Michigan Children Become "Creatures of the State"

By the end of March 1837, three bills passed the Michigan legislature establishing the legislative foundation for governmental control of schooling in Michigan. Although the first government school was organized in 1838 in Detroit, it was virtually paralyzed by the unwillingness of citizens to tax themselves. However, despite bitter opposition, a successful campaign established more government-funded schools in Detroit with a newly created city board of education overseeing a unified system of schools.

Pierce exhibited no qualms about wresting control from parents and placing the responsibility of education in the hands of the government. He believed that, "If children, as is generally conceded, belong to the republic, then it is obviously the duty of the state to see to it that they are properly trained, instructed, educated."39

Satisfied with this centralized system, Pierce noted in 1852 that "the system of public instruction which was intended to be established by the framers of the [state] constitution, the conception of the office, its province, its powers, and duties were derived from Prussia."40 The children of Michigan had become, in the words of a later U. S. Supreme Court decision, "creatures of the state."41

In addition to establishing a centralized system of education from the state's beginnings, Michigan also became the first state to seize township profits from the sale of Section 16 land. Although the money raised by the sale of these sections was initially granted to local communities by the federal government to establish local schools, the state government expropriated these revenues to fund its school system.42

As the country struggled to unify itself following the Civil War, greater state control of many services that were initially provided through private means became significantly more common. In education, the Prussian model of government-controlled schools spread across the nation.

Whereas education had begun as a function of the family and the religious community, the focus of the newly established school system shifted from the individual to the collective society. Yet it took many years before government became the overriding force behind the education of Michigan school children.