Roughly one-third of Bay Area schools may change their names. The San Francisco School Names Advisory Committee has recommended that 44 schools drop their namesakes on account of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or whatever recent historical opinion must be demonized on account of political correctness. The blacklist includes a number of familiar names — George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, for instance — but it also includes a few surprises.
The cancel culture mob has come for a sitting senator and former mayor of San Francisco, Dianne Feinstein. What was Feinstein’s heinous crime? In 1986, the mayor dared to replace a Confederate flag after it had been vandalized. She wasn’t endorsing the Confederate flag — it was merely one of several historical flags flying in front of City Hall at the time.
The cancel culture push seems particularly odd coming in the midst of a global pandemic when schools are operating remotely. Parents told the San Francisco Chronicle that this is an insulting distraction.
“Principals are devoting resources to this,” Jonathan Alloy, a parent whose children attend Commodore Sloat, one of the schools on the list, told the Chronicle. “We’re being presented with it as a fait accompli.” The school board will have to vote on the changes, likely in January or early February. In the meantime, each school is expected to come up with an alternative name by December 18.
Alloy argued that the timing is absurd, especially because remote learning reportedly has a greater negative impact on minority children. “We’re not actually helping disadvantaged children by changing the name of the school they can’t attend,” he said.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the committee targeted: “Anyone directly involved in the colonization of people; Slave owners or participants in enslavement; Perpetrators of genocide or slavery; Those who exploit workers/people; Those who directly oppressed or abused women, children, queer or transgender people; Those connected to any human rights or environmental abuses; and those who are known racists and/or white supremacists and/or espoused racist beliefs.”
The list of schools to be renamed includes Abraham Lincoln High School, George Washington High School, Roosevelt Middle School (for either Theodore Roosevelt or Franklin Delano Roosevelt), Paul Revere K-8, Alamo Elementary, El Dorado Elementary, Dianne Feinstein Elementary, Jefferson Elementary (after Thomas Jefferson), Francis Scott Key Elementary (after the author of the National Anthem), Junipero Serra Elementary, Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary, Daniel Webster Elementary, and many more.
It remains unclear what the committee considered offensive about the Battle of the Alamo or the name of the Lost City of Gold.
As for the other names on the list, history is complicated. President Abraham Lincoln may have secured the Thirteenth Amendment, permanently ending slavery in the U.S., but he did harbor a racist view or two. Thomas Jefferson may have written the document that inspired America to push for human progress and equality, but he did tear up the Bible and he did own and sexually abuse his slaves. Francis Scott Key may have written the National Anthem, but he did condemn slaves who joined the British in order to win their freedom. George Washington may have essentially founded America, but he did own slaves.
Most sane people acknowledge the historic achievements of men like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington while also acknowledging their faults. No human being is perfect, except Jesus Christ. By the standards of cancel culture, however, even Jesus was a racist — he compared a Canaanite woman to a dog (Matthew 15:21-28).
In a similar vein, the San Francisco renaming committee attacked Junipero Serra, a scholar who gave up his academic career to become a missionary in North America. He founded the first nine mission churches in California, many of which formed the cores of what became the state’s biggest cities, such as San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
While many activists today demonize Serra for spreading Roman Catholicism, claiming that his missions destroyed Native American culture, Serra advocated for the rights of native peoples, at one point drafting a 33-point “bill of rights” for the Native Americans living in the mission settlements. He walked all the way from California to Mexico City to present the bill of rights to the viceroy. Many of the natives he converted wept and mourned him upon his death in 1784.
Pope Francis canonized Serra in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015, saying, “Junipero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it.”
Yet the City of San Francisco may erase Serra’s name from a school in the mistaken belief that he represents genocide and oppression.
Occasionally, it may make sense to change the name of a school. Schools, monuments, and parks have been named after notorious racists and segregationists who meant a great deal to their local communities in the past but do not have enduring achievements in the present. A few of the names on this list may fit those criteria.
Yet the cancel culture mob is wrong to demonize America’s imperfect heroes like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln — to say nothing of even more morally upstanding individuals like Junipero Serra.
As for Dianne Feinstein, I would argue that it is foolish to name schools after public figures while they are still alive. Such a public figure may go on to do something egregious — like attacking the faith of a judicial nominee — or the public may sour on such an individual for stupid reasons — like aiming to cancel her for restoring a Confederate flag in a display about history.
Some might claim that changing the names of schools is a matter of little consequence, but the naming of schools is one of the ways American society honors its heroes. America’s founders, regardless of their faults, deserve such honors.
America’s cultural norms are changing so fast, it is hard to find anyone “pure” enough for the woke to celebrate. After all, even the sainted Barack Obama opposed same-sex marriage in 2008.
The targeting of Dianne Feinstein illustrates that there is no limit to the woke cancel culture mob. A group of bloodthirsty Jacobins will always find a head for the guillotine — even if that head belongs to one of their own leaders, such as Maximilien Robespierre.
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Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.