By Lisa Y. Gross
In 1845, Kentucky Governor William Owsley, joined by the state auditor and state treasurer, burned a selection of bond documents. The interest on these bonds was to be invested and used to support public education in the state, but the commonwealth’s leaders had been “borrowing” that money for years. So, they figured that if the bonds didn’t exist, they would no longer be obligated to repay what they’d taken.
This fiery historical moment is one of many described by William E. Ellis in his new book, A History of Education in Kentucky. Ellis is foundation professor emeritus of history at Eastern Kentucky University, and his latest work is a wide-ranging analysis of Kentucky’s public education system – elementary, secondary and postsecondary. This review centers primarily on the chapters that deal with elementary and secondary education.
Ellis’ description of the bond-burning episode, which was rationalized at the time as necessary and right, is one of many head-shaking moments in the book. Ellis doesn’t paint a rosy picture of Kentucky’s early efforts to educate its residents, as evidenced by the title of the first chapter, “Tragedies, Blunders and Promises.” Read the full story