by Debra Johnson, Published May 06, 2014
YPSILANTI – It was the summer of 1914 when the department of special education was first established at Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University).
Fast forward 100 years, and you’ll find the College of Education at Eastern Michigan gearing up to celebrate the historic anniversary of its special education program, with events planned for May 16-18.
It all started with Dr. Charles Scott Berry, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, who conducted the first professional preparation course designed to train teachers “interested in the education of the feebleminded.” That training class with the rather insensitive title was held at the Michigan Home and Training School in Lapeer, MI, and the program was named “Lapeer Training School for Teachers.”
The increased interest in the need for teachers who were trained to work with children with disabilities appeared to be related to the nation’s movement toward compulsory public education for all children.
In 1871, the State of Michigan enacted Mich-Acts 251, which required all children 8 to 14 years of age to be enrolled in a public school for at least 12 weeks each year. The law further required that six of the twelve weeks be consecutive enrollment, however none of the state laws appeared to have any major effect until 1914-1915.
The results of the 1914 summer Lapeer Training School for Teachers were so significant that the Michigan State Board of Education determined the program should become the permanent responsibility of the Board. The training school was transferred to Ypsilanti, MI, making it a part of the Michigan State Normal College – thus the special education program at Eastern Michigan University was born.
During the next century, the demand for trained teachers in special education at EMU experienced dramatic growth. Some of the highlights include:
In December 1937, the University received a gift of $250,000 from the Horace H. and Mary A. Rackham fund, a trust established to “promote the health, welfare, education, training and development of the underprivileged,” for the construction of a building dedicated to special education. At the time of its construction and subsequent dedication on June 27, 1940, the Rackham School was the first building built specifically for teacher training in special education in the United States. With the opening of Rackham School, a new training program known as occupational therapy was added to the department of special education.
The department experienced considerable growth of its programs and staff during the 1950s, and by 1960 the department was home to nearly 700 undergraduate majors. Many new programs were added in areas such as autism spectrum disorders, speech/language pathology and hearing.
“EMU's department of special education has long been a leader in training professionals in how to work with people with disabilities,” said Phil Smith, associate professor of special education and the chair of the department’s 100th Anniversary Celebration. “This leadership has continued into the 21st century with the largest, most comprehensive special education training program in the state - perhaps even the United States, with 26 diverse faculty members who are experts in every disability area.”
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of its special education program, the College of Education has a weekend of special events planned to commemorate the historical occasion.
Some of the events scheduled during the celebration are:
Friday, May 16:
Saturday, May 17:
Sunday, May 18:
“We are absolutely delighted to have Barbara Ransom, a powerful advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and their families, as our guest speaker at our celebration,” said Smith. “She will enlighten all of us about the past, the present and future of special education.”
For the complete schedule of all events and details, visit the 100th Anniversary of Special Education event homepage. For more information about the special education program at EMU, please visit the EMU Special Education homepage.