His mother delivered Horace Mann on May 4, 1796, the last full year of the administration of President George Washington.
Mann died August 2, 1859. In those 63 years, Mann became at least the co-architect of the concept of public schools.
Today, few outside schools of education know who he was, or what he did (no, he’s not in the Texas TEKS).
We can get a brief snapshot from the website accompanying the PBS series, Only a Teacher, Schoolhouse Pioneers:
Horace Mann (1796-1859)
Horace Mann, often called the Father of the Common School, began his career as a lawyer and legislator. When he was elected to act as Secretary of the newly-created Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837, he used his position to enact major educational reform. He spearheaded the Common School Movement, ensuring that every child could receive a basic education funded by local taxes. His influence soon spread beyond Massachusetts as more states took up the idea of universal schooling.
Mann’s commitment to the Common School sprang from his belief that political stability and social harmony depended on education: a basic level of literacy and the inculcation of common public ideals. He declared, “Without undervaluing any other human agency, it may be safely affirmed that the Common School…may become the most effective and benignant of all forces of civilization.” Mann believed that public schooling was central to good citizenship, democratic participation and societal well-being. He observed, “A republican form of government, without intelligence in the people, must be, on a vast scale, what a mad-house, without superintendent or keepers, would be on a small one.” The democratic and republican principals that propelled Mann’s vision of the Common School have colored our assumptions about public schooling ever since.
Mann was influential in the development of teacher training schools and the earliest attempts to professionalize teaching. He was not the first to propose state-sponsored teacher training institutes (James Carter had recommended them in the 1820s), but, in 1838, he was crucial to the actual establishment of the first Normal Schools in Massachusetts. Mann knew that the quality of rural schools had to be raised, and that teaching was the key to that improvement. He also recognized that the corps of teachers for the new Common Schools were most likely to be women, and he argued forcefully (if, by contemporary standards, sometimes insultingly) for the recruitment of women into the ranks of teachers, often through the Normal Schools. These developments were all part of Mann’s driving determination to create a system of effective, secular, universal education in the United States.
Mann, Horace. Annual Reports on Education, 1872; Massachusetts System of Common Schools, 1849
Messerli, Jonathan. Horace Mann, A Biography, 1972
Did you catch that? By 1838 Horace Mann figured out that good teachers were the key to improving schools, and so he set about creating systems to educate and help teachers do their work.
Oh, yeah, we knew Diane Ravitch is listening, and working hard to make things better.
- In an earlier post, in comments, we found a page at the National Center for Education Statistics listing schools by name — 55 Horace Mann schools listed there as of May 4, 2013
- A biography brief of Horace Mann from North Dakota schools