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Horace Mann and the Rise of Public Education in America

Theme: Social Change and Social Reform
Topic: Horace Mann and the Rise of Public Education in America
Date: 11 July 2006
Scholar: Rebecca Noel, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Plymouth State University

Overview | Required Reading | Reading Questions

Materials selected and syllabus created by Rebecca Noel, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Plymouth State University


This session will trace the development of America's public schools in the era of common school reform, 1830 - 1860. Paying particular attention to the work of Horace Mann and the schools of Massachusetts, including the roles played by Salem and surrounding towns, we will examine whether school reform was a social reform, a social movement, or some other form of social change. Using primary documents, the session will explore controversial elements of early school reform and how reformers managed or failed to resolve those conflicts. We will also review the radically different ways historians have interpreted the rise of public schooling and decide how closely schooling today adheres to the reformers' original vision.


Secondary Sources

Eakin, Sybil. "Giants of American Education: Horace Mann." Technos Quarterly 9 no. 2 (Summer 2000). Online at:

Kaestle, Carl R. Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society, 1780 - 1860. NY: Hill & Wang, 1983.

Primary Sources

Mann, Horace. "Tenth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education." 1846. Online at:

Mann, Horace. "Report No. 12 of the Massachusetts School Board (1848)." In The Republic and the School: Horace Mann on the Education of Free Men, ed. Lawrence A. Cremin, 79-80, 84-97. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1957. Online at:


1. What were the goals of common school reform as Carl Kaestle expresses them? Do you agree with Kaestle that common school reform created a school system for the first time in American history?

2. What collateral, non-academic, or even hidden goals for the common schools does Horace Mann convey?

3. In what ways do you believe common school reform was a social movement and/or a social reform? In what ways did common school reform work against social reform?

4. How has public schooling stuck to or departed from the vision of Mann and his contemporaries? Do you find those continuities or changes regrettable or welcome?


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