Educational Reforms

Educational Reforms

Horace Mann championed education reform that helped to expand state-sponsored public education in the 1800s.

Learning Objectives

Describe the central reforms that Horace Mann brought to public education

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Early public-school curriculum was based on strict Calvinism and concentrated on teaching moral values.
  • Free public education was common in New England but rare in the South, where most education took place at home with family members or tutors.
  • In the 1800s, Horace Mann of Massachusetts led the common-school movement, which advocated for local property taxes financing public schools. Mann also emphasized positive reinforcement instead of punishment.
  • Mann promoted locally controlled, often one-room “common schools” in which children of all ages and classes were taught together; later he introduced the age-grading system.
  • Each state used federal funding from the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Acts of 1862 and 1890 to set up “land grant colleges” that specialized in agriculture and engineering.
  • Many of what are now called “Historically Black Colleges and Universities” (HBCUs) had their origins in the Morrill Act of 1890.

Key Terms

  • lyceum: A public hall designed for lectures or concerts.
  • common school movement: The educational effort associated with schools that were meant to serve individuals of all social classes and religions.
  • parochial school: A school associated with the parish of a church.
  • Calvinism: The Christian denomination that places emphasis on the sovereignty of God and distinctively includes the doctrine of predestination (which asserts that a special few are predetermined for salvation, while others cannot attain it).

History of Education in the United States

Prior to the first and second Industrial Revolutions, education opportunities in the 13 colonies during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries varied considerably depending on one’s location, race, gender, and social class. Basic education in literacy and numeracy was widely available, especially to white males residing in the northern and middle colonies, and the literacy rate was relatively high among these people. Educational opportunities were much sparser in the rural South.

Education in the United States had long been a local affair, with schools governed by locally elected school boards. Public education was common in New England, although it was often class-based with the working class receiving few benefits. Instruction and curriculum were all locally determined, and teachers were expected to meet rigorous demands of strict moral behavior. Schools taught religious values and applied Calvinist philosophies of discipline, which included corporal punishment and public humiliation.

The excerpt contains six vertically stacked images. From top to bottom, the images depict Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; The Holy Bible; a cat about to pounce on two mice; a dog chasing after a thief; an eagle in flight; and a student being whipped in a school yard. The accompanying poem reads: In Adam's fall/ We sinned all./ Thy life to mend, This Book attend./ The Cat doth play,/ And after slay./ A Dog will bite/ A thief at night./ An Eagle's flight/ Is out of sight./ The idle Fool/Is whipt at school."

Excerpt from the New England Primer of 1690: Prior to nineteenth-century reform, education was often the province of sectarian religious institutions, as evidenced in the religious bent of this popular textbook.

The public education system was less organized in the South. Public schools were rare, and most education took place in the home with the family acting as instructors. The wealthier planter families were able to bring in tutors for instruction in the classics, but many yeoman farming families had little access to education outside of the family unit.

Horace Mann and Educational Reform

Education reform, championed by Horace Mann, helped to bring about state-sponsored public education, including a statewide curriculum and a local property tax to finance public education. By the year 1870, all states had free elementary schools and the U.S. population boasted one of the highest literacy rates at the time. Private academies flourished in towns across the country, but rural areas (where most people lived) had few schools before the 1880s. By the close of the 1800s, public secondary schools began to outnumber private ones.

Horace Mann

The reform movement began in Massachusetts when Horace Mann (May 4, 1796–August 2, 1859) started the common-school movement. Mann served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1827–1833 and the Massachusetts Senate from 1834–1837. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1848 after serving as secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education. He is often called “the father of American public education.”

Arguing that universal public education was the best way to turn the nation’s unruly children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens, Mann won widespread approval from modernizers, especially in his Whig Party, for building public schools. Most states adopted one version or another of the system he established in Massachusetts, especially the program for “normal schools” to train professional teachers.

Common Schools

A “common school” was a public, often one-roomed school in the United States or Canada in the 1800s. The term was coined by Horace Mann and refers to the school’s aim to serve individuals of all social classes and religions. Students often went to the common school from ages six to fourteen (correlating to grades 1–8). The duration of the school year was often dictated by the agricultural needs of particular communities, with children on vacation from school when they needed to work on the family farm. Common schools were funded by local taxes, did not charge tuition, and were open to all white children. Each district was typically controlled by an elected local school board; a county school superintendent or regional director was usually elected to supervise day-to-day activities of several common-school districts.

Mann’s work revolutionized the approach of the common-school system of Massachusetts, which in turn influenced the direction of other states. In 1838, he founded and edited The Common School Journal. In this journal, Mann targeted the problems of public schools. Mann hoped that by bringing children of all classes together, they could share a common learning experience. This would also give the less fortunate an opportunity to advance in society. Mann met with bitter opposition from some Boston schoolmasters who strongly disapproved of his innovative pedagogical ideas and from various religious sectarians who argued against the exclusion of all sectarian instruction from the schools.

Mann advocated a statewide curriculum and instituted school financing through local property taxes. Mann also fought protracted battles against the Calvinist influence on discipline, preferring positive reinforcement to physical punishment. Most children during that time learned to read, write, and spell from Noah Webster’s Blue Backed Speller and later the McGuffey Readers. The readings inculcated moral values as well as literacy. Kindergartens and the gymnasium were introduced by German immigrants, while Yankee orators sponsored the lyceum movement that provided, via lectures, popular education for hundreds of towns and small cities. Mann later advocated the Prussian model of schooling, which included the technique of age grading—students were assigned by age to different grades and progressed through them. Some students progressed with their grade and completed all courses the secondary school had to offer. These students were “graduated,” and awarded a certificate of completion.

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The McGuffey Reader: With 120 million copies sold since 1836, McGuffey Readers taught many American children to read.

Parochial Schools

From 1750–1870, American Catholic parochial schools appeared as ad hoc efforts by parishes, and most Catholic children attended public schools. In addition to Catholics, German Lutherans, Calvinist Dutch, and Orthodox Jews also began parochial schools. Starting from about 1876, 39 states (out of 50) passed a constitutional amendment to their state constitutions called the “Blaine Amendments” forbidding tax money to be used to fund parochial schools. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Ohio law allowing aid under specific circumstances.

Morrill Land-Grant Acts

The Morrill Land-Grant Acts are U.S. statutes signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862, that allowed for the creation of land-grant colleges. For 20 years prior to the first introduction of the bill in 1857, there was a political movement calling for the creation of agriculture colleges. The movement was led by Professor Jonathan Baldwin Turner of Illinois College. On February 8, 1853, the Illinois Legislature adopted a resolution, drafted by Turner, calling for the Illinois congressional delegation to work to enact a land-grant bill to fund a system of industrial colleges—one in each state.

Under the act, each eligible state received a total of 30,000 acres of federal land, either within or contiguous with its boundaries, for each member of Congress held by the state. This land, or the proceeds from its sale, was to be used toward establishing and funding educational institutions. The land-grant college system produced the agricultural scientists and industrial engineers who were critical to the managerial revolution in government and business of 1862–1917, and laid the foundation for a preeminent educational infrastructure that supported the world’s foremost technology-based economy.

Education for African Americans

In the era of Reconstruction after the Civil War, the Freedmen ‘s Bureau opened 1,000 schools across the South for black children. Schooling was a high priority for the Bureau, and enrollment was high and enthusiastic. Overall, the Bureau spent $5 million to set up schools for African Americans. By the end of 1865, more than 90,000 freedmen were enrolled as students in public schools. The school curriculum resembled that of schools in the North.

A second Morrill Act was later introduced in 1890 that required each state to show that race was not an admissions criterion, or else to designate a separate land-grant institution for persons of color. Among the 70 colleges and universities that eventually evolved from the Morrill Acts are several of today’s “Historically Black Colleges and Universities” (HBCUs).

Early Public Schools

Early public schools in the United States took the form of “common schools,” which were meant to serve individuals of all social classes and religions.

Learning Objectives

Describe the public school system of the early nineteenth century

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Educational reformer Horace Mann promoted locally controlled, often one-room “common schools” in which children of all ages and classes were taught together. Common schools were one of the earliest forms of public schools in the United States; they were free and open to all white children, who generally attended from the ages of six to fourteen.
  • Schools were funded by local taxes and overseen by an elected local school board.
  • Children typically learned reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, and math.
  • Grading systems varied widely, but most schools had some form of end-of-the-year recitations.

Key Terms

  • Horace Mann: An American education reformer (May 4, 1796–August 2, 1859) who is credited with creating the common-school system.
  • school board: A governing body of people elected to oversee management of an educational district and to represent the interests of residents.
  • common school movement: A public educational effort in the United States or Canada in the nineteenth century, with the aim of serving individuals of all social classes and religions.

Early Public Schools in the United States

After the American Revolution, an emphasis was put on education, especially in the northern states, which rapidly established public schools. By the year 1870, all states had free elementary schools and the U.S. population boasted one of the highest literacy rates at the time. Private academies flourished in towns across the country, but rural areas (where most people lived) had few schools before the 1880s. By the close of the 1800s, public secondary schools began to outnumber private ones.

The earliest public schools were developed in the nineteenth century and were known as “common schools,” a term coined by American educational reformer Horace Mann that refers to the aim of these schools to serve individuals of all social classes and religions.

Portrait of Horace Mann

Horace Mann, American educational reformer: Horace Mann was an influential reformer of education, responsible for the introduction of common schools—non-sectarian public schools open to children of all backgrounds—in America.

The Common School

Students often went to common schools from ages six to fourteen, although this could vary widely. The duration of the school year was often dictated by the agricultural needs of particular communities, with children receiving time off from studies when they would be needed on the family farm. These schools were funded by local taxes, did not charge tuition, and were open to all white children. Typically, with a small amount of state oversight, an elected local school board controlled each district, traditionally with a county school superintendent or regional director elected to supervise day-to-day activities of several common school districts.

Because common schools were locally controlled and the United States was very rural in the nineteenth century, most common schools were small one-room centers. They usually had a single teacher who taught all of the students together, regardless of age. Common-school districts were nominally subject to their creator, either a county commission or a state regulatory agency.

Typical curricula consisted of “The Three Rs” (reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic), as well as history and geography. Grading methods varied (from 0–100 grading to no grades at all), but end-of-the-year recitations were a common way that parents were informed about what their children were learning.

Many education scholars mark the end of the common-school era around 1900. In the early 1900s, schools generally became more regional (as opposed to local), and control of schools moved away from elected school boards and toward professionals.

Higher Education

During the nineteenth century, many small colleges helped young men make the transition from rural farms to complex urban occupations.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the origin and significance of land-grant colleges

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • During the nineteenth century, institutions of higher education helped many young men achieve upward social mobility; as time went on, however, these institutions began to cater to the elite.
  • Small colleges generally helped young men transition from a rural, agricultural lifestyle to professional, urban occupations, and many of those men became ministers.
  • Elite colleges concentrated on serving upper-class students, and as a result became more and more exclusive.
  • The Morrill Land-Grant College Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 and allowed for the creation of land-grant colleges.
  • The land-grant college system produced the agricultural scientists and industrial engineers who constituted the critical human resources of the managerial revolution in government and business of 1862–1917.
  • A second Morrill Act was later introduced in 1890 that required each state to show that race was not an admissions criterion, or else to designate a separate land-grant institution for persons of color.

Key Terms

  • upward social mobility: A change in an individual’s social and economic status resulting in that person rising to a higher position in his or her status system.

Introduction: Higher Education in the United States

During the nineteenth century, the nation’s many small colleges helped young men make the transition from rural farms to complex urban occupations. These colleges prepared ministers and provided towns across the country with a core of community leaders. The more elite colleges became increasingly exclusive and contributed relatively little toward upward social mobility. By concentrating on the offspring of wealthy families, ministers, and a few others, prestigious eastern colleges, especially Harvard, played an important role in the formation of a northeastern elite with great power.

Morrill Land-Grant College Act

The Morrill Land-Grant College Act was a U.S. statute signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862, that allowed for the creation of land-grant colleges. For 20 years prior to the first introduction of the bill in 1857, a political movement, led by Professor Jonathan Baldwin Turner of Illinois College, called for the creation of agriculture colleges. On February 8, 1853, the Illinois Legislature adopted a resolution, drafted by Turner, calling for the Illinois congressional delegation to work to enact a land-grant bill to fund a system of industrial colleges in every state.

The Morrill Act was first proposed in 1857 and was passed by Congress in 1859. However, it was vetoed by President James Buchanan. In 1861, Morrill resubmitted the act with the amendment that the proposed institutions would teach military tactics as well as engineering and agriculture. Aided by the secession of many states that did not support the plans, this reconfigured Morrill Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862.

The purpose of the land-grant colleges was:

… without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactic, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.

Under the act, each eligible state received a total of 30,000 acres of federal land, either within or contiguous to its boundaries, for each member of Congress held by the state. This land, or the proceeds from its sale, was to be used toward establishing and funding the educational institutions described above. In reference to the recent secession of several Southern states and the currently raging American Civil War, the Act stipulated that, “No State while in a condition of rebellion or insurrection against the government of the United States shall be entitled to the benefit of this act.” After the war, however, the 1862 Act was extended to the former Confederate states; it was eventually extended to every state and territory, including those created after 1862.

If the federal land within a state was insufficient to meet that state’s land grant, the state was issued “scrip,” which authorized the state to select federal lands in other states to fund its institution. For example, New York carefully selected valuable timber land in Wisconsin to fund Cornell University. The 1862 Morrill Act allocated a total of 17.4 million acres of land, which, when sold, yielded a collective endowment of $7.55 million. The state of Iowa was the first to accept the terms of the Morrill Act, which provided the funding boost needed for the fledgling Ames College (now Iowa State University). With a few exceptions, including Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, nearly all of the Land-Grant Colleges are public. Cornell University, while private, administers several state-supported contract colleges that fulfill its public land-grant mission to the state of New York.

A drawing of Kansas State University as it appeared in 1878. It depicts five buildings with farmland in the foreground.

Kansas State University, 1878: Kansas State University was the first college funded by land grants under the Morrill Act of 1862.

The land-grant college system produced the agricultural scientists and industrial engineers who were critical to the managerial revolution in government and business of 1862–1917, and laid the foundation for a preeminent educational infrastructure that supported the world’s foremost technology-based economy.

The Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania

The Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania (later the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania and then Pennsylvania State University), chartered in 1855, was intended to uphold declining agrarian values and show farmers ways to prosper through more productive farming. Students were to build character and meet a part of their expenses by performing agricultural labor. By 1875, the compulsory labor requirement was dropped, but male students were to have an hour a day of military training in order to meet the requirements of the Morrill Land-Grant College Act. In the early years, the agricultural curriculum was not well developed, and politicians in Harrisburg often considered it a costly and useless experiment. The college was a center of middle-class values that served to help young people on their journey to white-collar occupations.

The Second Morrill Act of 1890

A second Morrill Act was later introduced in 1890 that required each state to show that race was not an admissions criterion, or else to designate a separate land-grant institution for persons of color. Among the 70 colleges and universities that eventually evolved from the Morrill Acts are several of today’s “Historically Black Colleges and Universities” (HBCUs).