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Horace Mann was an American politician and education reformer, best known for promoting universal public education and teacher training in "normal schools."
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Education reformer Horace Mann was born on May 4, 1796 in Franklin, Massachusetts. Mann served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate before his appointment as the Massachusetts secretary of education. Mann went on to the U.S. House of Representatives, promoting an agenda of public education and "normal schools" to train teachers.
Horace Mann was born into poverty in Franklin, Massachusetts, in 1796. Chiefly self-taught, Mann was 20 years old when he was admitted to the sophomore class at Brown University.
There he took an interest in politics, education and social reform, and upon graduation he gave a speech on the advancement of the human race through which education, philanthropy, and republicanism could combine to benefit mankind.
After Brown, Mann practiced law before winning a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where he served from 1827 to 1833. From 1835 to 1837, he served in the Massachusetts Senate, spending time as the majority leader and aiming his sights at infrastructure improvements via the construction of railroads and canals, among other projects.
While Mann served in the Senate, the Massachusetts education system, with a history going back to 1647, was suffering, and the quality of education was deteriorating. Soon a vigorous reform movement arose, and in 1837 the state created the nation’s first board of education, with Mann as its secretary.
With funds for the board’s activities at a minimum, the position required more moral leadership than anything else, and Horace Mann proved himself up to the role. He started a biweekly journal, Common School Journal, in 1838 for teachers and lectured on education to all who would listen.
At this time he also developed his hugely influential, although at the time controversial, main principles regarding public education and its troubles: (1) Citizens cannot maintain both ignorance and freedom; (2) This education should be paid for, controlled, and maintained by the public; (3) This education should be provided in schools that embrace children from varying backgrounds; (4) This education must be nonsectarian; (5) This education must be taught using tenets of a free society; and (6) This education must be provided by well-trained, professional teachers.
Mann’s words angered groups across the social and political spectrum -- from clergymen to educators to politicians -- but his ideas prevailed and still do today.
Mann served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1848 to 1853 and then became the president of Antioch College. A commencement speech he gave two months before his death served as a clarion call, asking students to embrace his influential worldview: “I beseech you to treasure up in your hearts these my parting words: Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”
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