Lesson Plans for Secondary Educators
Horace Mann, “The Necessity of Education in a Republican Government,” Multiple Occasions, Fall 1839
High School Lesson Plan created for Voices of Democracy by Michael J. Steudeman, University of Maryland
Value to History Teachers
Compulsory education has been mandatory in most of the United States for over a century. Students are flung into education from an early age and often do not take time to reflect on why society has deemed it so important. Horace Mann’s lecture on the relationship of education to government provides an opportunity for this reflection. Additionally, the speech:
- Contextualizes early American debates about the challenges of democratic participation.
- Demonstrates the concerns for character, virtue, and citizenship in early debates about government.
- Provides a case study in reform that demonstrates how, over time, the size and capacities of government have expanded.
- Reveals aspects of early 19th-century culture, including views regarding psychology and temperance.
- Opens classroom discussions about the role of education in civic participation.
Ideas for Pre-Reading
- Begin with a conversation surrounding public education in American society. In what ways is education associated with citizenship? Why does our government require all citizens to attend the public schools?
- Review themes from the Federalist papers with students, and particularly Federalist #10, to help them understand the Founders’ fears of democracy—particularly, the fears of faction and demagoguery. Mann echoes these fears as a justification for the necessity of public education.
- At the same time, students should also review historical arguments in favor of small and local government. Mann’s opponents were against centralized control of institutions, and especially education.
- The rise of Andrew Jackson ushered in democratic involvement that particularly concerned Whigs like Mann. While the story of Jackson’s “big block of cheese” may be largely myth, it nonetheless helps to capture the fervor for democracy that grew in the 1820s and 1830s.
- To help students understand the difficulties Mann faced during his lecture tour, have them study an excerpt from Mann’s diaries from pages 116-122 of The Life of Horace Mann (available as a PDF on Google Books).
- PBS provides a basic timeline of the common school movement.
Day 1: Ambiguous Education
- [Read paragraphs 1-9]
- Students will analyze the multiple and ambiguous meanings Mann ascribes to “education.”
Day 2: Describing Faculties
- [Read paragraphs 10-38]
- Students will summarize the major “propensities” or “faculties” how the “higher” and “lower” relate.
Day 3: Government History
- [Read paragraphs 39-45]
- Students will assess Mann’s account of the relationship between governments and individuals.
Day 4: Risks of Democracy
- [Read paragraphs 46-51]
- Students will summarize Mann’s position on how American democracy shapes the “faculties” differently from other forms of government.
- Students will debate the challenges and benefits of democratic governance.
Day 5: Education Alone
- [Read paragraphs 52-58]
- Students will evaluate Mann’s usage of the “method of residues” to eliminate all solutions other than education.
Ideas for Post-Reading and Assessment
- Contrasting Mann and Duncan: In many ways, the modern day U.S. Secretary of Education follows in the footsteps of Horace Mann—but the rhetoric has changed a great deal. Have students contrast Mann’s speech against Barack Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s announcement of “Race to the Top,” a major reform program. Ask:
- How has the meaning of “education” changed from Mann to Duncan? (RI.11-12.4)
- How has the relationship of government, the individual, and education shifted in the past 150 years? (RL.11-12.2)
- Education in 19th-Century Massachusetts: Mann’s speech makes two arguments: that unchecked democracy threatens the republic and that only education can solve the problem. From the perspective of a prospective Mann audience member—a 19th century schoolmaster, for example, or a Boston political leader—assess the strength of Mann’s appeal for systematized, statewide, compulsory public education. (RI.11-12.9)