Long before Horace Mann or John Dewey there was Martin Luther.  Yes, that Martin Luther.
“Knowledge of all kinds is so abundant, what with so many books, and so much reading,” Luther wrote. “One can learn more in three years than used to be possible in twenty.”

Christianity could only be saved if there were more schools, he said. “I would like to know where we are going to get pastors, schoolteachers and sacristans three years from now if we do nothing about this.”

Schools had to be public, he said, supported by the German princes who ruled the fractured Holy Roman Empire. He wanted education available to everyone. The next generation needed lessons in literature, history and science if they were to fulfill their destiny. He wanted to include girls. By the late 16th century, rural German schools were gender balanced, [historian Andrew] Pettegree reported, while Venetian students were nearly all male.

Luther’s passion for better schooling feels like the impatience of today’s educational reformers. Many of his readers might have thought, as many do today, that Luther was pushing reform too hard. Many German parents preferred their children stay home to help make ends meet.
Yes, you have to have the right material and institutional conditions before "if you think education is expensive, try ignorance" makes sense as a slogan.

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