An Education-Based Alternative to Reparations for Slavery


In a first season episode of the hit TV series “The West Wing,” there was an exchange between a black nominee for appointment to the post of assistant attorney general (played by Carl Lumbly) and a top staff aide to the president. The appointee explained to the aide why he favors this controversial view, noting his agreement with those who claim the government owes black people a trillion dollars in slavery reparations.

Very few Americans, I’m guessing, would oppose reparations in the form of Federal payments to emancipated slaves, though of course the government does not have a trillion dollars on hand for such a payout. In my view, these victimized people are owed all that a decent government can afford to make their lives better, for no other reason than for its failure to prevent slavery for so long. The American Civil War should have commenced long before the guns went off at Ft. Sumter. The North should have fired first and used its might to reconstruct the hideous face of the South decades before it did so.

The problem is that all slaves are dead Their children and grandchildren and many succeeding generations are dead. The injustices to these citizens ill-served by their country cannot be compensated. While most of their distant descendants have indeed been at a crippling disadvantage since the slave era in the South, the complexities of sorting out who should be in line for compensation and for how much are mind-boggling. Where would funds would come from and how could we prevent a worsening of racial conflicts, given deep-seated opposition to reparations a century and a half after the Emancipation and 50 years since the Civil Rights Act?

Reparations are not a viable proposition.

An Alternative Plan

Instead of payments for some that would divide many, how about a benefit for everybody needing a boost based on past injustices that could, if organized and promoted wisely, have the support of all racial groups while lifting the quality of life for those who need help?

Instead of money, how about a massive reconstruction plan to educate the underclass? Let the big data scholars figure out criteria for eligibility for the free, private REAL wellness schools of the highest quality for eligible children from pre-school through high school levels. Transform public schools for eligible youth to attend. Their options would be public schools not organized along REAL wellness lines and charter schools of all kinds. No charter or parochial or other religious-affiliated school would receive public subsidies; parents are free to send their children to dogma-based institutions, but no taxpayers should ever be required to fund such atrocities against REAL wellness principles of rationality and strict separation of religion and government.

A Focus on REAL Wellness Education

Ingersoll offered seven qualities of “Improved Man” in an 1892 speech by that title. The second dealt with education. He said this as part of the speech:

The Improved Man will be in favor of universal education. He will believe it the duty of every person to shed all the light he can, to the end that no child may be reared in darkness. By education he will mean the gaining of useful knowledge, the development of the mind along the natural paths that lead to human happiness.

He will not waste his time in ascertaining the foolish theories of extinct peoples or in studying the dead languages for the sake of understanding the theologies of ignorance and fear, but he will turn his attention to the affairs of life, and will do his utmost to see to it that every child has an opportunity to learn the demonstrated facts of science, the true history of the world, the great principles of right and wrong applicable to human conduct—the things necessary to the preservation of the individual and of the state, and such arts and industries as are essential to the preservation of all.

He will also endeavor to develop the mind in the direction of the beautiful—of the highest art—so that the palace in which the mind dwells may be enriched and rendered beautiful, to the end that these stones, called facts, may be changed into statues.

That’s what a REAL wellness curriculum would advance at all levels, throughout the formative years. REAL wellness education would emphasize all manner of Ingersollian ideals that would be more beneficial than money, which would be wasted, squandered and otherwise misdirected in so many instances if that were the coin of reparations. 

Ingersoll believed education is the pathway to happiness, one of the great objectives of life. Such education would do the things noted about in the “Improved Man” lecture. It would guide students into alignment with nature, with the conditions of well-being and with values for the wellbeing of others.

Children and young adults would learn how to discern the facts in nature and their connections with others around the world. Consider Ingersoll’s ideas for the education human being:

The educated man knows something that he can use, not only for the benefit of himself, but for the benefit of others. Every skilled mechanic, every good farmer, every man who knows some of the real facts in nature that touch him, is to that extent an educated man. The skilled mechanic and the intelligent farmer may not be what we call "scholars," and what we call scholars may not be educated men.

Man is in constant need. He must protect himself from cold and heat, from sun and storm. He needs food and raiment for the body, and he needs what we call art for the development and gratification of his brain. Beginning with what are called the necessaries of life, he rises to what are known as the luxuries, and the luxuries become necessaries, and above luxuries he rises to the highest wants of the soul.

The man who is fitted to take care of himself, in the conditions he may be placed, is, in a very important sense, an educated man. The savage who understands the habits of animals, who is a good hunter and fisher, is a man of education, taking into consideration his circumstances. The graduate of a university who cannot take care of himself—no matter how much he may have studied—is not an educated man.

In our time, an educated man, whether a mechanic, a farmer, or one who follows a profession, should know something about what the world has discovered. He should have an idea of the outlines of the sciences. He should have read a little, at least, of the best that has been written. He should know something of mechanics, a little about politics, commerce, and metaphysics; and in addition to all this, he should know how to make something. His hands should be educated, so that he can, if necessary, supply his own wants by supplying the wants of others.

There are mental misers—men who gather learning all their lives and keep it to themselves. They are worse than hoarders of gold, because when they die their learning dies with them, while the metal miser is compelled to leave his gold for others.

The first duty of man is to support himself—to see to it that he does not become a burden. His next duty is to help others if he has a surplus, and if he really believes they deserve to be helped.

It is not necessary to have what is called a university education in order to be useful or to be happy, any more than it is necessary to be rich, to be happy. Great wealth is a great burden, and to have more than you can use, is to care for more than you want. The happiest are those who are prosperous, and who by reasonable endeavor can supply their reasonable wants and have a little surplus year by year for the winter of their lives.

So, it is no use to learn thousands and thousands of useless facts, or to fill the brain with unspoken tongues. This is burdening yourself with more than you can use. The best way is to learn the useful.

We all know that men in moderate circumstances can have just as comfortable houses as the richest, just as comfortable clothing, just as good food. They can see just as fine paintings, just as marvelous statues, and they can hear just as good music. They can attend the same theaters and the same operas. They can enjoy the same sunshine, and above all, can love and be loved just as well as kings and millionaires.

So the conclusion of the whole matter is, that he is educated who knows how to take care of himself; and that the happy man is the successful man, and that it is only a burden to have more than you want, or to learn those things that you cannot use.

These words were printed in “The High School Register,” Omaha, Nebraska in January, 1891. They would serve us well today as objectives for educating our children, particularly those who need their governments support for past injustices in the provision of a decent education.

These are reparations everyone can get behind.