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REPORT ON THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS (1840)
Document 30 by Renee Lara


      Horace Mann, who lived from 1796 to 1859, was an United States educator, lawyer and politician. He served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and was state senator; he later resigned the position from the senate in order to become the secretary of the state board of education. He published twelve annual reports, in which he promoted public, or common, education for all children, and greatly raised educational standards in Massachusetts. Mann's Report on the Public Schools (1840), allows the reader to view the type of education Americans had before the 1820s, and his expectations towards education and the American future due to the reform movements.

      Before the 1820s, most of the working-class Americans could not expect to have a very full education. Most of the education given to young children was left within the parents views. To society, education was a family's responsibility and they were not demanded that a child go to school. Between the period of 1820 to 1840, because of the new industrialization era, about more than a million people immigrated to the United States. These people went to the ports and other manufacturing cities, or gathered in their surrounding areas. Many were escaping political and economic problems that they suffered in their countries. They had different cultures, values, principles, religion (Roman Catholicism versus Protestantism), and language from those of native born Americans. They were many and had no money. Every member in the family that was old enough, usually from age ten and up, had to work in order to feed the family. This made it impossible for parents to educate their children; they either taught them to read and write, or they worked in order to provide the family with food and shelter. Most chose the latter one. Apprenticeship, an agreement that a child would work for an employer for a specific length of time in exchange for instruction in a trade art, or business, was another method used to educate children. Children would not waste valuable time by merely studying letters in a confined room, as apprentices they would learn necessary working skills, plus a little reading and writing, and perhaps when they became old enough, they would start their own shop. To poor Americans and immigrants, this was a way of using simple study time in a more productive manner.

      Between the period of 1820 to 1840, a new thought surrounded the genteel and middle-class society in America. Both classes united in a reform movement that emphasized in middle-class moral, cultural, religious, social and political values. These reformers planned to make immigrants and other working-class men into productive beings by the use of education and Protestant values and habits. Campaigns for the antislavery movement, temperance movement, education, women's rights, humane rights in prisons and asylums, etceteras, are some examples of some of the ideas that were brought up during this era of reformation. These thoughts and feelings among the people, gave Horace Mann many new expectations regarding education. Mann believed that the nation's problems could be solved by educating working-class children: male and female. This could be done through free, public education, or local schools. Mann mentioned that, "If we do not prepare children to become good citizens, if we do not enrich their minds with knowledge, then our republic must go down to destruction, as others have gone before it." Mann and other reform-minded politicians wanted to make some changes to the already founded schools in Massachusetts. They wanted to persuade the community to build more and better schools, that those schools should contain suitable desks, books, blackboards, and writing utensils, that education should be mandatory and equal for both sexes. Boys needed to attend school because they would be the United States' future, its leaders; girls needed to attend school in order to become an appropriate companion to man, and a guide to her children.

      In 1837, the country's first public board of education was founded; Mann was at its head. He made the school year longer, with a minimum of six months, increased teacher's salaries, and formed a state teachers organization. The classical learning and ministerial training that was given in schools prior to the state board, was overtaken by the teaching of mathematics, geography, and physical science. The books used in the schools gave great emphasis to discipline, obedience, persistence, and other good, social values. In his Report on the Public Schools (1840), he made many strong assumptions of what could happen to American society if public education was not made compulsory. He described the worthless and monotonous destiny of children that came from families where the parents were deprived from knowledge; he chained the cycle by saying that those children, imitating their parents' lives, would not prosper, and their future children were likely to do the same, unless education was given to them. Mann also mentioned that children were to be guided in the right way, through schools, in order to prevent them from acquiring immoral tendencies which would lead them to becoming 'barbarians'. Many of the changes done to schools at this time, came from Mann's annual reports.

      Having come from a poor family himself, Mann considered education as a great influence to achieve a better nation. He advocated that publicly funded education should be accessi le to United States children of all social classes. In his annual reports, he showed society of the dangers that covered non-educated children, and how those could lead them to become a heavy non-achieving load to society. The Age of Reform that surrounded the United States at the time helped Mann achieve his expectations towards the modifications in Massachusetts' schools. Reform-minded politicians and Mann's explicit annual reports, persuaded city people to help build more schools equipped with better books and other materials. The state's public school board extended classes, increased teacher salaries, and added practical education in schools. What was basically impossible for working-class children before the 1820s was viewed differently for children after that time.


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