Horace Mann: Teaching as a Profession

My personal views of education most closely reflect those of Horace Mann. As he contributed to the rise of today’s public school system, I imagine this to be the case for many educators. Mann articulated the role of public education (a task that even Thomas Jefferson was unable to successfully accomplish), developed procedures required to support such schooling, incorporated a value system within the educational sphere (an echo of earlier philosophers), and designed teacher and instructional strategy (Gutek, 2011).

As an educator, it is motivating to view Mann as the creator of teaching as a true ‘profession’ versus a mere ‘job option’. Gutek (2011) explains that because of Mann, teaching became ‘a career that required commitment and professional preparation’. It is this requirement and assurance that ultimately provides for educators as experienced professionals that are qualified to create the type of learning environments that are best conducive to student achievement. For example, the training of teachers allows for the incorporation of research-based strategies, consistency and equity, and the standardization of objectives. I believe Mann would endorse Jefferson’s ideas of ‘life-long learning’ and call for educators to consistently seek professional development and other opportunities that allow for them to bring best practices into their classroom and that support the self-analysis of Mill in allowing for a flexibility and revision to meet the needs of students.

Mann’s ideas also reflected American society and its values and ethics (Gutek, 2011). Although this was a somewhat homogenous society during his time, I believe Mann would recognize the vibrant nature of current American society and seek to ensure cultural pluralism and a culturally responsive classroom. I believe he would ask that schools create an environment of inclusion, instead of exclusion, and celebrate individuality that benefits the community as a whole.

While speaking of ‘representation of the whole’, Mill’s views can prove useful. He spoke of the ‘need for an education that harmoniously and simultaneously cultivates and integrates the human being’s cognitive and affective dispositions’ (Gutek, 2011, p 304). Not only should educators turn to self-analysis for improvement and flexibility, we should teach our students how to reflect on their learning, how to engage in mutual goal-setting, and how to relate their education to their real-world experiences. As educators, we help to bring relevancy into our lessons, but our students have to also actively build real-world connections to truly absorb the most of their education.

Thomas Jefferson would then tell us to use what we have learned through public education to give back to our society. He believed in the relationship between ‘theory and practice’ (Gutek, 2011) and would task the classroom to take what they have learned and build a harmonious society that championed the free thinking of the people. As educators, Jefferson would encourage us to enrich the minds of our students, and to break free of limitations in order to see just how far we could go.

With this, Pestolozzi would agree. His progressivism called for a break from memorization and drills, to create a learning environment that centered on the child (echoing Rousseau) and served to educate the ‘whole individual’ in the same manner as Mills. He reminds us that teachers should serve as facilitators of learning, and that our first task is to create a caring and nurturing environment in which our students are poised to succeed (Gutek, 2011).

Therefore, the philosophers continue to echo the tenets of those before them: importance of ethics, existence within the societal context, and focus on the needs of the individual. As educators, we can continue to nurture our students, plan for the needs of the individual, and seek a cohesive group success based upon respect and inquiry.

 

Gutek, G.L. (2011) Historical and philosophical foundations of education: A biographical introduction. Boston, MA: Pearson.

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