Horace Mann and American Education Reform

Continuing along the timeline of education in America from Colonial Education, the early and mid 19th century brought a completely new face to the education system. The early reforms laid the groundwork for the future reform efforts of John Dewey, progressives, and corporate elites. As America diversified in so many other areas, so too did the nation's collective philosophy regarding the critical institution of education.

Reformers, some influenced by the Prussian education reforms of the early 1800s, emerged at an incredible rate hoping to change the general form and ideals of American education to keep up with the evolving country. No longer would small rural schoolhouses, untrained teachers, or limitations in education opportunities suffice. A more defined system, which, as Mann and others had hoped, would also be free and universal, slowly garnered both grassroots and governmental support. The goal was to mold individuals from all socio-economic backgrounds into good people and good citizens through education. It was believed that in doing so everyone would be able to achieve to their fullest potential.

Horace Mann, a man most consider to be one of the greatest figures in America's development in the educational realm, surfaced in the 1820s as a strong reformer, playing a critical role in the process until his death in 1859. Calling for the radical transformations of education which would quickly take the shape of our current system, the investigation and study of Mann remains an immensely important one. Without him, for better or for worse, the education that we take for granted today would be far different.

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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...

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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."

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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...

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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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