Horace Mann and Education
Although Horace Mann (1796-1859) began his career as a lawyer and legislator, his most enduring legacies would be felt in the field of education. In 1837, Mann was elected to act as Secretary of Massachusetts’ new Board of Education. In this position, he soon reinvented himself as a major champion of educational reform. He played leading roles especially in the nascent Common School Movement, which sought to ensure that every American child received a basic education paid for by local taxpayers. Mann’s dedication to the Movement was rooted in his conviction that in a democracy responsible citizenship, social harmony, and political stability were contingent on public education that guaranteed at least a basic level of literacy and instilled essential shared public ideals.
To advance the cause of secular, universal education, Mann also worked to increase funding for the schools, to improve the institutions that train teachers, to raise the quality of rural schools, and to promote more compassionate approaches to discipline. As Americans became increasingly convinced of the virtues of free, universal, non-sectarian public education, Mann’s influence steadily extended from Massachusetts to the other states. Yet almost from the inception and until the present time, Mann has been the subject of criticism and controversy. For example, religious conservatives have often assailed him for laying the groundwork for the total secularization of America’s public schools, even as liberals have sometimes attacked him for failing to ensure that the schools are more fully accommodating of non-Christians.