Why Education?

Eugene Lang gave away more than $100 million to stimulate education, during his lifetime.

He was the first to promise a whole high school class, from a poor area of New York, that he would help pay for their college expenses, if they could just get in.  He didn’t want them to worry about all the work they might do, and not be able to go for lack of money.

I met Gene at a charity event, and asked if he gave money to other causes than education.  No he said.  “Nothing else matters!”  I said that I supported a group that stops people around the world from killing each other, which seems important.

“No,” he said.  “If you don’t educate their children, they will just grow up and kill each other."

He died in 2017.  On the right below is an article that appeared in The Washington Post.  I have shortened it, but there is a link below to the whole article.  

Mr. Lang poses with graduates of his old school, in 1985. (Chester Higgins Jr./New York Times)

Mr. Lang poses with graduates of his old school, in 1985. (Chester Higgins Jr./New York Times)

By Emily Langer April 11 

When he rose to speak in 1981 to the graduating sixth-graders at his old Harlem elementary school, Eugene M. Lang had planned, he said, on “mouthing the usual commencement banalities.”

And then — with no forethought, he said — he made a vow that would change their lives and his. “I didn’t stop to do any arithmetic,” he told the Associated Press. “I just said, ‘You can go. I promise that each one of you can go to college.’ ”

The immediate response, he said, was “the most delightful mob scene a human being can have.”

Mr. Lang described his work with the students at P.S. 121 as the most fulfilling endeavor of his life. “The commitment I made was like getting on a tiger,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1987, “but I don’t want to get off.”

He grew up with no money for college.  Later, he gave $50 million to the college which had been generous to him.  The whole story is really worth reading.  Here is the link.


Paul Jones, the famous investor, was inspired by Gene Lang’s example.  Soon Jones' Robin Hood Foundation, which ‘takes from the rich and gives to the poor’ like Robin Hood, began making the same promise to whole classes of high school students in poor areas of New York.  If they could just get into a college, he would give them the money to go.

He and Forbes Magazine did a comprehensive study on what America would gain by investing in various sectors of the economy.  Here is the link.

These are their estimates.  We should invest $6 trillion in education over the next 20 years.  The expected payoff: $225 trillion.  That's almost 40 times the investment!

No other sectors came close to providing that return.

Bill Gates, Ray Dalio, Paul Tudor Jones

Bill Gates, Ray Dalio, Paul Tudor Jones


In another Forbes article, more details showed how valuable education is, compared to sectors like healthcare and infrastructure etc.  

The numbers are truly persuasive, on the question of Why Education? Because educating people will repay us much more than anything else we can do!