Schools Named After Washington And Jefferson Head Toward Renaming
California’s Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) will rename its Thomas Jefferson and George Washington Elementary schools because the two former presidents owned slaves. This renaming effort is only the tip of the iceberg in the California public school system’s quest to integrate critical race theory into every aspect of its curriculum.
BUSD’s school board unanimously approved a “Resolution in Support of Black Lives Matter” on June 10. The resolution connects the Black Lives Matter Movement with the civil rights and Black Power movements that “articulated the injustices that exist at the intersection of race, class, and gender.” According to the BUSD press release, the resolution intends to proactively identify class and cultural biases and address symbols of institutional racism and white supremacy.
The district will also launch a “Black Joy Campaign,” which will provide resources and training for teachers and school administrators to help them identify racial inequity in their schools.
Board member Ka’Dijah Brown and Superintendent Brent Stephens wrote the resolution to rename the schools. Ka’Dijah stated said renaming the schools is only a small step in the district’s work to address systemic racism, reports Berkelyside.
Some in Berkeley tried to rename Jefferson Elementary School 15 years ago, but were unsuccessful. It is not clear what the schools will be renamed. BUSD already has schools named after Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Sylvia Mendez. According to BUSD board policy, community involvement is welcome in submitting new names, but the decision is ultimately up to the school board.
According to EdSource, renaming talks are going on in districts all over California. EdSource reports that California has 57 schools named after George Washington, 43 after Thomas Jefferson, and 29 after Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president, the leader of the Progressive movement, and a proponent of segregation.
California State Superintendent Tony Thurmond argued that schools named after those who perpetuated racism exacerbate feelings of hate. He applauded schools that were renamed prior to the most recent events. Thurmond said schools have a responsibility to address race and class. “We are going to build a training module to allow school districts to engage in training on implicit bias,” he said.
BUSD’s decision to rename Washington and Jefferson elementary schools comes in the wake of nationwide protests in response to the death of George Floyd after an altercation with a Minneapolis police officer. BUSD cited these events as a catalyst for its actions. Activists all around the nation are demanding the removal of monuments as well as the renaming of institutions, product brands, theme park rides, and military bases.
These demands are not limited to figures from the Confederacy. Early European explorers such as Christopher Columbus, Junipero Serra, and John Sutter are also being targeted for alleged mistreatment of Native Americans. Even those who fought against slavery are being targeted, such as Abraham Lincoln and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who won the Civil War on behalf of the North then fought against the Ku Klux Klan.
Ire towards America’s Founding Fathers who owned slaves is also trending. In Portland, an American flag was set on fire atop a statue of George Washington. The statue was then pulled down. Written on it in graffiti were the words, “F-ck Cops” and “1619.” You can see footage on Twitter. “1619” refers to The New York Times’s 1619 Project, which teaches the United States is inherently racist. Its lesson plans are being used in more than 1,000 U.S. public schools so far.
Bridget Ford, chair of the history department at Cal State East Bay, told EdSource, “I don’t think that by renaming a school we’re erasing history. It’s not an erasure. There are many, many individuals in history who’ve done astounding things to improve American lives who’ve never been recognized.”
Dr. Wilfred McClay, an history professor at the University of Oklahoma and author of “Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story,” argues on the contrary that both Washington and Jefferson should be viewed in their historical context. “Like every one of us, these two men were born into a world they did not make, and did not have the power to make over,” he wrote in an email.
McClay points out that Washington freed his slaves upon his death and Jefferson fought against the institution throughout his life, although his decision not to free his own slaves was a moral failing. Of the two men’s contributions to the world, McClay wrote,
Without Washington, we would never have earned our independence, or held together as a fledgling nation. Without Jefferson, we would not have had the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence…
Without the United States, the world might never have had the ideals of liberty and self-rule that it now takes for granted. We were the world’s vanguard in that regard, and Washington and Jefferson led the vanguard.
“Jefferson in particular saw universal education as a vital part in the formation of citizens in a democratic society, and it is therefore entirely appropriate to have his name adorning a school,” McClay said in his email.
BUSD’s decision to posthumously shame two of our greatest founding fathers is evidence that they have fallen for the 1619 Project’s narrative that America’s true founding is not 1776, the year the 13 colonies declared independence from Great Britain, but 1619, the year slaves were first brought to Jamestown. By claiming our founding was rooted in racism, the project paves the intellectual groundwork for the argument that America is inherently racist and thus needs to be re-founded. Perhaps that is why a call for a new French Revolution has been trending on Twitter this week.
What exactly this re-founding entails will be made evident when Berkeley’s “woke” schoolboard decides what to rename their elementary schools and when the mobs tearing down statues decide what to replace them with.
Krystina Skurk is a research assistant at Hillsdale College in D.C. She received a Master’s degree in politics from the Van Andel School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College. She is a former fellow of the John Jay Institute, a graduate of Regent University, and a former teacher at Archway Cicero, a Great Hearts charter school.