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Horace Mann was an American education reformer credited with founding the Common School Movement, which was instrumental in the development of a system of public education. In this lesson, we will explore Mann’s contributions to public education in America.

Meet Horace Mann

In 1796, Horace Mann was born into a poor farming family in Massachusetts. His experiences growing up in this environment greatly impacted his future approach to education.

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Because his family was poor, some of his educational opportunities were limited. Like many kids in rural America during this time period, Mann was educated in a one-room schoolhouse. These one-room schoolhouses often lacked the funding necessary for even physical maintenance, much less academic resources. This often resulted in an unorganized approach to schooling.Mann, however, had an advantage. He was not only intelligent, he was also determined. Through a dedicated effort, Mann was able to gain admittance to Brown University at the age of 20.

While at Brown, Mann began to hone the skills that would be necessary for his future as a social reformer. At Brown, Mann focused on law and politics. He increased his interest and spoke out on the importance of education as a vehicle for social advancement.

He preached the importance of philanthropy and the importance of a government that truly represented the needs of the people. It is these values that thrust Mann headfirst into fighting for education. For Mann, education was a means of social justice.After graduating from Brown, Mann would go on to serve the government in many ways. He would be elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1827 and would serve until 1833. He would join the Massachusetts Senate in 1835 and serve until 1837.

In 1837, he became the secretary of the newly formed Massachusetts State Board of Education.He would go on and serve at a national level as a member of the House of Representatives in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Much more could be said of Mann’s political power, but this video will focus on his impact on education. His newly found platform as a member of the State Board of Education would help him project his ideas into a public space.

The Common School Movement

While there are many important contributions to society made by Horace Mann, perhaps none are more significant than his contribution to the Common School Movement.

The Common School Movement was a movement beginning in the 1830s that involved a push for a tax-funded, well-developed, state public education system.In 1837, when Mann was the secretary of the State Board of Education in Massachusetts, education was in about the same shape it was when he was a child. Poor farm children still found themselves in one-room schoolhouses with little governance or organizational structure.

Mann knew this had to change.Mann’s approach to changing education focused largely on changing the professional conversation regarding education and in changing the way teachers were trained. In 1838, he founded a biweekly journal called the Common School Journal. This was Mann’s way of getting his ideas to those teachers who were already in the field. He promoted democratic ideals and the necessity for academic rigor.As another part of Mann’s approach to reform education, he also founded what were known as normal schools.

Normal schools were schools attended by teachers in order to establish pedagogical norms and standards. Mann believed that better teachers would result in a better schooling experience. He also believed that teacher training was lacking and that a more unified approach should be used. The normal schools were his approach to improve teacher education.

These schools were rooted in what is commonly described as Mann’s six guiding principles of education.

Mann’s Six Guiding Principles

Mann’s views on education were numerous but can be elementarily described in six simple principles.First, it is impossible for someone to be ignorant and free. For Mann, it was imperative that an active citizen in a democracy be educated at every level necessary to adequately participate in the process of government.Second, the public should pay for, maintain, and control public education.

This was a basic democratic idea. If education is the avenue for advancement, it belongs in the hands of those seeking advancement.Third, education should be inclusive. Now, there is debate over how inclusive Mann actually was. In fact, he receives some criticism for not embracing diverse cultures and being exclusive of some children with disabilities. Nevertheless, Mann did believe that education was a right that belonged to children from all social classes, not just the wealthy.Fourth, education must be nonsectarian.

In other words, education should not be linked to a particular group, whether religious or political.Fifth, education should be based on the ideals of a free society. Put most simply, education must be democratic.Sixth, teachers must be well-trained professionals. If education was going to succeed in moving society forward, it was up to well-trained teachers to do it.Many of Mann’s principles hold true in modern educational theory.

The concept of a democratic classroom is critical to today’s public education, and the emphasis on teacher training has only intensified since Mann’s lifetime. While Mann is certainly not free of criticism, he was nonetheless an influential educational reformer.

Lesson Summary

In summary, Horace Mann was an American reformer of education who is most commonly credited with the creation of the Common School Movement. He was a proponent of a democratic form of schooling that would be provided and funded by the state through taxation. He believed teacher training was critical to the success of schools, and he promoted improvement through the creation of normal schools and the publishing of the Common School Journal. His six principles of education promote a citizenry that is well-educated and informed to participate in the democratic process of government.

While not without criticism, he is a man that did much for the public school movement.

Learning Outcomes

Once you are done with this lesson you should be able to:

  • Discuss the state of education in the 1800’s
  • Describe the Common School Movement
  • Explain the purpose of normal schools
  • Recall and discuss Mann’s six principles of education

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