“The most ignorant are the most conceited. Unless a man knows that there is something more to be known, his inference is, of course, that he knows everything.
“Such a man always usurps the throne of universal knowledge, and assumes the right of deciding all possible questions. We all know that a conceited dunce will decide questions extemporaneous which would puzzle a college of philosophers, or a bench of judges. Ignorant and shallow-minded men do not see far enough to see the difficulty….
“And for all purposes of individual character, as well as of social usefulness, it is quite as important for a man to know the extent of his own ignorance as it is to know anything else.
“To know how much there is that we do not know, is one of the most valuable parts of our attainments; for such knowledge becomes both a lesson of humility and a stimulus to exertion.”
While that reads like commentary on a leading candidate in the current presidential election, those words were written in 1855 by the founding father of American public schools.
In Massachusetts, Horace Mann (1797–1859) pioneered the concept of free and rigorous public education provided by professional, college-educated teachers to children of both sexes and all colors, without corporal punishment or sectarian religious instruction.
During his lifetime, most northern states adopted his system, and after the Civil War, every state did so — though many continue to allow corporal punishment and defend vestiges of sectarian indoctrination.
As a US Congressman from 1848–53, Mann staunchly opposed the expansion of slavery.
“Education is our only political safety. Outside of this ark all is deluge.”
“Forts, arsenals, garrisons, armies, navies, are means of security and defense, which were invented in half-civilized times and in feudal or despotic countries; but schoolhouses are the republican line of fortifications, and if they are dismantled and dilapidated, ignorance and vice will pour in their legions through every breach.”
“A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering cold iron.”
“Resolve to edge in a little reading every day, if it is but a single sentence. If you gain fifteen minutes a day, it will make itself felt at the end of the year.”
“Books are the windows through which the soul looks out. A house without books is like a room without windows. No man has a right to bring up his children without surrounding them with books, if he has the means to buy them. It is a wrong to his family. He cheats them! Children learn to read by being in the presence of books. The love of knowledge comes with reading and grows upon it.”
“Every addition to true knowledge is an addition to human power.”
“…there are no tools more… potent than those… of the printer…. Knowledge can be acquired, diffused, perpetuated. An invisible, inaudible, intangible thought in the silent chambers of the mind, breaks away from its confinement, becomes embodied in a sign, is multiplied by myriads, traverses the earth, and goes resounding down to the latest posterity.”
“Jails and prisons are the complement of schools; so many less as you have of the latter, so many more must you have of the former.”
“Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, — the balance-wheel of the social machinery. I do not here mean that it so elevates the moral nature as to make men disdain and abhor the oppression of their fellow-men…. But I mean that it gives each man the independence and the means by which he can resist the selfishness of other men. It does better than to disarm the poor of their hostility towards the rich: it prevents being poor.”
“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”