Who Was Horace Mann?

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Perhaps no one more deserves the title of "Father of American Public School Education" than Horace Mann. This list contains many of his contributions to education and events in his life.

1. Early Youth - Horace Mann was born in Franklin, Massachusetts on May 4, 1796. His youth was lived in poverty and hardship on the family farm. His schooling was limited to about three months of instruction during each year. However, he mastered the tenets of the orthodox Calvinist faith by the age of ten. He rejected this faith when he was twenty-three years old in favor of Unitarianism. His remarks to the graduating class at Antioch College a few weeks before his death, "Be ashamed to die before you have won some battle for humanity," reflects his Unitarian convictions. These beliefs, accepting the possibility of improvement of the human race, played no small role in Mann's efforts to establish free, public, non-sectarian education for every man and woman.

2. Brown University - After receiving some private tutoring, Mann qualified for the sophomore class at Brown. When he graduated, he studied law and was admitted to the Bar in 1823.

3. Politician - Between 1827 and 1848, Horace Mann had a brilliant career, first as a State Representative and then as a Senator in the Massachusetts Legislature. He was active in establishing a state mental hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts.

4. Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education - In 1837 Horace Mann accepted the position of First Secretary of the State Board of Education in Massachusetts. His humanitarian impulses led him to abandon a highly promising career in politics in favor of education. He took office at a time when glaring weaknesses existed in public education in Massachusetts. Mann achieved the following in his twelve years as First Secretary:

a. Campaigned for Education. Realizing the need for public support and public awareness of the educational problems of poor teaching, substandard materials, inferior school committees and pupil absences, Mann campaigned throughout the state. This campaign was eminently successful. The schools were improved everywhere in the state.

b. Established Schools for Teacher Training. The first Normal School for Teachers was established in Lexington, Massachusetts in 1839 through the efforts of Mann.

c. Established School District Libraries. Horace Mann improved education by advocating successfully the establishment of free libraries.

d. Won Financial Backing for Public Education. Mann knew the importance of money in making educational progress. Through his efforts, the wages of teachers were more than doubled, supervision of teaching improved with compensated school committees, fifty new secondary schools were built, state aid to education doubled, and textbooks and educational equipment improved.

e. Extended His Influence Beyond Massachusetts. Horace Mann edited the "Common School Journal" and wrote twelve annual reports which became famous. Some important annual reports were:

• Fifth Annual Report (1841): Mann argued successfully that economic wealth would increase through an educated public. It was therefore in the self-interest of business to pay the taxation for public education.

• Seventh Annual Report (1843): Horace Mann inspected and appraised favorably the Prussian school system. This report led to widespread improvement of education through the educational theories of Pestalozzi, Herbart, and eventually Froebel.

• Tenth Annual Report (1846): Mann asserted that education was a natural right for every child. It is a necessary responsibility of the state to insure that education was provided for every child. This report led to the adoption of the first state law requiring compulsory attendance in school in 1852.

• Twelfth Annual Report (1848): He presented a rationale for the support of public education through taxation. Society improves as a result of an educated public. He argued for non-sectarian schools so the taxpayer would not be in the position of supporting any established religion with which he might disagree in conscience.

5. Last Years. Horace Mann resigned in 1848 to take a seat vacated in the United State Congress. In 1853 he assumed the Presidency of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He became president to implement his educational ideas in higher education. This college was co-educational and non-sectarian. The labor of raising funds for Antioch College weakened his health. He died on August 2, 1859 at the age of 63.