IN MANY WAYS, MICHIGAN HAS BEEN A LEADER in educational development. During British rule, public schools were established for children of soldiers and families living at, or near, military outposts, while private schools were opened for the offspring of officers and wealthy merchants. As settlers trickled into Michigan from the East, they brought with them the Puritan beliefs that education was godly, ignorance the tool of the devil, and a moral society could only result from an educated citizenry. As a result of this background, it was easy for Michigan to uphold the wish of the Ordinance of 1787 that “schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged” in the Northwest Territory.
In 1809, the territorial council passed a law imposing on families with school-age children a tax of two to four dollars per child to support public education. While this levy was rarely collected, it did set the precedent for taxation to maintain schools. Eighteen years later the territorial legislature adopted a primary-school law based on that of Massachusetts. Under this act, every township with fifty or more residents had to hire a teacher “of good morals” to offer instruction, over a six-month period, in reading, writing, arithmetic, English, French, and decent behavior. If a township possessed over 200 inhabitants, it was required to have a “higher school” which offered advanced training in the basic skills as well as Latin. In 1829 this law was revised, and the provision regarding the types of schools to be maintained according to population was repealed. Under the amended law each township was to elect five Commissioners who