The Essential Education - The Tumult Of Reform
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Religion and Education. Education at the beginning of the nineteenth century was firmly founded on religious precepts. The young student learned in his primer that "In Adam's Fall We Sinned All" and that "The idle Fool is whipt at School." Guilt and punishment were intertwined. Education, however, was almost exclusively the prerogative of boys; girls learned just enough so that they could copy a few lines of simple prose and sign their names. The development of the common school system, however, gave primary emphasis to pragmatic education. Noah Webster, shortly after the Revolution, set the prevailing tone by rejecting both religious domination of, and European approaches to, the school curricula. He insisted upon the secularization of education, and worked to provide the necessary textbooks. The classics were to be read in the vernacular, not in the original. The Protestant mind, which had insisted upon the translation of the Bible, now insisted upon making the entire legacy of human knowledge available to the common man.
Democracy and Education. The spread of democratic practices in politics brought recurrent demands that education be democratized. The creation of an intellectual elite was rejected in favor of the systematic cultivation of the hearts and intellects of all Americans. The establishment of true equality required, first, the establishment of an intellectual equality. The common school provided more than an education; it secured democracy. To insure the maintenance of public education, both the federal and state governments took care to provide land for the necessary schools, even though the poverty of a region often kept anything but the rudiments of an education from being provided. Nevertheless the one-room schoolhouse, badly heated, poorly ventilated, unattractive, and staffed by undereducated and underpaid teachers, symbolized the nation's dedication to learning.
Horace Mann and Reform. By 1830 there was a growing demand for improvement of educational facilities, curricula, and teachers. In 1834 James Wadsworth, New York's commissioner of education, had secured a normal school for his state. Massachusetts, under the guidance of Horace Mann, its superintendent of education, established a normal school at Lexington, Massachusetts. Mann achieved distinction as the leading educational reformer in America, fighting for improved buildings, textbooks, and libraries. To encourage the teaching profession he urged higher salaries obtained from higher taxation. Teaching methods were subjected to constant scrutiny, the object being to secure the best education possible for children. In his Common School Journal and in his annual reports to the state legislature, Mann set forth with clarity his conception of education. Learning was, he insisted, the foundation stone of the republic: If we do not prepare children to become good citizens - if we do not develop their capacities, if we do not enrich their minds with knowledge, imbue their hearts with the love of truth and duty, and a reverence for all things sacred and holy, then our republic must go down to destruction, as others have gone before it. . . .
Other School Reformers. Mann was not alone in his struggle. In Connecticut and Rhode Island, Henry Barnard agitated successfully for similar reforms. Thaddeus Stevens led the fight in Pennsylvania for the establishment of state-supported public schools. By 1834 the fight had been won, and Pennsylvania began to provide more facilities for education. Stevens' arguments were used in 1838 in New Jersey to reach a similar result. Under the guidance of the Free School Society, the public system of education was opened to all in New York City. And subsequent public pressure on the New York state legislature brought about the establishment in the 1840s of "union districts" to enable rural areas to cooperate in the establishment of "union schools." By 1860, school reform had widespread acceptance. Even the South had launched campaigns for the extension of education to all without regard for the ability to pay. Education had been converted into a right rather than a privilege, a responsibility of the community rather than of the individual.
Prison Reform. No less a concern of the community than education was the problem of rehabilitating criminals, though this phenomenon was almost exclusively in evidence in the Northeast. As early as the Revolutionary period, agitation which drew heavily on the proposed prison reforms of the great Italian penologist Cesare Beccaria had attracted the attention of Benjamin Franklin. Many reformers found Becarria's emphasis on using prison to rehabilitate criminals, rather than to punish them, sensible and congenial. In Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts, new prisons were designed to provide prisoners with the correct environment in which to develop a mental and spiritual attitude conducive to reform. At Auburn and Sing Sing, New York, and at Cherry Hill, Pennsylvania, workshops were provided in which to teach prisoners a trade. Though some doubt existed as to whether adults could be reformed, none questioned that children could be educated to a better existence if an improved environment were provided. The latter effort was made at reform schools, in which stringent discipline was maintained, but in which compliance was rewarded by special favors. At the Boston House of Refuge, the Reverend E. M. P. Wells established a system of self-government in which the boy inmates were taught self-reliance and responsibility.
The Reform of Insane Asylums. For centuries the insane had been treated as animals, but the reformer of the early nineteenth century took for his premise that the mentally afflicted were human, and that, as such, they too possessed a spark of the divine. Their condition could be alleviated, it was believed, if men would apply to it the scrutiny of reason. The traditional treatment had been to lock the insane in barred rooms, cages, jail cells, or outhouses, and they were often neglected and condemned to a life of misery. The effort to alleviate their lot was inspired by the gentle Dorothea Dix, whose sympathy had been aroused when she discovered several insane persons confined in a cold, dreary room at the East Cambridge House of Correction. With passionate intensity she informed residents of Massachusetts that insane persons in the Commonwealth were kept "in cages, closets, cellars, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience!" Under the resulting public pressure, the General Court of Massachusetts authorized construction of a hospital for the insane at Worcester. This inspired Miss Dix to carry her campaign for state-supported insane hospitals successfully throughout the nation. This single, frail woman gave ample proof of the power of feminine determination, and her behavior accentuated the growing demand that women be accorded an equal place in society.