Friday, September 07, 2012


Horace Mann, circa 1850. Daguerreotype by Southworth & Hawes. Source: the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

it is earnestly to be hoped, that teachers will soon deservedly win so much of the confidence of the community, that they will no longer feel constrained to practice methods they know to be valueless, in order to harmonize with opinions they know to be pernicious.”

By Kathryn Baron, EdSource Today |

September 3rd, 2012   ::  On this Labor Day, EdSource Today takes a break from our normal fare to hear from the prolific writer, politician and education reformer Horace Mann.    Born in 1796, Mann became the first Secretary of Massachusetts State Board of Education in 1837.  He became a champion of public education and of teacher education, establishing the first Normal School for teachers in Massachusetts in 1839. Mann visited schools throughout his home state writing about everything he saw from the quality of school buildings to the compensation of teachers through lectures and twelve influential Annual Reports that seem as relevant today as when they were first published nearly two centuries ago.

A Lecture on special preparation, a prerequisite to teaching, 1838

But here arises a demand for great skill, aptitude and resources, on the part of the teacher; for, by continuing to exercise the same faculty, I do not mean a monotonous repetition of the same action, nor a perpetual presentation of the same object or idea. Such a course would soon cloy and disgust, and thus terminate all effort in that direction. Would a child ever learn to dance, if there were but one figure; or to sing, it there were but one tune? Nature, science, art, offer a boundless variety of objects and processes, adapted to quicken and employ each of the faculties. These resources the teacher should have at his command, and should make use of them, in the order, and for the period, that each particular case may require.  Look into the shops of our ingenious artisans and mechanics, and see their shining rows of tools, hundreds in number, but each adapted to some particular process in their curious art.) Look into the shop or hut of a savage, an Indian mechanic, and you will find his chest of tools composed of a single jack-knife!  So with our teachers. Some of them have apparatus, diagram, chart, model; they have anecdote, epigram, narrative, history, by which to illustrate every branch of study, and to fit every variety of disposition.

Lecture V:  An historical view of education; showing its dignity and degradation, 1841

The common laborers on our farms, the journeymen in our shops, and the workpeople in our mills, all have some fixed residence, some place enjoying the seclusion and invested with the sacred associations of home. Even the old- fashioned cobbler, who used to travel from house to house, carrying on his back his box of tools and his scraps of leather, has at last found an abiding-place; nobody but the schoolmaster is obliged to board round.  Nobody but the schoolmaster is put up at auction, and knocked off to the lowest bidder! I think this use of the word ” lowest ” must oftentimes vivify a teacher’s grammatical notions of the superlative degree. Think you, my friends, there would be so many young men pressing forward into the profession of the law, if lawyers were put up at auction, and then had to board round among their clients?   Compare the salaries given to engineers, to superintendents of railroads, to agents and overseers of manufacturing establishments, to cashiers of banks, and so forth, with the customary rates of remuneration given to teachers.  Yet, does it deserve a more liberal requital, does it require greater natural talents, or greater attainments, to run cotton or woollen machinery, or to keep a locomotive from running off the track, than it does to preserve this wonderfully-constructed and complicated machine of the human body in health and vigor; or to prevent the spiritual nature, that vehicle which carries all our hopes, from whirling deviously to its ruin, or from dashing madly forward to some fatal collision? Custom-house collectors and postmasters sometimes realize four, five or six thousand dollars a year from their offices, while as many hundreds are grudgingly paid to a schoolteacher.   The compensation, which we give with the hand, is a true representation of the value, which we affix in the mind; and how much more liberally and cordially do we requite those who prepare outward and perishable

First Annual Report of the Secretary of the Board of Education, Sept. 2, 1839

In every county where I have been, excepting two, county associations for the improvement of Common Schools have been formed. In the two excepted counties, there were teachers’ associations previously existing.  Measures were taken to make these associations auxiliary to the Board of Education in the general plan of State operations.

November 1, 1839 issue of the Common School Journal, edited by Horace Mann. (Click to enlarge)  >>

These county associations will open a channel of communication in both directions, between the Board as a central body, and the several towns and school districts in the State; and through the Board, between all the different parts of the State; so that improvements, devised or discovered in any place, instead of being wholly lost, may be universally diffused, and sound views, upon this great subject, may be multiplied by the number of minds capable of understanding them. Several excellent addresses have already emanated from committees, appointed by these associations, or by the conventions which originated them.   If, in addition to these county associations, town associations could be formed, consisting of teachers, school-committee-men, and the friends of education generally, who should meet to discuss the relative merits of different modes of teaching, thus discarding the worst, and improving even the best, but little, perhaps nothing more, could be desired in the way of systematic organization. It should be a special duty of all the members of the town associations, to secure, as far as possible, a regular and punctual attendance of the children upon the schools.

Second Annual Report of the Secretary of the Board of Education, Dec. 26, 1838

Many teachers have assured me that they are perfectly aware that the time spent in reading is mainly lost; but that the usages of the school and the demands of the district prohibit them perhaps under penalty of dismission from adopting a better mode. It is said, that the first and only inquiry made by parents of their children is, ” how many times and how much have you read,” not “what have you read about?” A question like the last presupposes some judgment and some ability to follow it up with further inquiries; but anybody can put the first, for it is an easy problem which solves the ratio of mental progress by the number of pages mechanically gone over. The children’s minds are not looked into, to see what new operations they can accurately perform; but the inquiry relates only to the amount of labor done by the organs of speech; as though so many turns of the bodily machine would yield, perforce, a corresponding amount of mental product. It is characteristic of the learned professions, that the person employed directs the employer; and it is earnestly to be hoped, that teachers will soon deservedly win so much of the confidence of the community, that they will no longer feel constrained to practice methods they know to be valueless, in order to harmonize with opinions they know to be pernicious.

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