Education Reform

Reform Movement Project

A major reform movement that won widespread support was the effort to make education available to more children. The man who led this movement was Horace Mann, "the father of American public schools." In the mid to early 1800s few areas had public schools--schools paid for by taxes. Wealthy parents sent their children to private school or hired tutors at home. On the frontier, 60 children might attend a part-time, one-room school. Their teachers had limited education and received little pay. Most children simply did not go to school. In the cities, some poor children stole, destroyed property, and set fires. Reformers believed that education would help these children escape poverty and become good citizens. In Massachusetts, Horace Mann became the state's supervisor of education. The citizens voted to pay taxes to build better schools, to pay teachers higher salaries and to establish special training schools for teachers. In addition, Mann lengthened the school year to 6 months and made improvements in school curriculum. By the mid-1800s, most states had accepted three basic principles of public education: that school should be free and supported by taxes, that teachers should be trained and that children should be required to attend school. This was possible with the changing times in American economics; dependence on agriculture decreased and manufacturing increased which allowed the children to have more time to devote to learning and being able to attend school because a lesser amount of children had to help out on  the farm.

The historical significance of these two photos is the stark contrast between them. The photo from the early 19th century depicts a small amount of children in front of their schoolhouse. The second photo from the late 19th century shows a much greater amount of children in a more developed building. These differences show how the value of education increased over time as well as the amount of kids who attended. These changes can also be connected to the increase in manufacturing in the United States, which allowed kids to spend less time working on farms and more time learning.

Horace Mann once described the teacher-student relationship by saying "the teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron." This quote shows that Mann understood that teachers had to be trained in their skills and demonstrates the need for effective, trained teachers by using a beautifully constructed metaphor.

The issue of education is one of the first of its kind in the United States -- education is something that most every person in the early US agreed was needed but the issue arose in how to accomplish providing education for all. The ideals of the American education reform were derived from that of the Prussian Education Reform in the early 19th century -- a reform that set the standards of mandatory education and free education for all. This connection between the two events is drawn through the ideals that were set in the Prussian education reform and then later that century used in the American education reform.

Although the most important figure in the education reform has to be Horace Mann, he did not do it all by himself, was helped by many important figures along the way that include: Thomas Galludet -- a man who pushed for education for people with disabilities, Samuel Howe who developed braille, Mary Lyon who established the first women's college.

The motive for the education reform arose as a result of the diminished need for children on the farms, the roaming teen-aged criminals, and the recognition that education was needed to propel America into a true powerhouse among the traditional European stalwarts. The reform resulted in the ascension of America into a powerful, researching nation that provided for all of its members. Without the education reform of the 1800s the education that we take for granted now would be far different, and likely less developed.

Comment Stream