Vermont's Tradition of Education and the Vermont Constitution

Article excerpt

"Advanced education is a New England tradition." (1) George D. Aiken, Governor of Vermont (1937-1941), U.S. Senator (1941-1975)

"[Education] is the one thing which we cannot afford to curtail." (2) Calvin Coolidge, Thirtieth President of the United States and native Vermonter

I. INTRODUCTION

Over the past year, Vermont education has been featured prominently in national news media. (3) In rankings released in November 2005, Vermont was crowned the nation's "smartest state" by Morgan Quitno Press, an independent private research and publishing company. (4) The state's top ranking was derived from a formula based not only on public school spending, but also on an array of student achievement statistics. (5) Evidently, not only have Vermonters made a strong commitment of their tax dollars to funding public schools, but their students achieve results in the classroom.

Even a cursory survey of Vermont history reveals that the people of Vermont have always valued the importance of a good education. The earliest colonists to Vermont taught their children reading and arithmetic in the home. (6) As population increased in the state, every town set aside land for a primary school. (7) In fact, Vermont's original Constitution of 1777 required the legislature to establish a school in each town. (8) But not only did Vermonters make education universally available, they also emphasized quality of instruction. At these first schools, which were funded by local taxes and voluntary tuitions, (9) it was not uncommon for the town's "better qualified" to "take turns in teaching with little or no compensation." (10) Rural school teachers, equipped with "crude one-room buildings" and "a handful of books" poured heart and soul into teaching Vermont's youth. (11) In fact, it was a Vermonter who turned teaching into a "scientifically trained profession." (12) In Concord Corner, education pioneer Reverend Samuel Read Hall established the first normal school in the United States in 1823. (13) At this school, Hall introduced the blackboard into the classroom, where it was first used as an everyday teaching tool. (14) In addition to these noteworthy achievements in elementary education, early Vermonters were focused on and passionate about providing advanced education. (15) They quickly opened two institutions for higher education: the University of Vermont in 1791 and Middlebury College in 1800. (16)

Vermont's most preeminent Americans have recognized the value of education--cherishing it in their personal lives and promoting it in their public lives. Governors of the state have been loyal to the cause of education in what may be called Vermont's executive educational tradition. (17) In their inaugural addresses, chief executives from Isaac Tichenor in 1802, to Samuel Crafts in 1828, to Erastus Fairbanks in 1860 have extolled the "state's affirmative obligation to cultivate the essential attributes of citizenship through public education." (18) Calvin Coolidge, thirtieth President of the United States and a native of Plymouth Notch, Vermont, devoted a significant portion of his Autobiography to his elementary and secondary schooling career. (19) As a student at Black River Academy in Ludlow, Coolidge's teachers and classmates had such an impact that he later called it "one of the greatest events of my life." (20) Robert T. Stafford, who had an illustrious career in Vermont politics--serving as Governor, U.S. Congressman, and U.S. Senator--left a very important mark on education at the national level. (21) He was instrumental in passing federal legislation providing for low-interest loans to American college students. (22) Under the Stafford Loan plan, as it is now called, the Federal Government pays the interest on the loan while the student is enrolled in college if the student's family demonstrates financial need. (23)

So why does Vermont possess such strong educational character, standing ahead of the rest? …