Reconciliation #3 – Reparations for Slavery

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Area: History and Social Studies, Language Arts and Literature
Grade Level: High School & Beyond, Middle School
Topics: Apologies, culpability, ethics, Moral Renewal, regrets, remorse, Reparations, slavery
Estimated Time Necessary: Two Hours (can be done across multiple sessions)

Lesson Plan

Considering the interplay between apologies for slavery and reparations for descendants of enslaved people.
The aim of this session is to consider the interplay between apologies for slavery and reparations for descendants of enslaved people. Students will consider the cases for and against reparations for slavery and what constitutes a meaningful or genuine apology.

Before beginning this lesson plan, we recommend reading “Things to Think About Before Introducing Social Justice Topics.”

This lesson plan can be read in conjunction with “Chapter 4. Reconciliation” (pp. 69-82) in the freely available teaching resource Coping: A Philosophical Guide (Open Book Publishers, 2021) with discussion questions (pp. 124–5) and additional teaching materials (p. 119–20). The topic of reparations for slavery connects well with the issue of whether a genuine apology requires that there is a willingness to repair the harm and hurt caused.

In 2008, the US House of Representatives offered a formal apology for slavery and Jim Crow. Some people contend that an apology is only meaningful if there is genuine sympathy for the harm or hurt that was caused, and we show this sympathy by a willingness to repair the harm or hurt that was caused. This brings us to the debate on reparations for slavery. Rashawn Ray and Andre M. Perry “Why we Need Reparations for Black Americans” (Brookings 2020) is an article in favor of reparations and Jeff Jacoby “Reparations for Slavery are Unworkable—and Unjust” (Townhall.com2019) is an article against reparations.

Divide the students in two groups and let each group read one of the articles. Ask students to lay out the arguments for and the arguments against reparations. What are the weaker arguments? What are the stronger arguments? Where do they stand on the issue and how do they respond to counter arguments? 


Discussion Questions

  • Is it meaningful at all for Congress to apologize for slavery today? Why or why not?
  • Could Congress meaningfully apologize for slavery and yet not pass any bills that offer reparation payments?
  • If there are to be reparation payments, what format should they take?


This lesson plan was created for PLATO by: Luc Bovens, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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