©2002 NewFoundations

The Educational Theory of Horace Mann

Analyst: Robert Badolato



1. Theory of Value:

What is worth knowing?

Horace Mann was a believer in the teaching of "practical" knowledge. As Secretary of Education in Massachusetts Mann chose books that maintained a neutral view of politics and religion. "He rejected the stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, saying " we want something nearer to duty and business." Even as a father he forbid the reading of fairy tales to his children as the wonders of the natural world had enough to captivate their imagination. (GAE , pg 5)

Perhaps Mann's views were shaped by his view that educating the poor masses would elevate their lot in life. Seeing no value in the works of Hawthorne or the Brothers Grimm is more easily understood when the condition of the common man is in such dire straights.

What are the Goals of Education?

Mann felt that the first responsibility of the public school was moral elevation. (GAE, Pg 3) " At the core of Mann's thinking was the conviction that it was possible to define a set of values that were essential to citizenship in a democracy and which while not identified with any particular religious sect, were nonetheless compatible with all." (GAE, Pg 4).

Mann's primary goal for education was to help foster an more equal playing field for the masses. The educated would be able to bring themselves out of poverty and compete on more equal footing with the educated and financial well to do upper classes. This concept is discussed in length in Section VII.

2. Theory of Knowledge:

What is Knowledge?

To Mann, acquiring practical knowledge was in fact acquiring power. An educated person in Mann's view is in charge of their destiny, no longer a "slave" to the status quo. Knowledge in Mann's view would be that which allow an individual to compete more favorably within their society. The ability to read and write, an aptitude for mathematics and science would likely allow a person to achieve and thereby acquire things unattainable to the uneducated.

Mann also saw knowledge as a form of justice required in a true democracy. "In the practice of law and politics Mann adopted the principle of never to take the unjust side of any cause." ( Appleton's 1886 Encyclopedia)

How is it different from belief?

While belief and faith had their place in Mann's life and views, their relevance in education was limited to providing a moral compass to students.

3. Theory of Human Nature:

What is a human being?

"Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." (Antioch College, 1859, Baccalaureate Sermon)

Mann maintained a view of Mann that they were a splendid creation of God meant to be equal in all matters.

How does it differ from other species?

"For mere delving, an ignorant man is but little better than a swine, whom he so much resembles in his appetites, and surpasses in his power of mischief..." (1848, Twelfth Annual Report of Horace Mann as Secretary of Massachusetts Board of Education, TAR).

Intelligence, knowledge and purpose of what Mann believed separated human from the other animals. Failure to take advantage of what our species has been blessed with is a failure that Mann obviously deems as a wasted life.

4. Theory of Learning:

What is learning?

Mann insisted that "rote learning of names and riles was neither effective nor desirable, but that children had to be led to discover principles and relationships." (GAE, pg 7).

Mann viewed learning as basically a means to an end. The real value of learning was to improve oneself and their lot in life. A failure to learn, to attain the basic knowledge and skills which separate us from the beast. Mann stated that if " all mankind were well fed, well clothed and well housed, they still might be half civilized." (TAR, pg1) Clearly the missing component here is learning. We can feed, house and care for the physical needs of our pets. yet that brings them no closer to humanity.

5. Theory of Transmission:

Who is to teach?

".females are incomparably better teachers for young children then males..Their manners are more mild and gentile, and hence in consonance with the tenderness of childhood." (HOE, pg105)

Mann placed a great emphasis on training teachers to teach. Mann wrote in his First Annual Report that "teaching is the most difficult of all arts and the profoundest of all sciences." And in Mann's Fourth Annual Report he stated that " they need to have a repertoire of teaching techniques, not only common methods for common minds, but also peculiar methods for pupils of peculiar dispositions and temperaments."

What will the curriculum be?

" Mann gave equal attention to methods of teaching spelling and arithmetic, the importance of music in schools, and the content of physical education to promote healthy living habits." (GAE, pg 8)

As mentioned above though providing a moral compass for the children was seen as the most important function of the schools. Not only was it education to be an opportunity to improve one's position in life. but society as a whole.

6. Theory of Society:

What is Society?

Mann had a view of society as a group of individuals that have shared obligations. "According to the European theory, men are divided into classes, so me to toll and earn, others to seize and enjoy. According to the Massachusetts theory, all are to have an equal chance for earning and equal security in the enjoyment of what they earn." (TAR, Pg1)

7. Theory of Opportunity

Who is to be educated?

Surely there is little room to debate that Mann's view of education was that of a great equalizer of opportunity and chance. It can be likened to the blind folded Lady Justice with her scales so perfectly balanced due to her lack of prejudice (although Mann surely would hope for a better outcome than the real and persistent injustices in our "justice system").

In his Twelfth Annual Report of Horace Mann as Secretary of Massachusetts State Board of Education Mann stated that " surely nothing but universal education can counterwork this tendency to the domination of capital and servility of labor. If one class possesses all the wealth and the education, while the residue of society is ignorant and poor, it matters not by what name the relationship between them may be called: the latter, in fact and in truth, will be the servile dependents and subjects of the former. But, if education be equally diffused, it will draw property after it by the strongest of all attractions; for such a thing never did happen, as that an intelligent and practical body of men should be permanently poor." (TAR, pg2)

Although little more than election year slogan's Mann would certainly welcome the idea of "leaving no child behind" when it comes to education. Of course he would insist on putting some teeth in those words rather than seeing them used to attain some vote specific sound bite.

8. Theory of Consensus

Why do people disagree?

Lack of knowledge and education would be in Mann's view the primary reason for conflict. The poor (and in Mann's view, the uneducated) would envy and hold resentment toward the rich.

How is Consensus Achieved?

Education "gives each man the independence and the means by which he can resist the selfishness of other men.. The spread of education, by enlarging the cultivated class or caste, will open a wider area over which the social feelings will expand; and, if this education should be universal and complete, it would do more than all things else to obliterate factitious distinctions in society." (TAR, pg. 3)


GAE : Sybil Eakin, Giants of American Education : Horace Mann, Technos Quarterly, Volume 9, No. 2, Summer 2000

HOE : Clabaugh, Gary; Rozycki, Edward, A Brief History of Education, Oreland, PA, 2000

TAR : Mann, Horace, 1848 Twelfth Annual Report of Horace Mann as Secretary of Massachusetts State Board of Education, 1848

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright @ 2001 Virtualogy

Horace Mann: Christian Statesmen and Educator, Dayton, Oh: The Christian Publishing Association, 1921. Author not cited.