of education.” It would make since that the earliest settlers wouldn’t put an emphasis on the value of a good education because for most of them it didn’t have much of a value; the need for education is always vital but it was overlooked by one group of men who could have started Arkansas off on the right foot.
The Arkansas Territory was created after Missouri became its own state. The early government of the territory and the early state government of Arkansas had the opportunity to put an emphasis on education but they did not. Robert Crittenden was the first territorial secretary of the Arkansas Territory. That was the second highest position and he would soon become the acting governor; the new governor Gen. James Miller arrived half a year left on a boat with a big banner that said “Arkansaw.” Crittenden is remember most for dying young and killing Henry Conway, the sole and new elected delegate to the United States House of Representatives. From there the early politicians had many more problems. In the first session of the Arkansas General Assembly there was a knife fight that resulted in the death of J.J. Anthony; John Wilson, the murderer, wasn’t convicted of anything even though it happened in a crowded room and was re-elected years later and pulled out his knife again before other members of the assembly jumped in. Threw all of the dueling and knife fights public education must have fallen through the cracks. I suppose that for some men being a better shot would have help them.
There was almost no state taxation for the creation and operation of schools. The federal government subsidized education by setting aside the sixteenth section of every township so that it could support local schools; although there are a lot of townships the revenue made by this was insufficient for the support of public schools. The wealthy sent their children to one of the few private schools or hired a tutor while poor Arkansans couldn’t afford private school or to pay taxes for public schools; the wealthy opposed paying taxes for private schools. The early educational system was a mess filled with underpaid and often incompetent teachers.
Michigan is referred to as Arkansas’ sister state because it entered the union a year after us balancing out the free and slave states. Here are some early stats comparing the two states.
Data from the 1850 census:
Public schools: 353 2,714
Pupils in schools: 8,493 110,445
Funds for public schools derived by taxes: 250 88,879
White illiterates: 16,819 7,912
Public libraries: 1 with 250 volumes 280 with 65,116 volumes
It’s hard to say what our educational system would be like today if more had been done over 150 years ago. Almost half of Arkansans before the civil war weren’t born in Arkansas. Maybe because it was viewed as a place for the ignorant, people from all over came so their lack of knowledge could be accepted. Even some of the most wealth, people from Little Rock, didn’t put much value on state education. When put to a vote the people of Little Rock wouldn’t pay taxes for a state university; Little Rock have around 3,700 people and 1 out of every 100 was an attorney. The citizens of Fayetteville voted that they would pay taxes for our flagship university.
I thought some of this information would be interesting, especially for my teacher friends. Also, the system is constantly getting better. Test scores have improved and our motto is no long “Thank the Lord for Mississippi.” I got some of this information from Dr. Dockery, a great Arkansas history professor at Harding, and I cited the book that I got the rest of the information from at the bottom. Hopefully I cited it correctly.
Deblack, Thomas. “”The Rights and Rank to Which We are Entitled”: Arkansas in the Early Statehood Period.” Arkansas: A Narrative History. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas: 2002.