At the CIO Leadership Summit last September, hosted by Tech & Learning magazine, Melissa
Dodd, CIO of Boston Public Schools, noted during an excellent presentation on the state of IT
in her district that Massachusetts was the birthplace of American public education. That made
me think—what would Horace Mann or the authors of the “Old Deluder Law” have to say about
education today? Are we creating a common culture for all of America and providing students with
the necessary tools to be successful in the same? Those men hoped that common public schools
would allow all Americans to be integrated in a productive society and that children from the most desperate
circumstances would be able to utilize public education to rise out of their current circumstances and be
successful. Specifically, what would they think with regard to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Common
Core State standards (CCSS) that are filling the nation’s educational thought bubbles at this point in time?
Mann would probably be quite happy with the focus on college and career readiness, but the lack of focus
on citizenship and a shared American history and culture might unnerve him a bit. However, Mann has often
been criticized as being anti-intellectual and too practical in his approach to American schooling. Those who
want to focus on career and workplace readiness would definitely have a strong supporter in Mann. However,
I think the entire lack of any strong push for a shared American culture via strong (or any) social studies
standards or assessment would unnerve him a great deal. It is interesting to speak to social studies teachers
about their views of the CCSS and other high-stakes testing. Although they enjoy not being under the highstakes
testing gun, they commonly comment that social studies, history, and government aren’t really part
of the “core content” in schools at the moment.
Language arts and STEM (Science, Technology,
Engineering and Math) are the focus of nearly all
of the national conversations about curriculum.
Some play is given to world languages and the
need to understand other cultures, but what
about understanding the American culture (even
with its focus on dead white men)? I think Mann
would be disappointed in what would appear
to him to be a lack of the Americanization of
children through a common school experience.
Rev. John Cotton and the others who passed
the Massachusetts General School Laws of 1642
and 1647 would definitely be unhappy with the
focus on test scores. They would support the
homogenizing effects of the CCSS curriculum,
but they might be a little perturbed by the fact
that science has replaced faith as a major focus.
I am not at all sure where they would stand on
standardized testing, but if I had to hazard a
guess, I suspect they would be supportive of
more local assessments and not proponents of
standardization across all of the states. They
wanted to homogenize their communities and
not the necessarily the nation. Of course, they
had sailing ships and the Internet wasn’t even
a concept back then. (Any time traveler caught
with a tablet would probably have been burnt as
Perspectives shift over 300 years, so maybe
the most important thing to consider is this:
Will CCSS help students improve their lot in
life? That was the focus of both John Cotton
and Horace Mann as well as most of the early
advocates of public education. How can we
provide students with the best opportunities
to succeed? What resources can we provide
students to ensure their success? How can we
leverage technology to reach out to the parents
of our neediest students? Do you think the
perspectives of Cotton, Mann, or others are
worth considering? How about Bronson Alcott,
John Dewey, or E.D. Hirsch?
The point is that we need to clearly identify
what we wish for public schools to be, going
forward. I am not sure that as educators we have
thought about this enough. Some want us to
move towards full-service community schools.
Others want vouchers or virtual schools. I
think as a profession it is time for educators to
decide what we really want the mission of public
education to be.
Steven M. Baule is superintendent of North
Boone CUSD 200 in Poplar Grove, IL. He has
written several books on aspects of library and
technology management and planning.