The Mann, the myth, the legend: Horace Mann

Henry Owens and Abby Beckler

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“Horace Mann is undeniably the greatest name in the history of American education,” Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly wrote. For the school to be named after a great educator may seem fitting – in many ways, Mann’s values as an educator align with the school. But as a promoter of public education, Mann may have not supported a private institution such as ours.

As an educator, lawyer, and politician, Mann established Massachusetts’ public school system in the middle of the 19th century that served as a model of public education for many other states. Mann strongly believed in the availability of free education as well as the quality of faculty in the public school system. His vision of what an education should entail is in many ways aligned with the school’s current goal, which is “to prepare a diverse community of students to lead great and giving lives,” according to the school’s mission statement.

Although the school is named after him, Mann was never involved with the school directly, as it was founded nearly three decades after his death. The school was originally named The Model School in the early 1890’s, but school administrators decided to change the name because it seemed vague as to what the school was in fact modelling, according to “The First Hundred Years” by English teacher Harry Bauld and co-author Jerome Kissinger.

Nicolas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University for 43 years, founded The Model School as a coeducational experimental and developmental unit of Teachers College, Columbia University, according to the school’s website. When the school was first created, many assumed “that Horace Mann was the name of its principal and director,” as Butler receiving many letters addressed to “Mr. Mann.”

Even though Mann was not directly involved in the school, he is still an important historical figure. The Middle Division (MD) curriculum includes a brief unit on Mann at the very beginning of seventh grade, where students use primary sources to form an argument as to whether Mann would have approved of the school.

“Students often have very strong arguments why he wouldn’t necessarily approve of his name being used for the school,” MD History Department Chair John McNally said. “Horace Mann is, first of all, an amazing visionary, but it’s pretty clear that he’s very much against private schools as a way to draw away from the resources of public schools and also draw away the talent from public schools.”

For his side of the discussion, Logan Scharlatt (7) wrote that Mann would not approve of the school today. In his paper, Scharlatt mentioned that while the school’s core values support Mann’s ideas, the limited size of the student body and the high financial burden of tuition are reasons as to why Mann would not like the school, he said.

The Upper Division (UD), unlike the MD, does not work Mann into the official curriculum. Some classes, however, do cover some of the Mann’s contributions to education. In UD History Teacher Dr. Ellen Bales’ 10th grade US History class, students read and discuss case studies in order to delve further into certain topics, including the rise of public education in the United States, where they discuss Mann’s influence.

For Eliza Bender (12), these case studies allowed for her to gain a more in depth understanding of Mann and public education in this country, she said. Because of Mann’s importance to the school, the class was able to learn about Mann’s accomplishments that are often overlooked in textbooks, Bender said.

Many students believe that Horace Mann should be discussed in history classes throughout high school, not just because he is the school’s namesake, but because of his profound impact on the American education system.

“I think it would be better if we learned more about Mann in high school because we would be able to understand and comprehend his messages better than we would in middle school,” Matthew Aponte (10) said. “Also, this way, we would remember more about his messages and ideas than we do now: I remember that he wanted free and equal education for all, but since we learned about him in middle school, I don’t remember much else.”
“I think Horace Mann should be taught here because it’s important that we know what we aim to be as a community and what our place is in society,” Erin Jaen (12) said. “Also, Mann is kind of an inspirational person from what I’ve learned.”
“While learning about Horace Mann is an important part of our school’s history, there’s no connection between Horace Mann the man and our school itself, other than the fact that the school is named after him for a reason unknown to most of us,” Zachary Kurtz (9) said.
Peter Wang (9) noted the quote displayed below Mann’s portrait in Olshan Lobby: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”
“The school tries to get its students to be excellent, so I think that reflects Mann’s quote. But I do think it was kind of harsh phrasing,” Wang said.
“It’s like we’re being prepared to do things at HM; we’re supposed to go out into the world and do great things, and so I guess the word choice is a bit drastic but I think it makes sense,” Abigail Morse (11) said.
“I think this quote applies to the idea that Horace Mann School hopes to provide an exceptional education to its students, so that we can go out into the world and make it better for everybody,” Jaen said. “Basically, we have been given this great opportunity to learn and think deeply about the problems the world faces – now, we have a chance to use it.”
Certain members of the community find hypocrisy in a private school being named after a promoter of public education.
“While I do agree that Horace Mann stood for higher education standards and we go to a school that does that, we don’t do it in the way that he intended,” Dylan Chin (12) said. “We go to a very elite private school that does not support education for all, just a cherry-picked few.”

According to Helena Yang (11), while the school does conform to some of Mann’s ideas, it still comes across as strange that the school is named after someone who was such a strong supporter of public education. “It’s a little weird, but you kind of have to consider that HM got the name over 100 years ago, and the education system was way different back then.”

Mitchell Yu (11) said that while the school does a good job of upholding many of Mann’s values, it is still very far from the public school system that Mann worked to create. “Being named after Mann is a good reminder that we’re not always in this bubble,” Yu said. “We get protected from struggles, but then we don’t learn or understand just how different the world outside the bubble is. Mann’s legacy reminds us that his ideal of education was for everyone. At HM, it is not for everyone.”

“I think his name is really just the name of the school, and I don’t really associate the school with the person at all,” Spencer Kahn (12) said. “But I think a lot of his moral compass about why people should be educated is still echoed by the school today.”

Archivist Hillary Matlin said that while there have been times throughout the school’s history when they were focused on educating only the elite, “when you look at where the school originated from, which was really about giving the best education, and fitting the most people for healthy, productive, progressive sort of lives, you can understand why we took Horace Mann as an ideal,” she said.

“I feel like it’s kind of inconsiderate of Horace Mann’s legacy that we, a private school, use his name because it sort of goes against the idea that good education should be accessible for all, regardless of social class,” Jaen said. “I think Horace Mann is not a complete reflection of Mann’s values, but it tries its best to cope with the fact that we are not a public school and it’s not possible for us to be accessible for all by encouraging us to use what we have learned here to give back to the community.”

“There’s no chance we’re going to change the name of our school, but developing it into a more inclusive system that isn’t as elite or restricted would be awesome,” Chin said. “But I don’t think this change is possible, especially in the direction they’re going with increasing tuition every year.”

For many, the school’s high tuition is a major factor that contradicts the values of Mann. “The fact that we are an independent school means that we are able to determine our own curriculum and programs and also determine who is admitted to and enrolled in the school, which is a significant difference from the majority of public schools,” Director of Institutional Research & Enrollment Management Lisa Moreira said “But being an independent school also means that we are primarily funded not by the city or state, but by tuition revenue.”

“Being a school with tuition gives us more resources than many other schools, so I think it’s had an enormously positive impact on the day to day lives of our students,” Head of the Upper School Jessica Levenstein said. “But the other side of tuition is the stress that comes with families needing to provide that tuition, and I don’t want to underestimate that stress.”

According to the school’s website, in 1887, a full year’s tuition for a high school senior at the school was only $150, which is equivalent to around $3,700 today. Although this price difference may seem drastic to today’s real cost of tuition, the costs of facilities have also increased with time, accounting for major portions of the tuition cost. Butler himself had worked in both private and public sectors and “saw no great division between public and private education,” wrote “The First Hundred Years.”

“Comparing Horace Mann School today to Horace Mann School in 1887 is not an apples-to-apples comparison,” Kelly wrote in an email. “However, I can say that today’s tuition is in line with what other like schools charge, and what HM charges includes the maintenance of facilities well beyond what other schools offer.”

Although the tuition of the school is increasingly expensive, the administration is working hard to increase the diversity within the student body, primarily by providing increased amounts of financial aid to encourage students from lower income families and backgrounds to apply, Moreira said.

The school’s financial aid budget – and its commitment to providing need-based financial aid – makes it possible for many students to attend the school, in particular those who would not otherwise be able to do so, Moreira said. “If you’re asking if the fact that we charge tuition keeps some families from exploring the school as an option, that may well be the case,” Moreira said. “But we actively encourage families from all backgrounds to consider the school and to apply, and we do provide a significant amount of need-based financial aid to families whose children are admitted and who qualify for Aid.”

“A lot of the emphasis on education and how education can hold a great impact and what Horace Mann was fighting for is seen in this community,” Bender said.

“Notwithstanding the fact that we operate a tuition-based program, I think Horace Mann would be impressed with and excited by the teaching and learning that takes place within our walls,” Kelly wrote. “In so many ways, we do represent his vision of what an education should be.”