|Leaders in Education
Horace Mann (1796–1859)
Horace Mann was the radical educational reformer of his day. Although trained as a lawyer, he became eminently successful as an educator and a politician. Asked why he had exchanged the practice of law for education, he answered that "the interests of a client are small compared with the interests of the next generation."
Born in Franklin, Mass., Mann received only the most rudimentary schooling until he was fifteen. Most of his education was self-acquired, a fact that profoundly influenced his philosophy of education. He studied hard to be admitted to Brown University, where he became a brilliant student. In 1827, Mann was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and a luminous political career lay ahead of him, but he became committed instead to education and to the use of political methods to bring about educational reform.
Mann made it his aim to abolish the cruel floggings that were then routine in the public schools. Schoolmasters believed it their duty to drive the "devil" out of their students, and many of them administered from ten to twenty floggings a day. Most schoolkeepers believed flogging to be an aid to learning. Not only were students treated cruelly, but attendance at school was itself a punishment. Schools were often little better than hovels: the lighting was poor, and many buildings were unsanitary and unsafe. Mann criticized corporal punishment and inadequate facilities in public speeches, lectures, and letters, and lobbied for reform in the state legislature and in Congress.
Horace Mann strongly believed in the ideals of the common school and championed its cause throughout his career. He saw education as a tool of liberation by which the poor could raise themselves, African Americans could become emancipated, and children with disabilities could adjust to their handicaps. After all, Mann reasoned, education had brought him fame and position. Thus, more than 150 years ago, the idea of social mobility through education was born in America.
For education to be as powerful a force as Mann envisioned it, he thought the school term must be lengthened and teachers’ salaries raised. To make learning more relevant and enjoyable, he helped introduce new textbooks designed to illustrate the relationship between knowledge and the practical problems of society. Mann organized libraries in many schools, making books readily available to students. He believed less in the formal curriculum than in individual learning—undoubtedly because of his own self-education.
Mann was responsible for the establishment of the Massachusetts Board of Education and for the founding in 1839 of the first public normal school (a two-year school chiefly for the training of elementary teachers) in Lexington, Mass. Although the normal school opened with only three students, the concept spread and was widely imitated throughout the country. Mann was intensely interested in teacher training, and he believed teachers should be intellectual, moral, and cultural models for their communities.
Many of Mann’s ideas were controversial, but he was most violently denounced for his position on religion in the schools. Although a religious man, he believed religious training belonged outside the schools, which should be run by the state. Because of his views, Mann was attacked from many Boston pulpits.
Mann was regarded as a dreamer and a visionary by many of his colleagues. When he took over the presidency of Antioch College in 1852, opened its doors to all races and religious sects, and admitted women on an equal basis with men, some educators predicted that these measures would promote the collapse of higher education. Were he alive today, Mann might still be fighting for ideas he espoused more than a century ago. Many people have yet to accept these ideas.
Visit the following web sites for more information on Horace Mann:
The PBS Only a Teacher web site offers this biography of Horace Mann.
Giants of American Education: Horace Mann
This article about Horace Mann and his contributions is part of a series published by Technos, a quarterly publication on education and technology.
Gallery of Educational Theorists
The author of this site uses a set of standard questions to analyze the ideas of several theorists, including Horace Mann.
Tenth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education
Read this report, in which Horace Mann outlines his positions on education.
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