Considered as the Father of American Education, Horace Mann dedicated his life to the benefit of the Americans through reforms in education. Assuming office in the Massachusettss Board of Education, the first state board ever established in 1837, Mann introduced reforms in the school system which had a great effect on both the teachers and students situations. In this paper, we discuss the accomplishments of Horace Mann, and relate those accomplishments to later developments in the American school system.
The Vision of Mann
In the history of American public education, one name stands above the rest: Horace Mann. Considered by many as the Father of American Education, Mann was a forerunner of reforms in the Education arena in the mid 1800s. He was born in Massachusetts, where he received little formal education as a young man.
However, his perseverance and great interest in reading made him a highly informed man, and later became his passport to Brown University where he spent his college. After graduation, he taught for a short time, and took up Law. Later, he entered politics and was appointed to hold the first state board of education where he contributed a lot in the improvement of education, especially public education. Among his accomplishments include enactment of laws to establish mental institutions and other projects for the cause of the slaves and the poor.
Being appointed to the office of the Massachusetts board of education was an enormously difficult task. Given the perplexed situation of the education system during his time, Mann faced many adversities, including detractors who opposed the establishment of the state board. Many of his opponents included statesmen and businessmen who must have felt the threat Mann was imposing regarding appropriations of the governments budget and additional taxation to finance reforms in education.
In particular, Manns programs also affected the industrial sector as they tried to abolish child labor. In addition, Mann also crossed the line by establishing standard school curricula, which angered religious sects who favored the inclusion of their beliefs in the school program. As a result, the heads of sects strongly disputed against the formation of the state board and its efforts to standardize school curricula.
By thinking of a common school, Mann was proposing a common moral and political standpoint of education for all children. In his article, Richman (1999) expressed that this view is in line with the hope to end crime and corruption. According to Richman, Mann must have concluded that setting up a moral standard could unify the nation but it likewise tried to brush off religious sects existing that time.
Furthermore, the common ground was seen to diminish social, political, and class conflict. The establishment of public education would serve as the vehicle for establishing a common American spirit, despite economic situation, religion, and ethnicity.
Despite the criticisms he received, Mann proceeded with his efforts to revise the educational system. He transformed charity schools into free public schools, and prioritized empowerment of teachers, whom he believed were the core of instruction.
The Situation that Needed Reform
The call for reforms in the mid 1800s was very remarkable. Poor academic performance characterized by students rote learning and irregular attendance made up the academic scene especially in small districts. Also, incompetent and underpaid teachers made the scene worse, adding to the problem of misappropriated budget and poorly equipped schools.
Assuming office in 1837, Mann focused on building public schools which catered to the poor. He noted the poor attendance of students who needed to work, thus often set aside schooling. Classes during this time included students whose ages ranged from three to eighteen (Kaestle, 2006), all studying the same subject in the one room. Students were asked to recite for countless times the English alphabet, and teachers managed to discipline the class either through the said technique or by corporal punishment.
A report by Rice (as cited in Kaestle, 2006) tackled the appointment of unqualified teachers who focused on building up students memory rather than teaching the how to apply learned theories. Teachers were viewed to be ignorant, unskilled, and unknowledgeable, exercising bureaucracy in the comfort of the schools. Students had poor literacy, as they attended school irregularly. Students, including children were allowed to absent from school to perform jobs to support the family. Schools were poorly located, poorly built, and poorly equipped, thus hampering the literacy of every student.
The school situation was even made worse with the discrimination of women and slaves. The teaching profession itself made it quite impossible for women to gain recognition since few women were given the opportunity to atted school. The majority of them were often dismissed and advised to go back to domestic or rural jobs, favoring more male teachers into the faculty. Moreover, women teachers, although accepted for teaching positions, were forbidden to marry, and received less pay than their counterparts. This reality further made people look down on the teaching profession and consider it the last resort in choosing professions.
The Efforts of Mann and His Constituents
Mann made great efforts to reform the destitute situation of the poor. He believed that every child has the right to be educated to improve ones living condition. In response to the need to reform the education system, Mann established the first normal school in Massachusetts to empower teachers. As teachers were often seen unqualified and unskilled to practice the profession, he felt the great need to train more teachers in the field in order to improve the quality of education. In line with this, he himself helped conduct trainings for teachers in the public schools.
In addition, Mann established school district libraries for free access to the public. This effort helped a lot to advocate a nationwide consciousness towards learning and improvement in education among the common people. These public libraries did not only help students but also those who wished to obtain learning while out of school. In a way, this effort helped empower housewives and other people to be engaged in education.
Despite the protest of some congressmen, Mann and his constituents helped increase the budget for public school education. This meant increasing wages of teachers, building of additional schools for the public, and redoubling school resources such as textbooks and other facilities.
Aside from these, Mann also set up the publication, Common School Journal, which reported efforts to improve the situation of education, and even expressed the views of Mann regarding the economic situation. Through this publication, Mann expressed that the countrys economic situation would greatly improve if efforts to educate the public would be furthered. This implies that to have economic success requires public investment on education, the same view that earned opposition by the private sector, yet benefited the public up to this time.
In the said journal, Mann also expressed his favor towards the Prussian school system. This led to the betterment of the quality of education as schools adopted theories of precursors of the system. Moreover, in the said journal, he asserted that it is every childs right to have access to education. This idea later led to the law that required compulsory attendance of every child in school.
The same law was most probably the basis of todays No Child Left Behind Policy (NCLB) which was made in effect since 2002. This law supports higher student achievement, reinforced public schools, and a well prepared teacher workforce.
Under this law, each state is made to ensure that every child in every classroom benefits from well-prepared instruction, research-based curriculum, and safe learning environments. As the law stresses the importance of every child, it also requires the school to provide other benefits to support the overall needs of the child, i.e., nutrition and counseling.
The notable contribution of Mann to the improvement of Americas education system has led to other efforts that surely helped many individuals. In fact, his state-board standardization system has extended its influence in other countries in the standardization of curriculum, teachers training, textbooks, etc.
Many efforts to improve the educational system followed after the efforts of Mann. For instance, the state-based reforms he introduced may have been the foundation of todays turnaround school process. Turnaround school process is a way to help low-performing schools adhere to standards of quality education established by states. These later efforts suggest that indeed, Americans have one man to thank: Horace Mann.
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