As Peoria Public Schools debates whether to change some school names, we can be sure of one thing:
It sure brings out the racists.
Gregory Wilson, the vice president of the school board, has suggested removing the school names of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, William Henry Harrison, Calvin Coolidge and Charles Lindbergh. Their legacies on human rights and equality that don’t hold up to 21st century standards, according to some observers.
Days after pitching the proposal, Wilson said, "I have received a lot of negative and positive feedback. The negative feedback has been disappointing. I have been called names and the racial undertones of the feedback are very apparent."
No doubt. Witness this gem posted on the Journal Star’s Facebook page: "Maybe put more effort into getting these thug kids to focus on education instead of being gang-bangin’, gun-toting, disobedient, disrespectful losers that will call prison home several times."
Sounds like you really care about the kids, pal.
But maybe even worse are milder comments that you might call lite racism:
• "Liberal crap. Get a life, people. Enough is enough."
• "All this stuff is getting out of hand."
• "Sick to death of this!"
Sick of what? Feeling uncomfortable? Discussing ideas?
There’s a new backlash arises that seems to scream, "Change is radical. Change is bad. Change is unpatriotic."
Mind you, we’re talking about a country founded on the radical idea of breaking away from the biggest superpower of its time. Without change, there would be no revolution, no independence, no America.
But these days? A school board leader floats an idea to get a conversation going, and blowback comes hot and heavy. A typical beef: "Don’t they have better things to do with their time?"
You mean, don’t parents and leader have better things to do than discuss how to best run the schools, educate children and improve the community? I hope not.
Look, overall, I doubt the name of a school inspires many students. As a boy outside Chicago, I attended two elementary schools. One was named after a local educator; the other was named after Albert Einstein. I gave neither a thought. Why? Because I was a kid. I was more interested in recess, lunch and the final bell. I didn’t give a fig about the name on the school. None of us did. (Well, at least, none of us boys cared; who knows what weirdness lurked in the hearts of girls.)
That said, until Wilson made his suggestion, I’d never thought about whether a school could uninspire a kid. As he put it, "We have Black children entering those schools that those men would not have allowed inside." Does that matter to Black boys and girls? I’d have no idea, as I’m not Black. But, in the light of Wilson’s comments, those names might not exactly offer a warm welcome.
Some people suggest keeping the names and teaching their history, warts and all. Still, think about this dynamic from the mind of a child: "We just learned that this person took advantage of minorities, yet we honor this person by putting his name on the school?" That sort of setup seems unsettling.
Can’t the names of schools change every century or so? Or must we pick only from the same centuries-old founders, presidents and celebrities?
Instead, in an effort to reflect more modern history, can’t a school be named after, say, C.T. Vivian (the renown civil rights activist) or Vivian and Annie Malone (perhaps the country’s first black female millionaire)? Both lived in Peoria. Both offer great history lessons. Both could have their names on schools here.
Or, do we never change anything?
Meantime, let’s not let the conversation get unwieldy. Not every discussion must slide toward a slippery slope, per the quibble of many name-change haters. If "Washington" is taken off a Peoria school, does that mean there must be a new name for Washington, Ill.? Or even Washington, D.C.?
No. It does not. The name of a school can be changed in Peoria without demanding or expecting a simultaneous solution to every possible conundrum out there. When it comes to society’s evolving sense of conscience and propriety, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
Rather, can’t we focus on staying local with our discussions and decisions? There is no government more local than a school board. Let each district hash it out. Or, if a district has multiple schools, maybe let the neighborhoods around each school make a choice.
Many name-change naysayers howl about the possible cost. But a school’s name change would run about $10,000 — a relatively tiny expenditure for a district with a budget well over $200 million.
Bottom line: the cost makes sense if the name change makes sense.
Understand, change happens, often for the better. Ask an elderly man whose seat on a bus used to be determined by the color of his skin.
If America can move that kind of mountain — at least a little bit — then Peoria can at least discuss changing the names of some schools.
Or can’t you deal with the notion of letting your white kid attend a school named after a Black person?
Phil Luciano is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.
via Journal Star
September 1, 2020 at 06:39AM