Horace Mann's Call for a Balanced Education

Horace Mann (1796-1859)
Horace Mann (1796-1859)


The fundamentals of what was once considered vital to a public education in the United States have spiraled dangerously downward over time — more than some of us care to admit, or even realize.

For instance, Horace Mann, dubbed the Founder of American Public Education, warned:

“[I]n the name of the living God, it must be proclaimed that licentiousness shall be the liberty; and violence and chicanery the law; and superstition and craft shall be the religion; and the self-destructive indulgence of all sensual and unhallowed passions shall be the only happiness of that people who neglect the education of their children.” 1

Can you imagine? In short, Horace Mann was declaring what public educators dare not declare today, that our children must be educated in both mind and spirit, intelligence and morality, reason and faith — if not, liberty, law, and religion become their polar opposites, … as sure as God lives.

Is that where we are headed? Isn’t that we are right now?

Mann did not mince words. His analysis and predictions were based on the common sense notion that it is frightfully naive to believe that an unlearned and immoral people will exercise their political franchise in such manner as to uphold and sustain liberty. For with “increased darkness and degeneracy,” Mann taught, comes big trouble, even serious trouble.2

Why? Because, says Mann, minds and souls dulled by disuse or misuse are easily cajoled by “[d]emagogues who … adapt themselves to the dupes who hear, just as certainly as the hunter adapts his lure to the animal he would ensnare.” 3

These dupes who hear, he warns, would be a “dependent” class that “vote from malice, or envy, or wantonness”; and that those who do the duping would be politicians or a political party dedicated to generating “fear”, engaging in “bribery”, and ever employing “flattery, imposture, [and] falsehood” to win elections and come to power.  The combined result being: public attitudes and policies “treasonous” to our constitution. 4

Meanwhile, “the vindication and eulogy of fellow-partisans however wicked, and the defamation of opponents however virtuous, will be the instruments by which a warfare, destructive in the end to victors and vanquished, will be waged.” 5

Not a pretty picture.

Thus elections, rather than being “days of thoughtfulness and of solemnity,” Mann continues, will be “days of turbulence and bacchanalian riot, of insulting triumph or revengeful defeat.” 6

And again, “without additional knowledge and morality things must accelerate from bad to worse.” Likewise, “Amid increasing darkness and degeneracy, every man’s rights may be invaded thru legislation — thru the annulment of charters or the abrogation of remedies — and thru the corruption of jurors.” 7

The final result will be what Marxists call “a complete overthrow of the existing order.”

Said Mann: “By the votes of … wicked men, honorable men may be hurled from office and miscreants elevated to their places; useful offices abolished and sinecures (8) created; the public wealth, which had supported industry, squandered upon mercenaries; enterprise crippled, and thus capital which had been honestly and laboriously accumulated, turned into dross; in fine, the whole policy of the government may be reversed and the social conditions of millions changed … In a word, if the votes … come from ignorance and crime, the fire and brimstone that were rained on Sodom and Gomorrah would be more tolerable.” 9

I know some will say, it can’t happen here. The unfortunate reality is, to a large degree it already has, and we are now rapidly closing in on the finish line.

Yet there is a solution. The great preventative to such a calamity, Mann believed, was “an order of teachers, wise, benevolent, filled with Christian enthusiasm,”(10) in a school system that was universally available to all, rich and poor.

He wanted schools “of a more perfect character than any which have ever yet existed;”(11) “schools where we would find the principles of morality … copiously intermingled with the principles of science. Cases of conscience … alternated with lessons in the rudiments. The multiplication table … not … more familiar, nor more frequently applied, than the rule to do to others as we would that they should do unto us.” (12)

And the unspeakable clincher, schools where we see “the lives of great and good men … held up for admiration and example; and especially the life and character of Jesus Christ, as the sublimest pattern of benevolence, of purity, of self-sacrifice, ever exhibited to mortals. In every course of studies, all the practical and perceptive parts of the Gospel … sacredly included; and all the dogmatic theology and sectarianism sacredly excluded. (13)

In sum, Horace Mann concluded, “I have endeavored to show that with universal suffrage there must be universal elevation of character, intellectual and moral, or there will be universal mismanagement and calamity.” (14)

Not too long ago, we had public schools that struck this wise balance. The great moral truths of the Bible, common to all the faiths, taught side by side with English, science, math, history, economics and civics, while the creeds and dogmas unique to the various churches were left to seminaries and churches to teach as they saw fit. This too, was Jefferson’s formula for the University of Virginia. It is one I endorse in every school district. Believe it or not, the National Education Association once endorsed it.

In the NEA’s “American Citizens Handbook,” published in 1941, the NEA glowingly described Horace Mann’s speech as “the greatest of our Independence Day orations — an address that looks far into the future.” (15)

Indeed it did. The future is here, and unfortunately, we eventually rejected Mann’s advice, and the trouble he prophesied is upon us. But we can turn back the clock. To do so would arouse a sleeping giant, inspire a sea of change, and stir up a revival of fundamental principles. In truth, it would spawn a Second American Revolution, a revolution of faith and reason, whose time has come.

But how? Well, in this case we must turn to the Constitution that Horace Mann said his approach was meant to uphold – and that Constitution kept almost all power as close to the people as possible. This was especially the case with education, which under the Judeo-Christian model, understands that the primary responsibility for educating children belongs to parents, not distant bureaucrats. And to do this, I mean to bring the power back to local and parent control, it is time that we parents and we citizens get to work convincing every school and every school district, and every city, county and state government to reject ALL federal dollars for education – for with federal dollars come federal strings of control, and it has been these federal strings of control that have pushed Judeo-Christian values and the teaching of our Constitution in the tradition of the Founders out of our schools.

Next, in most cases, a similar funding of education on the most local level would be wise, for most of our states have enormous bureaucracies as well.

Finally, as education laws and controls move downward, a free enterprise system of schools needs to emerge, one where free competition, not government oversight, raises the quantity and quality of schools for parents to choose from for their children.

Yes, Mann had it right about Judeo-Christian morals as vital to a truly balanced education. To put not just the curriculum, but the system back to its inspired balance, it’s time we return local, parent controlled schools, whether public, private, or home schools.

Contact Steve

Steve FarrellSteve Farrell is the Founder and Editor In Chief of The Moral Liberal, one of the original and most popular pundits at NewsMax.com (1999-2007), and author of the highly praised inspirational novel “Dark Rose” (new Kindle edition).


1. Morgan, Joy Elmer, editor. “The American Citizens Handbook,” The National Education Association, Washington, D.C., 1941, p. 261.

2. Ibid., p. 256.

3. Ibid., p. 260.

4. Ibid., p. 260, 256.

5. Ibid., p. 260.

6. Ibid., p. 256.

7. Ibid., p. 256.

8. A sinecure is a position that requires little or no work but usually yields profit or honor.

9. Ibid., p. 252.

10. Ibid., p. 254.

11. Ibid., p. 256-257.

12. Ibid., p. 257.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid., p. 257

15. Ibid., p. 251.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here