This is the story of a book award – one designed to encourage young readers to be activists and to engage their rights. While the first award was given in 2007, the real story begins many years ago. Imagine a cold snowy day in Massachusetts as you saddle up your horse and prepare to ride to yet another one room schoolhouse. The year is 1837 and the rider is Horace Mann, who is credited as the father of American public education. Appointed Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, Horace Mann immediately began to visit many schools to learn what an American education really looked like across our young nation. What he found would not surprise you: schools were uneven, they lacked funding, the teachers were underpaid, and many children did not attend school at all.
Horace Mann believed that excellent “common,” what we now call public schools, had to be available to everyone if we as a nation ever hoped to realize the democratic ideals upon which our country was founded. These “common” schools should prepare citizens to be engaged in society, contributing to its well-being through active democratic participation. In other words, public education was a pre-requisite for a just society. Mann was very successful in creating an excellent school system in Massachusetts, which was later used as a model to influence the establishment of a system of education throughout the country (Hays, 2007).
After decades of working towards public education in Massachusetts and across the country, Horace Mann became the president of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio upon its founding in 1850. Mann’s progressive politics were reflected in Antioch’s democratic approach to college education: Antioch was the first college in the country to educate women equal to men with all students studying the same curriculum; The College was the first to hire a full-time female faculty member at pay equal to her male colleagues; and was one of the first in the United States to recruit and educate black students equally with white students.
Mann’s persistence in educating the whole person, and his insistence that students must learn to act on their values and their rights permeates all of Antioch University. Mann challenged the graduating class of 1859, just two months before his death, with a call to arms relevant for all Antioch students that is repeated at every graduation to this day: Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.
The Award and Antioch University
In 2007 the Education Department at Antioch University Los Angeles (AULA) launched the Horace Mann Upstanders Children’s Book Award because the founders knew that there was no better way to maintain and honor the legacy of Horace Mann than to name a book award honoring activist literature after him! Antioch University Los Angeles (AULA) has social justice as a key element in its mission:
The Education Department is a community of teachers and learners who value making a positive and sustainable difference in the world. All that we do is designed to help each other thrive and evolve as we learn to interact with those areas most in need of social justice attention. The pedagogies taught in the department are progressively characterized by close interactions between candidates and faculty, nurture the skills and habits of critical and creative reflection that can best serve lifelong learners, advocates for democracy. Our students seek to live lives of meaning and purpose.
It was crucial that the award should be consistent with this mission. In the Education Department, we believe that it is essential to encourage our students to make active decisions about much that they study, from choosing the text for a course and determining the project that the class will undertake.