A frenzy of school renaming in store for San Francisco

October 25, 2020 • 9:30 am

Forty-four public schools in San Francisco have been advised that their names are polluted by association with slavery, colonization, oppression, genocide, abuse, or homophobia, and are likely to have their names changed late this year. This, of course, is part of the nationwide frenzy of renaming anything named after someone who offends the Woke. Now perhaps some renaming might be in order, but in this case the names scheduled for erasure include those of Abraham Lincoln, Roosevelt (not sure whether Teddy or FDR), James Monroe, Herbert Hoover, George Washington and even Dianne Feinstein (one of California’s progressive Senators), for crying out loud.  I’ll give some of the rationales for renaming below.

The whole story appears in the San Francisco Chronicle, which you can access by clicking on the screenshot below. If you’re paywalled, judicious inquiries might yield you a copy.

The S.F. school board has been pondering name changes for a while, and the superintendent appointed 12 “community members” to a committee to decide which names had to go (the committee also includes the school board president and district staff members. They started their work in January, and the afflicted schools were just informed that they had to provide a list of alternative school names by December 18. The changes—and I’m betting all will be made—will occur in January or February. The schools will probably be closed then, as they are now due to the pandemic.

The cost? Well, they have to change the signs the stationary, and other stuff, so estimates are that for each school the costs will be in the “tens of thousands of dollars”, so the total cost could run over half a million dollars. But that’s cheap to fix racism and oppression, right?

How the committee members did their research. (All quotes are indented.)

[The committee] was formed in January and has since met 10 times, with members doing their own research, looking at newspaper articles, among other resources to identify whether the name on a school met the criteria for renaming. . . .

Officials from five high school alumni associations criticized the process, saying the committee did not consult professional historians or diverse ethnic communities.

“We need an inclusive process that will allow all communities to be heard, use professional historians applying verifiable data, issue a written report why a school name might be changed, so the community can make a considered decision,” said the alumni association presidents from Balboa, Galileo, Lincoln, Lowell and Washington high schools in a letter to district officials last week.

The criteria for renaming:

The San Francisco School Names Advisory Committee researched school names and identified them for renaming if they met any of the following criteria:

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.
Those who are known racists and/or white supremacists and/or espoused racist beliefs.

Criteria like “involvement in colonization” or “connected to human rights or environmental abuses” or “exploitation of workers/people” are literally begging for application, and indeed, the list of miscreants whose names will be replaced include the following (I’ll give the reasons if they’re in the article). And, of course, there’s no consideration that morality has changed over time, so we’re judging many people on the list below by standards that weren’t in force when they lived.

But one person who wasn’t erased: Thomas Edison was almost cut because he supposedly euthanized Topsy the Elephant to test the power of electrocution. Granted, that was a horrible thing to do, but in fact there’s no clear connection between Edison and the inhumane execution. At least they caught that one.

The list of names scheduled to go:

Balboa High School, Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa
Abraham Lincoln High School, U.S. president

Abraham Lincoln High is also on the list, based on the former president’s treatment of American Indian and native peoples.

Mission High School, Mission Dolores
George Washington High School, first U.S. president
Lowell High School, poet/critic James R. Lowell [see below; he appears to have been an abolitionist]
James Denman Middle School, founder of first S.F. school
Everett Middle School, Edward Everett, American statesman
Herbert Hoover Middle School, U.S. president
James Lick Middle School, land baron
Presidio Middle School S.F. military post

see below

Roosevelt Middle School, Theodore or F.D., both U.S. presidents
Lawton K-8, U.S. Army officer Henry Ware Lawton
Claire Lilienthal (two sites), S.F. school board member
Paul Revere K-8, American Revolution patriot
Alamo Elementary, a poplar tree or the site of Texas Revolution battle
Alvarado Elementary, Pedro de Alvarado, conquistador
Bryant Elementary, author Edwin Bryant
Clarendon Elementary Second Community and Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program, Edward Hyde Earl of Clarendon, English politician
El Dorado Elementary, mythical City of Gold

El Dorado Elementary came up next for discussion, with board members questioning whether the criteria should apply to a mythological place associated with settlers or colonists.

“The concept of El Dorado, especially in California, had a lot to do with the search of gold, and for the indigenous people that meant the death of them,” said Mary Travis Allen during a September panel meeting. “I don’t think the concept of greed and lust for gold is a concept we want our children to be given.”

While some on the panel questioned whether an imaginary place filled with gold met the criteria for renaming. [sic] “That’s how we justified Mission and Presidio, as places of human rights abuses or environmental abuses,” said Jeremiah Jeffries, saying it was similar to naming a school “Manifest Destiny.”

Dianne Feinstein Elementary, U.S. senator and former S.F. mayor

That work includes a recommendation to change the name of Dianne Feinstein Elementary, a name given by the Board of Education in 2006 when the new school opened.

The school made the list because, as mayor in 1986, Feinstein reportedly replaced a vandalized Confederate flag, one of several historic flags flying in front of City Hall at the time.

Garfield Elementary, James Garfield, U.S. president
Grattan Elementary, William Henry Grattan, Irish author
Jefferson Elementary, Thomas Jefferson, U.S. president
Francis Scott Key Elementary, composer of Star Spangled Banner
Frank McCoppin Elementary, S.F. mayor
McKinley Elementary, William McKinley, U.S. president
Marshall Elementary, James Wilson Marshall, sawmill worker at Sutter’s Mill
Monroe Elementary, James Monroe, U.S. president
John Muir Elementary, naturalist
Jose Ortega Elementary, Spanish philosopher
Sanchez Elementary, Jose Bernardo Sanchez, Spanish missionary
Junipero Serra Elementary, Spanish priest
Sheridan Elementary, Gen. Philip Sheridan
Sherman Elementary, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman
Commodore Sloat Elementary, John Sloat, Navy officer
Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary, author
Sutro Elementary, Adolph Sutro, S.F. mayor
Ulloa Elementary, Don Antonio de Ulloa, Spanish general
Daniel Webster Elementary, U.S. statesman
Noriega Early Education School, unclear
Presidio EES, S.F. military post

(see above)

Stockton EES, Robert F. Stockton, Navy commodore

Muir has already been canceled by the Sierra Club for making derogatory remarks about black and indigenous people, Washington and Jefferson had slaves, and Monroe opposed the Missouri Compromise’s stipulation that some states be admitted to the Union without slaves. I’m not sure about Roosevelt (it’s probably Teddy), but we’ve seen the supposed (and misinterpreted) evidence of his colonialism before. As for Robert Luis Stevenson, Daniel Webster, Francis Scott Key, William McKinley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Herbert Hoover, and Paul Revere, I can’t be arsed to find out why they’re demonized.  But James R. Lowell appears to have been an abolitionist!

As for taking down Dianne Feinstein’s name because she restored a vandalized Confederate flag 34 years ago, that’s absurd—an insult. It’s the equivalent for penalizing an 18th century Brit for making one derogatory comment about colonized people. (Remember, the “stars and bars” weren’t nearly as demonized in 1986 as they are now.)

It looks as if no amount of good work can overcome something bad that someone did or said, even if it was trivial. But, according to my criterion of keeping a name if it honors someone’s good works, and those good works outweigh the bad, most of the names above should probably stay.

At any rate, the article does discuss some pushback by citizens, but, as we know, these initiatives are unstoppable. All you have to do is find some intimation on Wikipedia that someone said or did something oppressive at least once, and, poof, their names are off the school. It is a frenzy of wokeness, and of course will do absolutely nothing to improve humanity of the comity of different groups. This is what’s known as “performative wokeness”, and is just so much easier than giving minority students equal opportunity. But that, of course, would involve investing far more than the ten thousand dollars or so to simply change the name of a school.  It’s much easier on our pockets to just rename!

54 thoughts on “A frenzy of school renaming in store for San Francisco

  1. I’d been wondering when Abraham Lincoln would come under censure. . . .

    The ‘Dakota War’ of late 1862 was begun and hotly prosecuted by native Americans in southwest Minnesota who had been oppressed and defrauded by white settlers and bureaucrats. The same old tragic story. . . .Of the justice of the Dakota cause–the result of broken treaties, the stealing from them of money and food–there can be no question.

    What was President Lincoln’s role in the conflict. One, he authorized a new unit of the Union Army called ‘Department of the Northwest'(mainly Minnesota troops and officers), and sent them off to fight not the South but the Dakota. Two, once the fighting ended, he carefully reviewed the results of trials of the ‘leaders’ and the verdicts handed down.

    Of ca. 300 death sentences, Lincoln cancelled all but 38, who were in fact executed by hanging. Now even this clemency for nearly one in ten may to our eyes seem insufficient, and Lincoln may thus be blamed, morally, for not pardoning all 300.

    Yet in context–what the woke never take into account, nay, what they deny the very reality of–the ‘Dakota War’ was but one relatively minor aspect of the immensely larger Civil War that Lincoln was administering. It would be good to remember that he always held the Civil War to be a rebellion of some parties against the Union. Which was just what the Dakotas warriors, like the Southern rebels, had been doing up in Minnesota.

    If Abraham Lincoln is unworthy of having a school bear his name in San Francisco, or anywhere else, then schools should have no names.

  2. I doubt that James Monroe is on the list because of what he thought about the Missouri Compromise of 1820 since he was president at the time and signed the legislation. The more likely reason is that he was a Virginian slaveholder.

    1. And i thought monroe was connected in some way with a plan to move freed blacks to liberia, with thecapital, monrovia, named after him.

  3. Surely the name San Francisco itself must go, representing as it does the displacement of the native peoples of California by the colonising Europeans? I am sure these people will wish to be absolutely consistent in their application of their rules.

  4. Tens of thousands of dollars per school – what a waste of money that would be better spent using it for almost any other purpose. And renaming something called El Dorado? They should have waited until 1 April to release the committee’s findings.

  5. This renaming frenzy reflects a prime characteristic of extremism, whether of the left or the right: the demand for purity. A person must cleave 100% to the group’s belief; if not the person must be shunned and in some instances killed. Several people that began the French and Russian revolutions learned the hard way that as these movements became more extreme they were now deemed counter-revolutionaries and had to be liquidated.

    This is not to say, however, that the names of several of these schools should not be changed. In other words, the bad so outweighs the good that these individuals should no longer be honored. Of course, these decisions are subjective. I will not repeat what has been debated at this site many times before except to say that I consider it completely appropriate to rename schools that honor slaveholders. Several of the other names are borderline and before a decision is made on them, there should be public debate.

  6. The entire episode is a lesson in ignorance or maybe better, cultural stupidity. It is the reason that most people know little about history and what they do know is distorted to such actions as this. Let us now rewrite the history books and remove all of these people from our history because they will corrupt the children. I simply cannot explain how stupid this is. All of the new names should be “school #1 School #2”. That will last until the numbers begin to offend these people. If you can honestly remove the names Washington and Lincoln then you are not mature enough to learn history.

  7. Dianne Feinstein should have her school renamed for a different reason. She congratulated Lindsey Graham on his running of the Amy Coney Barrett hearings:

    This has been one of the best set of hearings that I’ve participated in. It leaves one with a lot of hopes, a lot of questions and even some ideas perhaps of good bipartisan legislation we can put together.

    1. She congratulated him AND gave him a warm hug! WTF? Progressive my arse. It also seemed to be a symbol of loyalty for “people in the special club”. As Senators, Barrett isn’t going to do anything to take away their healthcare, their money or their privilege.

      1. Yes, maybe it was all for ACB’s benefit. Feinstein figured since ACB is going to be confirmed regardless of what the Dems say or do, she might as well end it on a positive note.

  8. Why not go to numbered schools. No controversy there. You’d have to skip school number 13, of course, like elevators.

    1. Agree. A couple of decades ago i was on a local school board that was faced with naming four new schools that we had built. Some board members saw it as an opportunity to make some friends and politicians happy by naming buildings in their honor. Unfortunately, there were dozens more citizens who thought that their moms, dads, aunts, uncles, former teachers, etc were deserving of the honor than there were buildings to name/honors to give. So we ended up with many more angry and disappointed people than happy and proud ones. A compromise was thought to be naming schools for their neighborhood or location which worked until the recent woke movement discovered that a number of these places were named after old plantations and landed virginia gentry from the 17th and 18th century. So in what looks like a second degree of separation offense these building name have just recently gone onto the chopping block. So, yes, i think numbers be the safest and maybe only safe path.

      1. We have that issue. Our school is named after the big plantation that was there before it was a neighborhood.

        There’s been some minor talk of renaming it, but I don’t think it’s gone very far. For good or ill, most of the political energy of the parents and the PTA for our school has been sucked up by fighting with the county over attempts to insanely change the boundaries. When you want to replace our kids’ 7-minute, third of a mile walk with a 40-minute, 5 mile bus ride, all the parents stop caring about the woke demand for name purity.

    2. Why? Triskaidekaphobia? Ridiculous. We do not do that in this bloody country.

      Numbers though is a fine plan, & I suggest we extend that system to all ‘names’ of cities, towns, people, whatever -people with numbers like troopers in Star Wars!

        1. Naming schools after the streets they’re on, or the area they’re in, appeals to me. With the current brouhaha over names, one lesson is perhaps universally appreciated. Taking every opportunity to name things after a specific person has a downside.

  9. I think we can look forward to Abraham Lincoln High School being renamed after Malcolm X., or possibly Louis Farrakhan. But wait, the “High” in High School implies an invidious distinction against the “Low”, so
    that will be eliminated too. And “School” implies the existence of standards, which we all know are colonialist by definition, so that word too will be eliminated; it will be replaced by the non-committal “campus”.

    John Muir Elementary will be renamed after
    Assata Shakur, Robin DiAngelo, or both. El Dorado Elementary will of course be changed to Democratic Socialists of America Campus.

    1. “John Muir Elementary will be renamed after
      Assata Shakur, Robin DiAngelo, or both. El Dorado Elementary will of course be changed to Democratic Socialists of America Campus.”

      Perhaps it should be named “Cardi B” or “Wap” Elementary.

  10. Soon San Fransisco parents will be able to send their kids to Filiberto Rios Elementary, Angela Davis Middle-School, and Yasser Arafat High!

  11. Your nation – & most others- was built on the blood of others for goodness sake. I am reminded of the famous British prude Mary Whitehouse, who wanted ho censor everything on TV. A comedy sketch suggested she should censor herself if she saw herself in the mirror getting out of the bath. The trouble is that most of the censoring people – the awakened- are insincere. If they were genuine they would bugger off & leave the blood drenched land to the aboriginal inhabitants.

    I suppose RL Stevenson was too Scottish, though in his last years in Samoa he awoke to the evils of colonialism.

    1. There are people who really think they’re striking a blow for justice by engaging in cosmetic acts of social justice like renaming. Instead of acknowledging that to live in America means in someway profiting off past exploitation and racism, the Woke want to wash their hands in fake moral purity.

  12. Ah, but schools —and even education itself — are elitist concepts which denigrate other ways of knowing. Elevating life experience and personal self-knowledge over literacy and other Western colonialist methods of privileging white cis-hetero domination helps the marginalized feel safer. Changing the name of the prisons of oppression is hardly enough, then, is it?

    Honestly, though, the only one of the school names in that list which set off alarm bells for me was “James Lick Middle School.” Not because he was a land baron, but because I’m astonished that anyone thought 7th and 8th graders could responsibly handle the word “Lick.”

  13. Per Robert Klein’s Child of the 50’s album, public schools used to be named with numbers; e.g., P.S. 95. Is that what they want? Or maybe the alphabet? But whose alphabet? Maybe the elements, but some have higher value (Gold) than others (Copper), and we’d run out of elements and have to fall back on numbers (Gold-0001, Gold-0002). How to account for all the yearbooks published under old names? Shouldn’t they demolish the cancelled schools and rebuild them with different addresses/phone numbers to go with the new names? Sheesh.

  14. Without commenting on the pros and cons of the proposed renaming (about which I have mixed feelings) I’d point out that Dianne Feinstein is NOT a progressive. And she is very much out of touch with her constituency.

    1. What prompted this “she is not a progressive” comment? Has anyone here labeled her a “progressive”? What is your point?

      1. I vaguely remmeber a nasty reaction to environmentalist kids who came to her office. Then there was her tacit approval of govern,ment surveillance of Americans until they started to spy on her.

    2. “And she is very much out of touch with her constituency.”

      Well, then, surely they will vote her out (sometime).

  15. The claim that Dianne Feinstein was responsible for repeatedly retaining the confederat3 flag after it as removed by anti-racist activist Bradley is counter-factual.

    One day after Bradley’s second arrest, Feinstein announced the Confederate flag would not be replaced again after the intervention of Doris Ward, a member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors (akin to a City Council) who would later go on to make history as the first black person to preside over that body, the San Francisco Examiner wrote on 18 April.

    On 27 April, Feinstein announced a new flag would fly, that of “the California Hundred,” a famous group of West Coast volunteers who journeyed across the United States to fight with the Union Army in the Civil War. This was one of an array of 18 flags that were displayed together with each flag representing a period of U.S. history in chronological sequence, it was not a single flag flying on or next to the capital building as was the case in some former confederate states.

  16. As a relative local to this piece of monumental stupidity – I live about 40 miles south of San Francisco – I’m not at all sure that the name changes will happen. The mayor of San Francisco has spoken out against it, and four seats on the seven-member school board (which has far greater problems to worry about) are up for election. Even if the commission continues its work, I think, and fervently hope, it may die in the board.

    1. Maybe if they tied all this nonsense to having the community to vote for where the money goes: $2000 to change a building name? Or $2000 of books for the elementary school?

  17. The San Francisco School District recently instituted a lottery system for entrance into its most prestigious high school, Lowell High.

    Lowell is San Francisco’s equivalent to New York City’s Stuyvesant. They both use entrance exams, and as you can well imagine, Asians, usually middle class and poor, make up its highest demographic.

    The school board couldn’t abide that. Supposedly it’s for a year. Bu you know it’s really permanent.


    1. In this context there is a middle ground which seems to me probably be more balanced and sensible: Segregate students in some classes by academic performance instead of segregating at the level of the entire set of students attending the school or not segregating at all.

      1. I think the point of these exercises is not so much to bring everybody up, but to bring higher performers down.

        That is one way to achieve equity and equality. And I think that way is what you are seeing in field after field in the United States…whether it’s the cancellation of a museum show (Guston), or the deep animosity that a mayor (NYC DeBlasio) has for a super-elite public high school (Stuyvesant) filled with high-achieving poor and near-poor asian and white students.

        Put succintly, ideology trumps pragmatism. In other words, fundamentalism, even if secular.

  18. To her great credit, San Francisco’s Mayor London Breed has blasted the school district’s idiocy: “In the midst of this once-in-a-century challenge, to hear that the district is focusing energy and resources on renaming schools — schools that they haven’t even opened — is offensive.”

    Breed continued, “It’s offensive to parents who are juggling their children’s daily at-home learning schedules with doing their own jobs and maintaining their sanity. It’s offensive to me as someone who went to our public schools, who loves our public schools, and who knows how those years in the classroom are what lifted me out of poverty and into college. It’s offensive to our kids who are staring at screens day after day instead of learning and growing with their classmates and friends.”

    She added: “Look, I believe in equity. But the fact that our kids aren’t in school is what’s driving inequity in our city. Not the name of a school.”


    If the Chronicle article is inaccessible, try this:

    Speaking as a San Franciscan, I was not a fan of London Breed when she assumed office, having assumed she was another corporate politician. But she has done a very good job handling the Covid crisis and she has shown backbone in criticizing the school district.

    On a related note: two members of the SF School Board are up for re-election. Both had voted to destroy the George Washington mural at George Washington High School. And so I will vote against both of them. I do not want woke dolts in charge of educating the young.

  19. Good! I see the California Board of Education is enforcing the cause of equal rights and social justice with concrete, no-nonsense actions.
    In a single stroke, marginalized people will now have equal opportunities for housing, employment, and high quality education.
    The dream of Martin Luther King is now achieved in California, thanks to the wise leadership of the Board.

  20. The Feinstein renaming is absolutely appropriate and delicious. If Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln are banned, no one (and I mean no one) is good enough. Gandhi was a racist. King was misogynistic. Mandela was weak on AIDS.

    Everyone has their flaws and we must judge everyone at their worst lest we have heroes to unite us.

  21. Someone is confusing Herbert with J Edgar. I suggest they read HH’s autobiography, esp the first two vols, and Raymond Moley’s The First New Deal.

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