Sunday, January 31, 2010

Education Mainifestos...part 7, Horace Mann

I don't know how many people know about Horace Mann (1796-1859), that he is the father of tax-supported, secular public education in America so I decided to do a little cursory reading on the subject. The quotes that appear below all come from this site sponsored by the Macinac Center, an educational non-profit in Michigan, dedicated to providing educational resources to teachers and lay people.

Perspectives on Mann differ widely, shaped in no small part by how people feel about the importance of compulsory public education to the fabric of American culture and democracy.

For some like John Gatto, a former teacher of the year in New York who, after nearly thirty years in the classroom, became a self-styled iconoclast and fierce critic of America's public school system, Horace Mann imported from Prussia the ethos of bureaucratic authoritarianism to American schools in an explicit attempt to control and domesticate a burgeoning immigrant population (largely Catholic) that was threatening the status quo of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. Gatto sees Mann's agenda as essentially antithetical to the American ethos, a Trojan horse for the captains of industry seeking a compliant work force, and a frontal assault on the authority of the family unit.

For others, Mann is the patron saint of the progressive institution charged with leveling the social playing field of America, strengthening democracy, and producing good citizens and good workers for America. Many of the Founding Fathers, Jefferson among them, espoused ideals similar to the ones that Mann would later succeed in implementing on a limited scale in Massachusetts.

What follows are some excerpts from the Macinac Center's summary of Mann's efforts:

During the three decades preceding the Civil War, two significant developments occurred in popular education in the United States. The first is that the foundations were laid for a government takeover of education, and the second is that the historic role of schools in transmitting religious traditions gave way to more secular goals.

Horace Mann and the education reformers' primary purpose was to bring local school districts under centralized town authority and to achieve some degree of uniformity among the towns through a state agency. They believed that popular schooling could be transformed into a powerful instrument for social unity.

The organizational model Mann and others adopted for use in Massachusetts and elsewhere was the Prussian educational system as described by French philosopher Victor Cousin in his 1833 book Report on the Condition of Public Instruction in Germany, and Particularly Prussia.22 The Prussian system of state-controlled education extended from the lower grades through the university levels. Schools were established, supported, and administered by a central authority: The state supervised the training of teachers, attendance was compulsory, parents were punished for withholding their children from school, and efforts were made to make curricula and instruction uniform.

As president of the State Senate, Mann was instrumental in establishing the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837 ...Mann combined an evangelical fervor for the common school with adroit political skills to accomplish three objectives: (1) state collection of education data; (2) state adoption of textbooks through the establishment of state-approved school libraries in each district; and (3) state control of teacher preparation through the establishment of "Normal Schools" (teacher colleges).


Blogger Hattie said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


11:57 PM  
Blogger K said...

thanks's nice to pick up a fresh pair of eyes.

7:06 AM  

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