Mann held a strong belief in the necessity of compulsory education for America's youth. This article tells the history of this idea and its implementation, something which we rarely think twice about.
Quotes on Horace Mann and American Education Reform
"Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men - the balance - wheel of the social machinery. I do not here mean that it so elevates the moral nature as to make men disdain and abhor the oppression of their fellow men. This idea pertains to another of its attributes. But I mean that it gives each man the independence and the means, by which he can resist the selfishness of other men.
It does better than to disarm the poor of their hostility towards the rich; it prevents being poor. Agrarianism is the revenge of poverty against wealth. The wanton destruction of the property of others - the burning of hay-ricks and corn-ricks, the demolition of machinery, because it supersedes hand-labor, the sprinkling of vitriol on rich dresses - is only agrarianism run mad. Education prevents both the revenge and the madness. On the other hand, a fellow feeling for one's class or caste is the common instinct of hearts not wholly sunk in selfish regards for person, or for family. The spread of education, by enlarging the cultivated class or caste, will open a wider area over which the social feelings will expand."
"Education, more than anything else, demands not only a scientific acquaintance with mental laws, but the nicest art in the detail and the application of means, for its successful prosecution; because influences, imperceptible in childhood, work out more and more broadly into beauty or deformity, in after-life. No unskillful hand should ever play upon a harp, where the tones are left, forever, in the strings."
"If ever there was a cause, if ever there can be a cause, worthy to be upheld by all of toil to sacrifice that the human heart can endure, it is the cause of Education."
"Now, how are mortals to discover truth? I answer, that to seek for it in the right spirit is the only guaranty of a successful search. And the most important elements in this spirit are, a supreme love of truth and the power of impartial thought. To be capable of impartiality of thought opens all the avenues to truth. Incapability of it closes them all. Yet all the Christian sects, and almost all Colleges and private schools, at this day, are training the children and youth under their care to be incapable of impartial thought. They are divesting them of their intellectual impartiality, not only as between different denominations compared with each other, but also as between different denominations on the one side and truth on the other. This they do by stamping the peculiarities of their own faith as early and as deeply as possible upon the unformed mind, as though that faith were infallibly true, and by stigmatizing all conflicting ones as certainly false."
"One more suggestion will close the argument on this topic. What is the course of the wisest of governments and of men in a case closely analogous? When an exciting cause is to be tried in a civil court, does not every judge examine the jurors upon oath, to learn whether they have expressed or formed an opinion on the merits of the case, and does he not set aside as unworthy to be upon the panel, those who have formed such opinion? Every man sees and feels the reasonableness of this course. Yet this is just the reverse of what is done in regard to controverted religious doctrines, in most of our private schools, Sabbath schools, Colleges, and Theological Seminaries. Hence Truth, claiming by divine warrant to be heard, is silenced; error, worthy of annihilation, is perpetuated, and hostile sects, the scandal of the Christian religion, are increased in members and virulence."
"Speaking once of [Mann's] youthful longing for education, he said he knew not how I was, but the motive of his longing was never power, wealth, or fame; it was rather an instinct that impelled him towards knowledge, as the instinct of migratory birds impels them northward in springtime. All his boyish air-castles had reference to doing something for mankind. The early precepts of benevolence inculcated by his parent flowed out in that direction, and he believed that knowledge was his needed instrument to accomplish his object."
"In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will vanish. The few who might want to learn will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway the teachers—or should I say, nurses?—will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us.
Of course this would not follow unless all education became state education. But it will. That is part of the same movement. Penal taxes, designed for that purpose, are liquidating the Middle Class, the class who were prepared to save and spend and make sacrifices in order to have their children privately educated. The removal of this class, besides linking up with the abolition of education, is, fortunately, an inevitable effect of the spirit that says I’m as good as you. This was, after all, the social group which gave to the humans the overwhelming majority of their scientists, physicians, philosophers, theologians, poets, artists, composers, architects, jurists, and administrators. If ever there was a bunch of tall stalks that needed their tops knocked off, it was surely they."
"In the present crisis of authority in American public education, there are those who say that schools lack intellectual rigor, those who detect communist influences, those who criticize the rigidity of vast urban bureaucracies, those who claim that the schools are racist and sexist, those who argue that the common school produces conformist servants of mediocrity, those who argue that education has been the opiate of the people and an excuse for neglecting basic social change. These and other charges are hardly new, but they have long been overshadowed by the consensus earnestly sought and successfully won by education spokesmen of the last century."
"Most states, both North and South, had little legislation on elementary schooling and offered little or no financial assistance to localities. In many communities, school sessions were brief, facilities were crude, and teachers were only a few steps ahead of their pupils. Uniformity was provided only by the strong Protestant religious content of most schools, by the popularity of certain textbooks, and by informal traditions of school architecture. America had schools, but, except in large cities, America did not have school systems...After 1830 a new generation of educational reformers appeared, and the tide began to turn."
"What were the causes of that shift from private to public education? It is impossible to review the period in question and fail to conclude that the drive for public education was largely a response to the huge influx of poor, non-Protestant immigrants. Between 1821 and 1850 just under 2.5 million Europeans emigrated to the United States, over one million of whom were Irish Catholics. Nativist and 'Know-Nothing' backlashes occurred, which included the burning of Catholic buildings and other forms of bigotry. Many viewed Catholics as owing their loyalty to the Pope. One editor wrote that 'a Romanist minority, trained by nuns and priests ... furnishes the majority of our criminals.'"
"Horace Mann and the education reformers' primary purpose was to bring local school districts under centralized town authority and to achieve some degree of uniformity among the towns through a state agency. They believed that popular schooling could be transformed into a powerful instrument for social unity."
"Mann was instrumental in establishing the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837 during the height of Whig and Unitarian influence in the state. Appointed as the board's first secretary that year, he served until 1848 when he resigned to fill a vacant seat in Congress. On the board, Mann combined an evangelical fervor for the common school with adroit political skills to accomplish three objectives: (1) state collection of education data; (2) state adoption of textbooks through the establishment of state-approved school libraries in each district; and (3) state control of teacher preparation through the establishment of 'Normal Schools' (teacher colleges). Although Mann did not invent the original 'public' schools, he advocated state control of the very character and mission of 'public' education, and laid the groundwork for greater governmental control."
“…Mann did not accomplish his goals without bitter and principled opposition. Many orthodox and even some liberal Protestant leaders strongly objected to what they perceived as Mann's imposition of his own sectarianism in the schools. Many also disagreed with Mann about the role of government in schooling—centralized control of schooling was seen as antithetical to republican traditions; in particular, the freedom of parents to pass on their own beliefs and traditions to their children.
Mann succeeded in great part because nonsectarianism was a staple of evangelical Protestantism; where theological division did exist, Mann exploited it to raise fears of sectarianism. Eventually, the generalized Protestant character of the common schools was enough to unify all but the most orthodox Protestants in support of government schooling. This was bolstered in part by Protestants' reaction to increased Catholic immigration and the attempt by Catholics to gain tax support for their parochial schools. Indeed, the common school movement and anti-Catholic sentiment were inextricably bound up with one another as citizens desired to prevent Catholic schools from being assisted through tax money.”