Lectures and Annual Reports on Education

By HORACE MANN. Cambridge: Published for the Editor. 1867.
THIS, volume virtually records one of the great historic events of America, the reconstruction of popular education by Horace Mann. Never did a man bring to bear upon any task more matured and disciplined powers, or pour a greater wealth of resources into one restricted channel. That which he organized in his office, he also proclaimed and expounded before the eyes and ears of all. Upon audiences of country farmers and school-girls he lavished wit, wisdom, and magnetic power, such as listening senates rarely receive ; and the end which he sought he invariably gained.
Working in this limited sphere, he doubtless felt its limitations reacting on himself; and Goethe’s fatal axiom, that “ action animates, but narrows,” was exemplified in him. He almost re-created for us the Common School, but to the higher problem of University education he contributed almost nothing; his mind was fixed on the needs of the many, not of the few. It was his mission to work for elementary culture, in the hope that anything beyond that, if really needed, would come in time. This temporary ignoring of higher culture cost him no sacrifice. There was little place in his philosophy for poetry or art. He had chosen his vocation, and was a little impatient of anything that could not be popularized or made practical. His own stern method of thought must be imposed on every one, and he was as unfit to train any boy or girl of an ideal genius, as would be a beaver to educate an oriole. But in the common school he was a king.
This volume contains the record of the very best epoch of his heroic life. Written nearly thirty years ago, these pages are today as fresh as this year’s almanac, and quite as much needed. Compared with them, the contemporary statements of others appear a little out of date. In the recent discussions on corporal punishment, for instance, there has been hardly a good point made on either side — if one may judge from the newspapers-—which may not be found, better stated, in this book. It seems to show that we do not yet employ our very ablest men to educate our children, if, after a quarter of a century, we are still treading in the same circle. There is needed at every post that which Horace Mann had, — a slight overplus of power and resources. In the multiplicity of work to be done in America, almost everything is intrusted to half-trained men. But if a man is not a little too good for his work, he is really not good enough for it.