Free public education became a vital element of American prosperity. However, it was not a very popular and well-received idea when first proposed, despite the early unpopularity of tax-supported primary education, it eventually became the cornerstone of the American ideal. In the early part of American History, tax-supported primary schools were not a popular notion. (Kennedy, Cohen, & Bailey, 2004) People associated them with poverty, as they were associated in Europe.
In European culture, only the “unwashed masses” sent their children to tax-funded schools, and such places were under funded, poorly staffed and supplied, and substandard in almost every way. (Kennedy, Cohen, & Bailey, 2004) Despite these deficiencies, the schools proved to be ruinously expensive as well. Eventually, the conservative class of the United States began to realize that an uneducated mass of “rabble” might be more dangerous than the savings were worth, and the public education mania swept the nation after about 1820. (Berger and Darelick, 1977)
Americans came around to the opinion that they were better off with an educated working class than not. (except in the slave-holding south). (Kennedy, Cohen, & Bailey, 2004) As the population shifted to more urban areas, the call for education increased. When universal manhood suffrage was attained, it seemed more important that those participating in the vote have some knowledge of the world, and be able to read newspapers to form informed opinions in politics. (Kennedy, Cohen, & Bailey, 2004) The words of Thomas Jefferson were repeated, that no Nation could be both ignorant and free.
(Kennedy, Cohen, & Bailey, 2004) Horace Mann, an early advocate of public education, also touted the virtues of a shared experience for all social classes that would serve to unite them with a mutual background and experience. (Greer, 1972) Kennedy, D, Cohen, L. & Bailey, T. (2004) The American Pageant (13th Edition), Houghton-Mifflin Co. Boston, MA. Greer, C. (1972) The Great School Legend: A Revisionist Interpretation of American Public Education, Basic Books, Inc. New York. Berger, M & Darileck, R. (1977) The Public Education System, F. Watts Publishing, New York.