” The Father of American Education”,” Horace Mann, was born in Franklin, Massachusetts, in 1796. Mann’s schooling consisted only of brief and erratic periods of eight to ten weeks a year. Mann educated himself by reading ponderous volumes from the Franklin Town Library. This self education,
combined with the fruits of a brief period of study with an intinerant school master, was sufficient to gain him admission to the sophomore class of Brown University in 1816″ (4, Cremin). He went on to study law at Litchfield Law School and finally received admission to the bar in 1823 (15, Filler). In the year 1827 Mann won a seat in the state legislature and in 1833 ran for State Senate and won.” Throughout these years Horace Mann maintained a thriving law practice, first in Dedham and later in Boston” (5, Cremin).
” Of the many causes dear to Mann’s heart, non was closer than the education of the people. He held a keen interest in school policy. April 20, 1837, Mann left his law practice and accepted the post of the newly founded Secretary of Education” (6, Cremin). During his years as Secretary of Education Mann published twelve annual reports on aspects of his work and programs, and the integral relationship between education, freedom, and Republican government. He wanted a school that would be available and equal for all, part of the birth-right of every American child, to be for rich and poor alike. Mann had found “social harmony” to be his primary goal of the school. (8, Cremin).
Horace Mann felt that a common school would be the “great equalizer.” Poverty would most assuredly disappear as a broadened popular intelligence tapped new treasures of natural and material wealth. He felt that through education crime would decline sharply as would a host of moral vices like violence and fraud. In sum, there was no end to the social good which might be derived from a common school (8, Cremin).
“What is most important about Mann’s view of the common school is that he saw in it an educational purpose truly common to all” (12, Cremin). As Secretary of the Board of Education, Mann presided over the establishment of the first public normal school in the United States at Lexington in 1839. Mann also reinvigorated the 1827 law establishing high schools, and fifty high schools were created during his tenure. He also persuaded the Massachusetts legislature to establish a six month minimum school year in 1839 (15, Filler). Mann also led the movement to set up teacher institutions throughout the state (21, Cremin).
In 1848 Mann resigned as Secretary of Education and went on to the U.S. House of Representatives and then took the post of President of Antioch College in 1852. He stayed at the college until his death in August 27, 1859. Two months before that he had given his own valedictory in a final address to the graduating class; ” I beseech you to treasure up in your hearts these my parting words: Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for Humanity” (27, Cremin).
Mann had won his victory as the public school soon stood as one of the characteristic features of American life – A “wellspring” of freedom and a “ladder of opportunity” for millions.
Cremin, Lawrence A. The Republic and the School: Horace Mann On the Education of Free Men. New York: Teachers College, 1957.
Filler, Louis. Horace Mann on the Crisis in Education. Ohio: Antioch Press, 1965.
Prepared by Pam Mason-King