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Robert Ingersoll Our Schools

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Our Schools

Robert Green Ingersoll


I BELIEVE that education is the only lever capable of raising
mankind. If we wish to make the future of the Republic glorious we
must educate the children of the present. The greatest blessing
conferred by our Government is the free school. In importance it
rises above everything else that the Government does. In its
influence it is far greater.

The schoolhouse is infinitely more important than the church,
and if all the money wasted in the building of churches could be
devoted to education we should become a civilized people. Of
course, to the extent that churches disseminate thought they are
good, and to the extent that they provoke discussion they are of
value, but the real object should be to become acquainted with
nature -- with the conditions of happiness -- to the end that man
may take advantage of the forces of nature. I believe in the
schools for manual training, and that every child should be taught
not only to think, but to do, and that the hand should be educated
with the brain. The money expended on schools is the best
investment made by the Government.

The schoolhouses in New York are not sufficient. Many of them
are small, dark, unventilated, and unhealthy. They should be the
finest public buildings in the city. It would be far better for the
Episcopalians to build a university than a cathedral. Attached to
all these schoolhouses there should be grounds for the children --
places for air and sun-light. They should be given the best. They
are the hope of the Republic and, in my judgment, of the world.

We need far more schoolhouses than we have, and while money is
being wasted in a thousand directions, thousands of children are
left to be educated in the gutter. It is far cheaper to build
schoolhouses than prisons, and it is much better to have scholars
than convicts.

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The Kindergarten system should be adopted, especially for the
young; attending school is then a pleasure -- the children do not
run away from school, but to school. We should educate the children
not simply in mind, but educate their eyes and hands, and they
should be taught something that will be of use, that will help them
to make a living, that will give them independence, confidence --
that is to say, character.

The cost of the schools is very little, and the cost of land
-- giving the children, as I said before, air and light -- would
amount to nothing.

There is another thing: Teachers are poorly paid. Only the
best should be employed, and they should be well paid. Men and
women of the highest character should have charge of the children,
because there is a vast deal of education in association, and it is
of the utmost importance that the children should associate with
real gentlemen -- that is to say, with real men; with real ladies
-- that is to say, with real women.

Every schoolhouse should be inviting, clean, well ventilated,
attractive. The surroundings should be delightful. Children forced
to school, learn but little. The schoolhouse should not be a prison
or the teachers turnkeys.

I believe that the common school is the bread of life, and all
should be commanded to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
It would have been far better to have expelled those who refused to

The greatest danger to the Republic is ignorance. Intelligence
is the foundation of free government. --

The World, New York, September 7, 1890.


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