1820s to 1880s: The Common School Era
Precursor to today's public school
As waves of poor, non-English speaking, Catholic & Jewish immigrants poured into the United States during the 19th & early 20th centuries; the movement to assimilate and Americanize these foreigners took on new urgency. Citizens were afraid these new immigrants would bring religious intolerance, crime, violence, and class hatred to America. As social & political leaders searched for ways to "reach down into the lower portions of the populations & teach children to share the values, ideals and controls held by the rest of society", Horace Mann proposed a solution.
Horace Mann, an educational reformer, recommended that communities establish common schools funded by tax dollars. He believed when children from different social, religious and economic backgrounds were educated together, they learned to accept and respect each other. These common schools socialized children, improved interpersonal relationships, improved social conditions, and taught common values that included self-discipline & tolerance for others.
More importantly, these schools instilled a common political and social philosophy of sound republican principals. Mann and others hoped such democratic consensus would ward off much-feared political instability and upheaval.
For public school to succeed in this mission, all children had to attend. Public school authorities lobbied their legislatures for compulsory school attendance laws (which gave school officials the power to prosecute parents legally if they failed to send their children to school). BEHOLD.... free elementary school for all was born!