History of Public School Education in Arizona/Chapter 10

Chapter X.


When a general view of the history and growth of the public school movement in Arizona is undertaken, it is easily possible to comprehend the steady, if uneven, development in the course of the same. In the first place the Territory did not receive its preliminary organization until the days of the Civil War, and was therefore the heir of all that had been said or done or thought on the subject of education in the older States. In the next place the first American settlers came from States in which the public system was already more or less developed, and in seeking for a basis of action in their new surroundings they naturally turned to the experience they had had in their earlier homes; and finally their proposed new organization was to meet no insuperable obstacle in its path, for the Indians, averse to all civilization, had to be subdued first of all by force of arms, and the Mexicans, although reared under the theory of church schools only, and in general favorable to that view so far as they had any intelligent opinions, only for a brief interval presented any serious obstacle to the development of public education. Lastly, the Territory was practically wanting in schools of any sort, so that there was little or no resistance from other interests. There were no private or Protestant church schools. Such Catholic schools as existed were devoted largely to the education of Mexican and Indian children, and were separated to a certain extent from the field to which public-school workers were mainly devoting themselves. It is therefore substantially true to say that the first advocates of the public school found a field without previous claimants, clear of obstacles, fallow for cultivation, and with the greater part of the more intelligent population in direct sympathy with its purpose.

This was the situation during the earlier years of the Territory. Fortunately, the men in charge of the organization knew their duties and met its requirements like men. The Howell code, drawn up before the meeting of the first legislature, provided for the organization of a school system which was unquestioningly accepted as its rule of action at the first meeting of the representatives of the people.

As soon as practicable the legislature turned to the subject of school legislation. As early as 1867 they passed their first school law. This was amended, improved, and reenacted in 1868. It provided for a system of schools based on the idea that local taxation should alone be responsible for the support of the teaching force. This idea was an error. The population was weak and scattered; the local wealth was small; the property holders were not accustomed to taxes for local school purposes; and as the Territory as such did nothing, the laws of 1867 and 1868 accomplished little; not more than one or two schools were organized, and these did little or nothing in serving as centers from which the light of education might penetrate primeval darkness. The law of 1868 recognized, however, the necessity of local supervision, also a certain necessary uniformity in the textbooks and the certification of teachers, but this law likewise failed to accomplish its purpose; schools remained a purely local matter, and the subject of education slept till the coming of a new governor.

The new governor appeared in 1869. He was Anson P. K. Safford, and from California came this new Moses, destined to lead Arizona from darkness to educational light. To him it was given to win for himself the title of Father of the Public Schools. Well does he deserve the title. He found them a pleasing theory; he left them a thriving reality. Since his day the question of their final triumph over all obstacles has not been an article of faith but one of fact, demonstrated by tangible evidence. It is a long story, this long, stern fight against the indifference of ignorance and the opposition of a small body of men who sought to weaken school progress by dividing school funds.

In 1871 a new school bill, based on the California school law, was introduced and passed and has been the basis of practically all school legislation since that time. But the school act of 1871 was not obtained without effort. The earlier school laws had failed to accomplish their purpose, while the Apaches had been far too successful in their efforts to destroy the settlements. They had waged almost ceaseless warfare since the organization of the Territory. Many citizens had been slain, many ranches and settlements broken up. The legislators were more or less demoralized, and to the governor’s urging that the bill be passed they asked “What’s the use?” But the governor was insistent; he called to his aid Estevan Ochoa, the leading Mexican in the Territory, and to the objection that the Apaches were overrunning the country pointed out that they would in time be subdued and without schools the settlers would themselves soon be as unfit for self-government as the Apaches.

The bill did not become a law till the last day of the session, and then with most of the revenue stricken out. But the new law had features which redeemed it from the weakness of the earlier acts and made it a basis of future activity. It provided for a Territorial superintendent of schools, but as money was scarce and the enthusiasm of the governor great, the duties of the new office were attached to that of the governor without extra pay further than an allowance for traveling expenses. It thus provided for Territorial supervision, levied a compulsory Territorial tax of 10 cents on the hundred for school purposes, and also ordered a county tax of 50 cents on the hundred. In these taxes the legislature recognized the public-school system as one of the necessary parts of a modern State and provided for its support in the same manner and by the same methods as other State activities. Then and there the question of public support for public schools was settled for all time. Only once in the history of the Territory was this theory challenged and then in vain.

From the time that the bill of 1871 became a law Gov. Safford was its most persistent advocate. Up and down the length and breadth of the Territory, into every county, in the most out-of-the-way places he went, seeking to arouse and encourage the scattered settlements to provide for and organize schools. Advice, direction, suggestion, help, correction, enthusiasm, and courage were poured out like water in a thirsty land; everywhere and always did this devoted missionary preach the new gospel. Not only did he visit the older and more secure sections but also the new settlements where the blood of Apache victims was still fresh on the ground. Up and down through this sun-kissed land, across swollen streams or up their dry beds, over sandy deserts, through naked and forbidding mountains, risking encounters with wild animals and wilder men, passed this modern representative of the spirit of the age, this apostle of modern democracy, preaching always in season and out of season the new doctrine of educational salvation. Always abounding in the work which he had set himself to do, Gov. Safford won over suspicion and overcame opposition. He brought a principal to Prescott from Vermont; he brought teachers to Tucson from California. He came, he saw, he conquered. Only once did the opposition seriously threaten his plans; this was in 1875 when it was proposed to give to religious organizations their share of the public funds for parochial schools. But the sober sense of the people asserted itself; the proposed plan was rejected, and the public schools went on secure in their new freedom.

The result of the enthusiastic work of the governor was that the public schools began to take a firm hold on public consciousness. They took deep root in the soil of public confidence which he had so carefully prepared. They grew and developed. They prospered and increased year by year. The years 1874–75 and 1875–76 seem to represent the high-water mark for the period of Gov. Safford’s activities. In 1876–77 a decline set in, for in April of the latter year he resigned the governorship because of impaired health.

The unfavorable reaction of that year is clearly shown in the available statistics, but the schools had made a good start, the momentum already attained soon carried them over this handicap and there was a substantial increase in 1877–78 in the total enrollment, average attendance, and total income, and this last item permitted an increase In expenditures. The number of teachers increased, but there was a shortening of the school term, and owing to a general fall of prices a decrease in teachers’ wages. It may be said therefore that the withdrawal of Gov. Safford from school leadership did not have the permanent effects that might have been expected. He had builded so well that his removal caused only a temporary reaction, and it awoke the legislature to the desirability of putting the schools under a separate officer. This was done by the act of February 14, 1879, but no salary was attached to the office other than the $500 per annum formerly allowed the governor for expenses.

Gov. Frémont commissioned Moses H. Sherman, then principal of the Prescott schools, to take over the schools of the whole Territory in addition to his other school duties as superintendent at Prescott. It does not appear, however, that Sherman did much more than attend to the clerical duties of the office. The organization of the schools, the evolution of a course of study, the perfecting and settling on a series of textbooks to be used throughout the Territory, the codification and coordination of the school laws, the revising and defining the duties of county school officers, the organization of county institutes, the readjustment of county and Territorial school taxes, the proper apportionment of school funds, the recognition and granting of diplomas, the certification of teachers, were all matters which were left in the main by Supt. Sherman to his official successors. To Supts. Horton and Long is due the chief credit of taking the disjointed, disconnected, unorganized, and never articulated elements of a Territorial system and uniting them into a single whole. This work was largely accomplished in the administrations running from 1883 to 1887.

But while the decade of the eighties saw the first organization of the schools into a Territorial system started on its way, the same decade and the next witnessed the bitter factional fights that were growing out of the general educational situation of Territorial affairs. The Territory was naturally Democratic in politics. The Federal Government, on the other hand, was for the greater part of the time Republican, and its appointees, the Territorial governor and superintendent, were of the same political faith. There was therefore constant friction between the people and the administration. This resulted in serious limitations on the superintendent’s authority ; he was reduced to the position of a clerk; once they refused to confirm a superintendent because refusal to confirm made it possible for his successor to be a member of the administration majority; in another case the salary of the regularly appointed superintendent was cut more than in half by the legislature to force him to resign; while in other cases men were forced out of positions in the normal school simply because they were not members of the right political group, and these are only the worst phases of a struggle which was kept up for more than a decade, which penetrated to the very extermities of the system and affected seriously the work of the period. The greatest harm was done between 1887 and 1899. Before that date this spirit had manifested itself but little; after that time the people came to realize the harm that was coming to themselves from this unhappy mixture of politics and education, and a working basis of forbearance was attained, and the schools entered on a period of more harmonious development.

The close of the century marks also a realization of the necessity for fewer administrative changes, more uniformity in development, and greater continuity of ideals. Since the beginning of this century, and especially since the attainment of statehood, the system has been more and more in the way of realizing this desirable situation. Superintendents have therefore been better able to evolve their plans and carry them into execution, the schools have been less handicapped by failure to follow out plans when once undertaken. Since admission to statehood and the recognition of the school superintendency as an elective office, the conflict between political parties which appeared often in Territorial days has disappeared.

The question of school funds has always been less of a problem in Arizona than in most States. The schools have usually been able to command all the funds needed for their normal development. In the past it has even been found necessary to reduce taxes to prevent an accumulation of more funds than could be used, but other problems, that of distance, for instance, is ever present and will be for very many years to come, for there are still many stretches of wild waste separating one community from another, and many small mining camps and isolated ranches must suffer for the lack of opportunities for education that does not apply to the larger centers. It is the old trouble which has always been a bugbear to scattered communities in thinly settled States. Arizona is liberal in her provisions for the small community, recognizing it if there are as many as eight pupils, but there are still localities with a few pupils only, who do not as yet receive the fostering care of the State.

Since the State has come into the administration of her public-school lands this great estate is being taken over as fast as it can be selected and surveyed. The State is making wise provisions for its sale, fixing minimum prices for the same, and the sales seem to be conducted with a minimum of irregularity. The income from this source is increasing from year to year and bids fair in the future to become in itself so important that it will go far toward maintaining the school system.

The trend of progress may be shown by statistics from 1880 to date, which in the case of this State cover practically the whole field of its history.

Comparative table of illiteracy.
Years. Illiterates 10 years of age and over. Illiterates 10 to 20 years of age.
Native white. Foreign white. Negro. All classes.
Num­ber. Per cent. Num­ber. Per cent. Num­ber. Per cent. Num­ber. Per cent. Num­ber. Per cent.
1880 1,225 8.1 3,599 26.8 [Table 1]1,018 23.7 17.7 1,659 24.7
1890 2,056 7.9 6,900 42.2 245 19.2 10,785 19.5 [Table 2]2,621 24.1
1900 3,096 6.2 7,552 35.3 211 12.7 27,307 29.0 6,243 22.9
1910 3,776 4.2 13,758 31.5 122 7.2 32,953 20.9 7,146 18.0
  1. “Colored persons”; no mention of Chinese or others.
  2. Estimated.

These tables when interpreted mean that there was an absolute increase in the number of illiterates in the State at each census from 1880 to 1910, inclusive; that this increase was nearly 13 per cent when measured in per cents, and in actual numbers was 21,465 greater in 1900 than in 1890; that only in the decade beginning with 1900 did the Territory recover its equilibrium, for in 1910 the total illiteracy had been reduced by 8.1 per cent, but the per cent is still greater than in 1880 and the State yet has a great work before it.

That while the number of white illiterates is now three times as great as in 1880, in percentage it is a little less than one-half as great; that while the number of illiterate foreigners was greater in 1910 than in 1880 by 10,259, in per cents it is less than 5 per cent greater than in 1880 and is 11 per cent less than 1890; that Negro illiterates have decreased steadily both in number and per cents; that while the number of illiterates between 10 and 20 years of age has increased from 1,659 to 7,146, the per cent has decreased from 24.7 to 18 per cent.

While these figures taken by themselves would seem to indicate that in some respects the State is doing little more than holding its own, it will be noticed that when 1900 and 1910 are compared the progress of the last decade becomes clearly visible, and most of the best work of the State has even been done since the last census was taken. The progress of the young State, as compared with the Territorial period, may be briefly summarized as follows:

With the better articulation that has obtained in recent years the educational institutions have developed rapidly, and the normal schools and university are now in a fair way to supply the State demand for teachers, although at present the laws in force discourage the young teacher from beginning work in his home State. Educational journalism is behind, due undoubtedly to lack of support, this coming in turn from lack of teachers and the scarcity of persons interested in educational problems. The State has not yet grown beyond the stage of physical necessities on the one hand and the mere accumulation of wealth on the other, but the basis of the centralization and expression of school thought has been laid in the teachers’ county institutes and the Teachers’ State Association. With all the money needed, the State still awaits the increase in personnel which is as necessary as material. Indeed, one of the troubles in Arizona has always been that the pupils increased faster than the accommodations. For this reason it was ofttimes impossible to enforce the compulsory attendance laws. Schoolhouses, although built by bond issues more often than by taxes, at this period were often inadequate.

In recent years commendable progress has been made toward centralization. The examination of teachers is in the hands of the State superintendent. He mails the questions for the formal teachers’ examinations to the county superintendents, who acting in the capacity of educational clerks set the examination. The papers are then read and graded in the superintendent’s office and to each teacher is guaranteed equality of treatment and of marking. The offices of county judge of probate and county superintendent have been entirely separated by law, and salaries assigned in proportion to services rendered.

The State board of education is the authority in the organization and administration of educational affairs. The State superintendent takes his orders from this board and is its executive officer.

The enrollment and attendance in Arizona have always been relatively high, and in the last 20 years the enrollment has never been less than 71 per cent (1913–14) of the school population and has been as high as 86 per cent (1910–11). During the same period the per cent of those enrolled in average attendance has risen from 59 (1898–99) to 78.5 per cent in 1915–16, and the per cent of school population in average attendance has gone from 41.6 per cent in 1901–2 to 56.1 per cent in 1915–16.[1] It is to be noted also that this attendance is on a basis of the total school population between 6 and 21 years of age and makes no allowance for pupils in private schools. This increase in attendance is not at any uniform rate, but when one period is compared with another it becomes very marked.

The standardization of schools is being advanced and schoolhouses are being erected, larger and better than those of earlier decades and well suited to the needs of the day. Industrial and vocational education is recognized and provided for in special institutions, in the university, the normal schools, and also in the high schools. The State, after a long preliminary period in which uniformity of textbooks was provided by law but not always enforced in practice, has come to realize the desirability of providing all books at State expense, and a pension system is being tried. Many of these lines of endeavor are still in the trial period, but they indicate the trend of the times.

As yet there has not been attained in Arizona the centralization needed to place on the State department of education the responsibility for providing equal opportunities. As recently pointed out by the survey of the United States Bureau of Education the board itself should be reorganized and its power increased; all politics should be eliminated in both county and State affairs; the powers of the county board should be increased also with a reorganization of the methods of apportionment and an extension of expert supervision of rural schools.

When these and similar measures have been carried out there will not be lacking the centralized administration necessary to attain State-wide progress “without unnecessary delay and expense.”

  1. The Bureau of Education figures out that the average daily attendance of all pupils between 5 and 18 years was in 1913–14 as much as 74.2 per cent for the whole United States. On the same basis Arizona was given an attendance of 67.5 per cent. When the three years above 18 are included, the attendance average would naturally be lower.