The Rise of the Common School
Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men,--the balance-wheel of the social machinery.
Public or state-sponsored education was still a relatively novel concept in the United States. Though Thomas Jefferson had been a strong advocate for state funding of public education, public schools were not universally embraced as a right of the common man. The first public secondary school was established in Boston in 1821 and marked the beginning of this long and slow struggle to achieve public funding. Horace Mann (1796-1859) was the one of the strongest proponents for public education and the common school. As a lawyer, Massachusetts State senator, and the first secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, he worked continuously on behalf of the public to achieve support for public education. Many different groups such as private school owners, taxpayers, rural residents and members of the upper and wealthy classes opposed him because they felt public schools were not in their best interests.
Mann was actually able to improve the quality of the schools in Massachusetts. He published annual reports on the state of schools in Massachusetts and through this vehicle was able to make his views known and influence others. Mann felt strongly about the need for professional training for teachers. Prior to Mann, people with a rudimentary education could call themselves teachers if they so desired. Mann saw the need for setting standards and for teachers to be educated. The first normal school for teacher training was established in Lexington, Massachusetts in 1839. Prospective teachers were given courses in content knowledge, and pedagogy or instructional methods. In addition they were required to practice teach in a model school that was associated with the normal school. Thanks to Horace Mann, Massachusetts developed a strong system of state supported common schools which in turn became a model for the rest of the United States.
In the19th century in the United States, the McGuffey reader was the most common text used in schools. Far exceeding the scope and influence of Noah Webster's spellers, McGuffey's readers sold over 120 million copies. Though not overtly religious in expression, these readers still had a moralistic overtone with an emphasis on virtuous and upright behavior. The text was designed to foster the development of good citizens.
As the common school movement continued to grow, the settlement of the territory in what is now the western United States encouraged the development of higher education to better meet the needs of a growing and more diverse population. In 1862, Justin Morrill sponsered the Morrill Land-Grant Act, which provided for the sale of public lands to fund institutions of higher learning to teach agriculture and the mechanical arts. In 1890, a second Morrill Act provided further funding. Many of these state universities such as Oregon State University, Washington State University and Arizona State University continue as state supported universities as we prepare to enter the 21st century. The significance of the Morrill Land-Grant Act should not be overlooked as it was the first time the federal government ventured into funding and attempting to shape the direction of higher education in the United States.Think about It: