A History of Education: The American Educational System, Common School Period (Wrap-up)

[Editor’s Note: This is the 36th in a series of blogs that examine how education developed throughout history until the present. Links to previous blogs are included at the bottom of the post.]

While there were obvious disagreements and ideological conflicts regarding tax-supported common schools in the years before the American Civil War, people in the Northeast, the far West, and even some in the Midwest began to warm up to the idea during this time. Horace Mann, Mary Lyon, and dozens of other educators sought to capitalize on the support by building a new educational system that provided for the needs of its students and society.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle, workers and capitalists, and farmers and city dwellers joined forces to create a fundamental institution of American democracy. And while the common schools unquestionably represented republicanism, Protestantism, and capitalism, they also offered the promise that the educational frontier was as open and full of promise as the vast land itself.

The common school movement put forth a set of ideas and trends that we see still in motion today. Supporters believed schools should be free, open to all, and help foster morality and ethics but without sectarian entanglements. In addition, teachers should be adequately prepared to face their classrooms and temperamentally suited to interact with students from all walks of life.

Women were also included in the implementation of the common school, and they played a large role in the evolution of education. Girls attended school alongside boys and enjoyed the same curriculum. This was due, in part, because Mann and other supporters viewed common schools as an extension of the family, where all children were socialized by their mothers. Because of its “nurturing role,” then, women grew to become increasingly important as teachers in the new system, though primarily at the younger grades. Men still controlled the supervisory and administrative roles, ensuring that women’s influence wouldn’t become too pronounced.

But while the standardization of the common school system was the intended goal, its implementation was far from perfect in 19th-century America, and it certainly wasn’t embraced by the class and caste system of the Deep South. Still, it offered the country’s students a new way forward, helping prepare them for life in an increasingly industrialized and urbanized society.


Next week: The American Educational System, Leadership in Transition


To read part 1: Introduction, click here.

To read part 2: Purpose of education, click here.

To read part 3: Prehistory to pre-industrial, click here.

To read part 4: Mesopotamia and the Sumerians, click here.

To read part 5: Ancient Egypt, click here.

To read part 6: Ancient Greece and Rome, click here.

To read part 7: The Greek philosophers, click here.

To read part 8: China, click here.

To read part 9: The Olmecs and the Maya, click here.

To read part 10: The Islamic World: Basics, click here.

To read part 11: The Islamic World: The Golden Age, click here.

To read part 12: The Renaissance, click here.

To read part 13: American Educational System Overview, click here.

To read part 14: European Influences, Jon Amos Comenius, click here.

To read part 15, European Influences,  Froebel, click here.

To read part 16, European Influences, Herbart, click here.

To read part 17, European Influences, Herbert Spencer, click here.

To read part 18, Colonial Period, Puritans, click here.

To read part 19, Colonial Period, New England Books, click here.

To read part 20, Colonial Period, Massachusetts Education Laws, click here.

To read part 21, Colonial Period, Harvard College, click here.

To read part 22, Early National Period, Benjamin Franklin, click here.

To read part 23, Early National Period, Benjamin Rush, click here.

To read part 24, Early National Period, Thomas Jefferson, click here.

To read part 25, Early National Period, Noah Webster, click here.

To read part 26, Early National Period, Educational Ordinances, click here.

To read part 27, Early National Period, Dartmouth College/Yale Report, click here.

To read part 28, Common School Period, Horace Mann, click here.

To read part 29, Common School Period, Mary Lyon and Mount Holyoke College, click here.

To read part 30, Common School Period, McGuffey Readers, click here.

To read part 31, Common School Period, Catholic vs. Protestant Education, click here.

To read part 32, Common School Period, Compulsory Education, click here.

To read part 33, Common School Period, African American Education, click here.

To read part 34, Common School Period, National Education Association, click here.

To read part 35, Common School Period, Morrill Land Grant Acts, click here.



[1] Urban, Wayne J., Wagoner Jr., Jennings L., and Gaither, Milton. American Education: A History, 6th edition. Routledge: New York, 2019, pp. 100, 102-103.


Author: AceReader Blogger

The AceReader blogging team is made up of specialists in a number of different areas: literacy, general education, content development, and educational software. For questions about posts, please submit them in the form below. For suggestions about blog topics, please email them to blogger@acereader.com.

6 thoughts on “A History of Education: The American Educational System, Common School Period (Wrap-up)”

  1. It is a must-read for anyone intrigued by the history of American education. Its captivating storytelling, meticulous research, and insightful analysis provide a deeper appreciation for the journey that has shaped the educational landscape we know today. If you seek a glimpse into the past and a greater understanding of the foundations of education in America, this blog is an invaluable resource.

Leave a Reply