How has State’s legacy changed?

There have been name changes, several mascots and a cast of new school colors, but through it all Indiana State has remained steadfast in its mission to make higher education accessible to Hoosiers for almost as long as Indiana has been a state.

There have been name changes, several mascots and a cast of new school colors, but through it all Indiana State has remained steadfast in its mission to make higher education accessible to Hoosiers for almost as long as Indiana has been a state.

Dan Clark, associate professor of history at Indiana State

It’s a fact that isn’t lost on Dan Clark. The Indiana State associate professor of history has sifted through decades’ worth of records since being tapped to write a history of Indiana State as part of the university’s 150th celebration. It is expected to be completed by the end of the sesquicentennial era in early 2020.

It is the perfect project for Clark, who examined Illinois State University’s evolution from a normal school to a full university for his master’s thesis and studied the history of higher education for his dissertation and his first book.

“People at universities sometimes take for granted that things have always been the way they are, so celebrations like this help us reflect on how the institution has evolved while some guiding principles have endured, like providing a quality education and uplifting students who may otherwise not have access to a higher education,” said Clark, who began his research in the summer of 2014.

Indiana State’s history is most manageable up until the 1950s, Clark said, because of fewer faculty, staff and students. By the 1950s and 1960s, the university starts to experience a growth spurt, leaving Clark many avenues to take his research.

“The only problem is that I’m a historian, and I want to look at everything,” he said. “I knew when I became a professor here that the university has a mission to be accessible to more Indiana students and, in a lot of ways, that hasn’t changed. There remains a pride in making higher education more accessible to students in Indiana, and I hope the book helps to reinforce that mission and all the university has accomplished in 150 years.”

Indiana State offered instruction in a state where the education system was a bit backwards in its early years, Clark said, noting that there with fewer high schools available for students, especially those from working-class and rural families.

“Normal schools didn’t require students to have attended high school, but these were students who aspired to be better, and it became an institution of access, which is especially true for women and African Americans,” said Clark, noting that Indiana State Normal School admitted African Americans from its opening. “These students were given opportunities at the Normal School that they may not have had in other parts of society at that time.”

The Normal School would take all comers, and while it was an institution meant to train future teachers for the common schools of Indiana, Indiana State Normal School would see a number of its graduates become principals, superintendents and college presidents.

“You also find many early graduates who would go into careers in medicine or law, because teaching was an entry into the middle-class and would help to open up doors to other careers,” Clark said. “It was a stepping stone for those with no access to high school and no way to go to a private college that required a high school diploma. It’s a legacy of Indiana State Normal School that is often underappreciated but it dovetails with the university’s current mission.”

In the early 20th century, school systems started to educate most children, but not all of them would go to college, which was especially true for children of the working-class, Clark said.

As the university’s offerings grew more diverse, it became more disconnected from its beginnings, Clark said. This change has made it even more vital to understand those core values that the institution was built on — training the whole person, broadening the mind and making its students deeper thinkers.

“Looking back, one of Indiana State’s greatest legacies was that its impact could be felt across the state, as it sent its graduates what to be school teachers, principals and superintendents,” Clark said. “It basically helped to modernize the Indiana school system where people only had to attend common school and take a test to become a teacher.”

With no specialized training for teachers, the founders of Indiana State Normal School wanted to provide future educators with a proper education and knowledge they could take into the education system.

“The normal school helped teach teachers to differentiate instruction for their pupils, so 6-years-old and 10-year-olds were getting classroom instruction at their level,” Clark said. “It sounds simple, but it wasn’t happening in the schools before teachers trained at places like Indiana State Normal School helped spread those ideas into the school system. The institution’s early graduates helped to build the system of education in Indiana.”

Related: Being a part of State’s history

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