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."

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"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."

Horace Mann
Wm. B. Fowle and M. Capen
1848
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"A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering cold iron."

Horace Mann
Vol. VII
1868
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"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."

Horace Mann
Lee and Shepard
1872
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"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."

Horace Mann
Lee and Shepard Publishers
1891
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Library Topic: Private Schools

"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."

Horace Mann
Lee and Shepard Publishers
1891
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Library Topic: Private Schools

"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."

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"In large states public education will always be mediocre, for the same reason that in large kitchens the cooking is usually bad."

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
C. H. Kerr & Company
1915
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"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."

C. S. Lewis
HarperCollins
1942
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Library Topic: Private Schools
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"The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts."

C. S. Lewis
HarperCollins
1944
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"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."

David B. Tyack
Harvard University Press
1974
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"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."

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"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.'"

Robert P. Murphy
The Freeman, Volume 48, Issue 7
Foundation for Economic Education
July 1998
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"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."

Matthew J. Brouillette
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy
July 16, 1999
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"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."

Matthew J. Brouillette
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy
July 16, 1999
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“…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.”

Matthew J. Brouillette
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy
July 16, 1999
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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.

"In a profound sense, the public schools are not an American institution. They were modeled on the system of public education found in authoritarian Prussia in the early 19th century. After Prussia's defeat by Napoleon in 1807, King Frederick William III reinforced the national school system set up in 1717. Children aged seven to fourteen had to attend school, and parents who did not comply...

Wood's article honors Horace Mann and the 170th anniversary of the creation of the Massachusetts Board of Education. Giving a detailed background of Mann and his lasting campaigns and reform efforts surrounding education, Wood depicts the rise of the "common school" and the precedents that were set with its formation.

Raised as a strict Calvinist, this article describes how Horace Mann's rejection of Calvinism and acceptance of Unitarianism influenced his push to create government operated public schools. Brouillette also describes how Mann patterned his education ideas after Prussian concepts and...

"Hardly anyone disputes the contention that the modem public school is seriously flawed. Test scores continue to be poor while metal detectors are found in the more violent schools. Welfare-state liberals argue that schools in poor areas need more money to place them on an equal footing with their richer counterparts. Conservatives usually reply that the solution is a voucher system that would...

Analysis Report White Paper

Giving a broad history of education during America's founding until the spread of common schools, this article provides a fascinating background to the movement, most importantly touching on the surprising resistance and resulting struggles it faced throughout the 19th century.

Three-time New York City Teacher of the Year, John Taylor Gatto, traces the Prussian influences on education reform in the early and late 19th century as well as the 20th century.

This article takes a more specific objective in examining urban schooling. One of Mann's primary concerns, the piece contains a section on Mann and the rise of the common school in urban areas.

"This study looks at local practices of school funding for multiple types of schools in one unexceptional rural town in western New York from 1815 to 1850. The results reveal considerable in-state variation in the proportion of public and private funding for common schools that is otherwise obscured by state-level data."

Video/Podcast/Media

The above video links the reforms of Horace Mann to the Prussian education system.

"This ultra short documentary explains the history of compulsory schooling and advocates choice in education. It starts 200 years back with Prussian absolutism. There, under the regime of a dictatorship, compulsory schooling was invented and implemented on a massive scale. It continues to show how...

Primary Document

Getting a bit more specific, Lancaster lays out the format of his new educational system, one that emphasizes intellectual differences among the pupils and a less-organized teaching style (at least for 19th century standards). Lancaster's ideas (which would later be remembered bearing his name) would be carried on by Mann throughout the century.

New York Senator, Mayor and Governor, DeWitt Clinton was a strong proponent of Lancaster's new system and, on many occasions, attempted to implement it in New York schools.

"Love that is truly love, and not a mere transitory lust, never clings to what is transient; only in the eternal does it awaken and become kindled, and there alone does it rest. Man is not able to love even himself unless he conceives himself as eternal; apart from that he cannot even respect, much less approve, of himself. Still less can he love anything outside himself without taking it up...

The link provides a compilation of Fichte's addresses to the Germans. Fichte played a key role in establishing the Prussian education system, which was seen as a model for education reform by some Americans.

"The particular utopia American believers chose to bring to the schoolhouse was Prussian. The seed...

Providing a vast collection of documents surrounding the state of education in the late 19th century in Boston, the School Committee demonstrates how far the public education system had come since the emergence of Horace Mann.

The whole editorial charge of this paper, and all the incidental expenses belonging to it, we have voluntarily and gratuitously assumed, - in order that we might reach a class of persons, who never before have been addressed on the momentous subject of the moral and intellectual training of their offspring.

One of Horace Mann's many influential forerunners in educational reform, Lancaster created the public awareness that would be necessary for Mann's more lasting reform efforts. This document does just that, as it depicts the problems in education as the 19th century commenced, as well as possible solutions.

"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...

Griscom, a prominent educator during the first half of the 19th century, including being named the first head of the Queen's College (now Rutgers) chemistry department, was another advocate of these reforms in education.

After becoming the first Secretary of Education in 1837, Mann sets out to further establish his ideal educational system in America. Most importantly, Mann hoped for truly equal and universal education, making his famous statement that education was "the great equalizer of men."

This documentary history of the Boston public school system near the end of the 19th century contains extensive and detailed information concerning the funding of schools in the area.

In this work, Lewis defends a universal law of morality: "Since I can see no answer to these questions, I draw the following conclusions. This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of...

Published by Mann, this document is a thorough (perhaps too thorough unless for a dissertation) account of his plan for reform. Despite his wordy tendency, this document is of course a valuable source for examining Mann.

"Horace Mann says that 'a teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering cold iron.'"

Containing both the tenth and twelfth annual reports given by Mann on the state of the national education system, this document demonstrates the sincere values and principles Mann held regarding his crusade to reform the system.

"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. It has intrinsic and indestructible merits. It holds the welfare of mankind in its embrace, as the protecting arms of a mother hold her infant to her bosom. The very ignorance and selfishness which obstruct its path are the...

"Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762­[-]1814) was a German philosopher, a reformer and a supporter of the French Revolution and its ideals. But when France, under Napoleon, took control of Germany along with much of the rest of Europe, he rethought his position and made series of Addresses to the German Nation (1806), in French ­occupied Berlin.

The first,...

"Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a 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...

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This FAQ provides some background on education in Minnesota, which in turn will help one to understand today's state of education.

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