Did You Know the First Public High School Was Built in Kalamazoo?
After catching the first line of a post on the Saginaw County Road Commission Facebook page, decided to do a little digging in to some Kalamazoo history. Everything has an origin story, right? The ice cream cone was introduced at the St. Louis World's Fair. The drug Ecstasy, then known as "Empathy" began as a couples' counseling tool. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider. But some of the systems we have in place had to have a beginning, too, and Kalamazoo just so happens to be the place wherein the first publicly tax-funded high school, and it fueled a lawsuit that would be known as the Kalamazoo School Case.
In the 1850s, it was quite common for a child to receive a very basic education, what we would consider an "elementary education" by today's standards. You learned your alphabet, basic math, and that was about it. From there, children would take up an apprenticeship and learn a trade, or start a formal education at a private university. That all changed in 1858.
According to the Kalamazoo Public Library's website, "The Michigan Legislature passed a law in 1859 that authorized school districts... to set up high schools funded by local taxes, if citizens of the district voted in favor of the proposal. In anticipation of the legislature’s passage of the law, but without a vote of local citizens, Kalamazoo established its first high school in 1858." Blasé news today, but believe it or not, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of residents who didn't want the tax burden (some things never change), but the courts decided in favor of the school.
This was the beginning of opportunity for a lot of children. Those who came from a labor background who, perhaps, wanted to go to university were given a tool to do so. This new idea of a high school made it possible for students to go beyond the basics in education, and positioned them for higher learning.
Nearly 150 years later, Kalamazoo continues to look to the future to provide a more just and equitable community with initiatives like Imagine Kalamazoo, which would have been on the forefront of an out-of-the-box experiment like a tax funded high school.