Common School Movement
Charles L. Glenn
During the decades before the Civil War, there was a period of intense volunteer efforts to reform society through reforming individuals. Perhaps the most widespread effort was what, in retrospect, has been called the common school movement. This was not so much an effort to create schools in the growing cities and the expanding frontier as it was a set of ideas about the role of schooling which were vigorously propagated through lectures and the press, using the new means of communication that were developing so rapidly. It picked up themes articulated earlier by utopian reformers like Robert Owen, translated them into the American idiom, and established a tradition of unrealistic expectations of what schooling can accomplish independent of other social developments. These ideas in turn led to ambitious legislation (though seldom effective implementation) in most states of the North and West. The American Republic had been established but, as ...