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Public education, as intended by Horace Mann, is not being played out as he hoped it would. Even here at Westfield State University, the school Mann founded in 1838, his ideal educational goal of a free and accessible education for all is not being realized.

Every student at Westfield State at least knows something about Horace Mann. The entire student body knows that as a historical figure in education, he is important. Mann is most certainly a point of pride for the university.

The impact of Horace Mann’s education reform ideas is visible all over the state and even here on the Westfield State campus. As an education reform leader, as well as a politician in Massachusetts, he pushed for the development of a K-8 public schooling system, known as the common school, which would create disciplined and responsible citizens who could contribute to society. He also pushed for teachers to undergo training to become professionals.

All of those ideas may seem like no-brainers to us in the modern age, but a lot had to change and a lot of time needed to pass until these ideas became the standard for education.

According to Robert T. Brown, the author of “The Rise and Fall of the People’s Colleges: The Westfield Normal School”, 1839-1914, as early as 1647 the Massachusetts Bay Colony had set its first education law.

This law is often referred to as the “Old Deluder Law” because its first sentence reads: “It being on chief object of that old deluder, Satan, to keep man from knowledge of the Scriptures…” It is this law that laid the foundation of public school system in Massachusetts.

This foundation for the Massachusetts public school system is one that was focused primarily on creating literate citizens with the capability to read the Bible.

“There was an impotence of education due to religion in New England,” said Nicholas Aieta, Professor of History and coordinator of the history secondary education program at WSU.

In the 19th century, Horace Mann and other education reformers stepped in to create a system that would impact wider knowledge by branching out and creating a curriculum that included math, science and history among others.

Of course being literate is important, but it is not the main focus of a public school education. Stacy Benham, a student at Westfield State who is part of the secondary education program, said, “That’s not learning. Literacy is important, but it’s only helpful if you can apply it.”

It was Mann’s idea that education acted as a great equalizer, therefore all citizens should have access to it. The idea that education should be open to all is one shared by students today, especially at Westfield State.

Melissa Welch, a biology student in her junior year, said, “I do think public school should be free because I believe everyone should have the opportunity to further their education without monetary constraints.”

Horace Mann’s idea for a free education was never really fully put into effect for all students.

“If students intended to teach in the Massachusetts common schools for at least two years, they would attend school for free,” Professor Aieta said. “If they could not make that commitment, students paid four dollars per term in tuition.”

Horace Mann’s goal for an accessible and affordable education for all is under attack in today’s world due to the stagnation of funding for public schools and rising prices.

The debt incurred by most students nowadays while getting their college education is out of control. Mountains of debt are built from institutions that are supposed to be furthering opportunities for students, undermining intentions of education reform leaders like Horace Mann.

“Education for all isn’t education for all if you can’t afford it,” said Professor Aieta.


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