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Horace Mann's Contributions to the Common School Movement

Horace Mann, "Father of the Common School Movement"

The common school movement, the precursor to the modern day public educaiton system, was built upon the theory that schools should have a commonality in “beliefs, aspirations and values” notes Gutek. Up until the common school movement, there was little oversight or training for teachers. Additionally, schools were allowed to teach what they saw fit. Although the movement didn't hold a core set of teaching standards, such as we would see in today's school, the movement helped standardized education, and therefore culture throughout the country.

Mann, commonly called the "Father of the Common School Movement", believed it was the responsibility of the upper class- such as American industrialists and businessmen- to support the common school movement through legislation. Mann further believed schools should be supported by the state, and be governed by elected, local school boards. This falls in line with the tenth amendment to the constitution, leaving school systems up to the local powers rather than that of the federal powers.

Prior to the common school movement, children were mainly educated in the home by their parents or tutor, or at the church from a Biblical world view. But after the Civil War unity became a focus for the country; one way to do this was to unify students with a core education.

In 1837, Mann became secretary of the newly created board of education. There, he encourage teacher training to make it more professional. He realized that higher standards for teacher training would result in better results for students.

Massachusetts was a leader in the common school movement, and served as a model to other New England and Midwestern states. The common school movement did not catch on with the Southern states, however, until after the Civil War. One could argue that Southern resistance to the movement had much to do with the distance between homesteads and the schools, more than it being a Northern ideology.

Gutek's Book


Gutek, Gerald L. (1995). A history of the western educational experience. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

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