Friday, March 25, 2005

Well, at least some Californians are able to ignore problems with dropout rates and other ills afflicting schools. They have much more hellacious problems to deal with - such as the thought that some students and parents don't like going to a school named after Thomas Jefferson.
Parents, students and teachers at Berkeley's Thomas Jefferson Elementary School will soon vote on whether to rename their school because the nation's third president was a slave owner.

The question of whether to rename the school has been debated for more than two years -- since several teachers, including an African American mother of three former Jefferson students, said Jefferson's moniker offended them and suggested a name change.

On Monday, Principal Betty Delaney released a list of potential new names -- one nominated by a student, the rest by adults. Parents, students and teachers must first vote on a new name, then take a second vote on whether to replace Jefferson with the new name.

The school board must officially approve any name change.

Contenders for the new name included Ralph Bunche, the African American diplomat at the United Nations who was the first person of color to win the Nobel Peace Prize; farmworker organizer Cesar Chavez; and Florence McDonald, the late Berkeley city councilwoman, leftist political leader and mother of singer Country Joe McDonald.

Other names suggested were Sojourner Truth, a woman who fled slavery in New York in 1828 and became one of the best-known abolitionist orators; Ohlone -- for the indigenous people who lived in Berkeley before European settlers arrived; Peace; Rose; and Sequoia.

Just great. Instead of using the name of the school to have a teachable moment with students studying Jefferson, warts and all, the public and school seem to be engaging in a grandstanding moment that helps no one. There is so much of our history that students can learn from just in lessons on Jefferson that they should be glad to have an opportunity to engage their students on a study of natural rights, the history of partisan politics in America, the role of the federal government, our country's economic system, our nation's expansion, early foreign policy, and yes, slavery.

I'm not recommending a whitewash of Jefferson. In fact, I find him our most overrated Founding Father. Teachers shouldn't ignore his hypocrisy and weaknesses. If students are offended, let them discuss and learn about Jefferson. What could be more rewarding for their history curriculum? I don't mean to diminish those other nominees, though I would question the worth of naming a school after a leftist city councilwoman. The name doesn't matter. What they're teaching the students does matter. And they seem to be teaching the students that they have a right never to be offended in the slightest way. (Link via John Jay Ray)

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