Number Nine in the History of American Education series describing how American education went over the edge of the cliff. When the history of American education is completed, other issues such as pedagogy, subject matter, who should be responsible for education, etc. will be put up for discussion.
"What if families could choose any school they wanted? What if there were no rules on what or how teachers taught? Would society be drawn together or blown apart? ... The answers have been right behind us all along." - Andrew Coulson, Market Education, The Unknown History
The medical term for the stage of a spontaneous abortion that has progressed beyond all hope of salvaging the fetus is "abortion inevitable."
"Abortion inevitable" accurately describes the outcome of Mann's attempt to unite the entire population of the United States in a utopian society of his own design. It was destined to fail even before his intensive P.R. machine got it off the ground. His dream that societal unity could be achieved based on the idea that all human beings could forever hold identical, unchanging views flew in the face of reality.
Mann's view was that people could not form a stable society and live side by side in peace if they did not share a single belief. His answer to the perceived problem of differences in points of view was his conviction that people could, and should be, "molded" through education to subscribe to his views; in order to believe that, he also had to believe that his views represented the final refinement of thought, that no further improvements or discoveries could possibly be made, and that people had virtually no capacity for independent thinking; this being the case, everyone who went through his educational system would inevitably "see the light" in just the same way he, the ultimate elitist, did.
His dedication to the concept of a "perfect" society where, through education, the entire population would adopt his belief system and the result would be the end of ignorance, poverty, and crime, served to create conflicts that continue to grow to the present day, and put the very survival of our nation at risk .
Mann's goal was to re-create the basic Puritan concept of a "city on the hill;" it was only the details that would be different, consistent with his own changed point of view. It was ironic that he should disagree with the strict Calvinism of his own family and change to the Unitarianism of his adulthood, while at the same time apparently in denial that others might also desire to change.
While Mann rejected his own family religion in favor of one he considered to be better, he did not change his view of the tool by which he would create his Utopia: education, with compulsory attendance and a fixed curriculum, would be the means by which his vision would be carried out. Just as his own Puritan ancestors did, he envisioned a society without any deviation of thinking and no competion of ideas, thus creating a stable, conflict-free society.
It is also ironic that he did not consider that since the use of education for that purpose had failed then, it might also fail now. Just as Martin Luther had assumed that his vision of a tax-supported, compulsory, single-curriculum system of education would forever be under the control of the clergy, Horace Mann believed so ardently in his system that he was sure it would be universally and enthusiastically adopted and last forever. Such was not the case in Germany in Martin Luther's day, nor was it the case in America, in Horace Mann's day.
Mann's belief that his system represented the ultimate ideal was not different in principle from the contention of a Congressman who, not much later, thought that the Patent Office should be closed "because everything had already been invented."
Mann's special concern, again like that of his Puritan ancestors, was how to create a "moral society;" he understood the human requirement for a moral code, but he could not conceive of any valid moral code stemming from any source other than Christianity, and in particular, from his version of Christianity.
Mann, as a Unitarian, was considered a "liberal" Protestant; he hoped to infuse the educational system with a "non-sectarian" version of Protestant belief, stripped of all features that distinguished one sect from another.
There was an immediate problem with this concept; the liberal Protestants thought that a basic framework of Protestant Christian belief, cleaned up, as it were, of all such distinguishing features, could be taught without conflict and without violating the concept of separation of church and state. The orthodox Protestants did not.
Herein lay the first hint of the conflicts that were to wrack the public school system from its inception to the present day.
The orthodox Protestants were unwilling to have the details of their beliefs omitted, fearing that a non-sectarian Protestant curriculum would weaken the religious faith of their children. In 1848, the very year that Mann published the last of his famous "reports," a meeting was called by the General Association of Massachusetts, a coalition of various Protestant denominations, to try to work out the intramural Protestant differences, and a committee was formed to seek a solution.
The committee's conclusions were published in 1849, with the liberal Protestant view prevailing, but with an "escape clause" available for the orthodox Protestants. The liberal concept would be used "experimentally," and if it turned out that there were threats to the religious faith of the children of the orthodox factions, they could withdraw and implement "Plan B" - the establishment of a private system of their own, suffusing their curricula with their own views. So, for the time being, it seemed that the conflict had been resolved.
But then, there was the "Catholic Problem" yet to be solved.
Mann and his orthodox colleagues alike saw in the immigration of millions of Catholics as a serious threat to their utopian goal of unity and stability under a common belief system.
Edward Beecher, the head of the General Association of Massachusetts, the very group of Protestants that had tried to resolve the differences between orthodox and liberal Protestants re: teaching religion in the schools, now had much bigger fish to fry. Beecher's father, Rev. Lyman Beecher of Cincinnati, Ohio, had written a book in 1835 called A Plea for the West, which contained a stern warning to Protestants about a "Popish Conspiracy" that threatened a takeover of the entire Mississippi Valley. Calvin Stowe, one of Beecher's colleagues, called for the Protestants to put aside their differences in order to stem the "Roman tide," and unite to defend Protestant America against "Romish designs."
The conflict grew worse. There were anti-Catholic riots in New York, and in 1850, Catholic Bishop John Hughes (aka "Dagger John") responded with a statement that defended Catholics and simultaneously deliberately provoked the Protestants. The Bishop spoke of converting the entire United States to Catholicism - "...the people of the cities, the people of the country, the officers of the Navy and the Marines, commanders of the Army, and Legislatures, and Senate, the Cabinet, the President and all."
Two days later, the Protestants responded. Catholics were called "...irreligious idol worshippers, bent on the murder of all Protestants and the subjugation of all democracies..."
By 1855, the argument continued; the Rev. Edward Beecher published his rejoinder with the publication of yet another book, The Papal Conspiracy Exposed.
And so it went.
Then ante was upped; an entire political party was formed to answer the "Catholic Problem." It was called the "Know Nothing" party, and it grew in influence and political power prior to the Civil War, fueled largely by the conflicts that were already rife in the newborn government schools. In 1854, the Know Nothings won the governorship and both houses in Massachusetts.
The initial solution attempted by the Catholics to what they saw as a threat to the faith of their children was to try to work from the inside, by asking that Catholic teachers be allowed to teach Catholic children in the public school system; that was unacceptable, so the next move by the Catholics was to ask that funding be granted to support their own schools. That was met with a very frank rejection on the part of the newly elected Know Nothing legislature of Massachusetts, which had just adopted an amendment to the Massachusetts constitution barring any public money to be appropriated that would be used by any particular sect to maintain its own schools. In justifying the decision, a statement by one of the supporters of the amendment was "...I want all our children of our Catholic and Protestant population to be educated together in our public schools...if...the resolution has a strong leaning towards Catholics, and is intended to have special reference to them, I am not disposed to deny that it admits of such interpretation."
The "Bible War" even went so far as to include a "nunnery inspection law" passed by the Know Nothings; committees were formed to investigate certain unnamed practices that allegedly took place in Catholic institutions, including "white slavery" in the convents, where young nuns were said to be kept against their will by young priests. The investigations into these and a host of other complaints found nothing incriminating.
The distress created in so many Protestant and Catholic parents by Mann's attempt to impose his utopian system on everyone in the population grew so intense that it very nearly destroyed his concept of a government school system, the very system he had specifically designed to unify the population, before it had become universally adopted. The Lutherans had already created their own parochial system, and similar plans by the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians were in progress.
The weakening of support by various religious groups was so serious that the idea of a government-run system was salvaged only by a last-minute compromise that effectively left the teaching of religion per se to private parties such as Sunday schools. The reading of the King James version of the Bible would continue, however.
This temporarily mollifed the Protestants, particularly those who had planned to establish their own parochial schools; the movement by Episcopalians and Presbyterians ceased for the time being, and would not re-emerge until nearly a hundred years later, when numerous and increasing conflicts over curriculum issues, both religious and academic, could no longer be ignored.
However, the compromise was not enough to satisfy Catholic parents; in addition to not being able to teach their religion as an integral part of the public school curriculum, they would be required to surrender many of their parental rights to the power of a branch of government that was deliberately trying to undermine their religious beliefs through classroom practices such as the insistence on the use of the "non-sectarian" King's James version of the Bible as the sole religious text in school.
In addition to the differences that various religious groups had with a system that did not teach their own children their own views, the public, both Protestant and Catholic, almost uniformly objected to paying taxes to support such a conflicted system. The argument put forth by the educationists to salvage their idea was to assure the public that a government system of education was necessary both for civilization and the survival of the country.
It was too late for the Catholics; the problem was deemed insoluble from their point of view, and so they undertook to establish their own separate school system that survives to this day.
The division between Protestant and Catholic, with the Catholics characterizing the government schools as "Protestant schools," and abandoning them to establish a separate system of their own, was only the beginning of the end of Mann's Quixotic, unnecessary, and counterproductive dream of unifying the entire population under a single belief system.
But this was not the end; more - much more - was to come to further divide the population.
Perhaps you thought you had seen the last of Owens and Wright...