In the early part of American history, education was not for everyone. The masses usually came from agricultural communities were planting and harvesting crops were more important than education. On the other side of the fence, were the wealthy families, the businessmen, the landed and the politicians who were able to enjoy the benefits of education. The kind of education that the poor got was a few weeks of schooling during winter where teachers were not trained and school houses were decrepit and materials were lacking. The lessons were limited to basic skills to enable the children to write their names and count hens. The public education system that we presently have is a far cry from what has been in the past century.
We owe the present form of education we have to Horace Mann, who campaigned for and worked to bring about social reforms and give each American the right to free education. Mann through his enthusiasm and devotion secured within his own state public support for schools. He encouraged businessmen to support building public schools since he believed that educating the masses would lead to greater economic progress.
It goes to say that having a literate nation would spell more skilled and competent workers who would be the backbone of the factories at that time. More so, when the masses were given the right to vote, a growing awareness of the government’s obligations to its people came to light, the clamor for free education was strongest at this period. Mann faced a few difficulties in the form of opposition from prominent politicians and wealthy businessman and the clergy for education would be an equalizing factor between the rich and the poor and most especially because public schools would be competing with private and sectarian schools.
Horace Mann also advocated public education for the masses as a means of bringing equality to the society. He argued that pubic schools made it possible for all citizens to exercise their right to free education without the encumbrances of religion or financial burdens. The individual could go to school without having to believe in something that is opposed to his cultural background and everyone could at least finish high school without the need to apply for loans or maintain a scholarship. The poor could concentrate on learning and in some ways to prepare for their future.
Furthermore, Mann was able to integrate the schools in his state to a system that became the basis for the public education system in the country. He also advocated the establishment of normal schools to train teachers; he was against corporal punishment and instead focused and emphasized better teaching methods. Thus education gained the attention and funding that it never before had, and was established as one of the institutions of society. By the latter part of Mann’s life, the number of elementary and secondary schools had increased dramatically all over the country, but he did not stop there. He went on to work on changing higher educational system wherein the poor had the opportunity to be admitted to colleges until his death. Thus the door to educational advancement and success was opened to the masses.