A PROGRESSIVE EDUCATION
In 1872, Marian Magee taught fourteen students in Happy Jack School, the first class in what would become Sunnyview School. At that time, education in Wisconsin was near the beginning of a new era. In 1870, almost one-fifth of Wisconsin’s adult men were illiterate. Between forty and fifty thousand Wisconsin children didn’t attend school at all, and thousands more attended only a few weeks during the year.
Still, Wisconsin was a national leader in education. Article X of Wisconsin’s constitution, ratified in 1848, provided for free elementary school education for any resident between the ages of four and twenty. Free public schooling was not widespread in other parts of the United States until after 1865.
In 1873, the State Assembly passed a resolution to study school attendance and truancy (being absent from school without permission), but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that strict laws and enforcement required students in country schools such as Sunnyview to attend school at least six months out of the year. City children were required to go eight months, but they could be excused if they were "regularly and legally employed."
In the 1920s and 1930s, there were around 6,500 one-room country schools in Wisconsin. Eau Claire County had 85 such schools in 1927.
The goals of a country-school education had not changed much since colonial days: to transfer cultural knowledge, to build skills necessary for work, and to teach life skills such as good health, moral conduct, and citizenship. Many immigrant children in the Chippewa Valley first encountered the English language and "American" ways at school.
Schools should be good enough for the best and cheap enough for the poorest.
— educational reformer Henry Barnard, speaking before Wisconsin’s first constitutional convention, 1846