The Name Game in Berkeley

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Name Game in Berkeley

The federal budget deficit continues to grow, some 43 million Americans live their lives without health insurance, and the misery continues in Darfur, but a group of parents and teachers at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Berkeley, Calif., have focused their attention on a major issue right in their community.

The major issue isn't the difficulty of attracting certified teachers to urban, high-poverty communities like Berkeley. It isn't the number of children who reach 3rd grade reading well below grade level. And it isn't the significant sanctions imposed on low-achieving schools by No Child Left Behind.

The major issue is the school's name. At least this group of parents seems to think so.

Soon, parents, teachers and students at Jefferson will vote on whether they want to change the name of their school -- a vote scheduled after some parents complained that the school shouldn't be named after a former slaveholder.

Berkeley has a Washington Elementary School, and I'll bet it was probably named after our first president. He also owned slaves. Will he be next on the purge list?

It remains to be seen whether Berkeley decides that an 18th century slaveholder doesn't meet the test for approved names for schools, but a 20th century convicted burglar (Malcolm X) does. One might remind these Berkeley parents of Malcolm X's disparaging comments about MLK:
"He got the peace prize, we got the problem .... If I'm following a general, and he's leading me into a battle, and the enemy tends to give him rewards, or awards, I get suspicious of him. Especially if he gets a peace award before the war is over."
My point is not to argue that Malcolm X is unworthy of having a school named after him. My point is that it's a futile exercise when the morality police -- be they "left" or "right" -- try to hold mortal human beings to a constantly evolving standard of moral or philosophical purity.

Surely there is something else, something far more meaningful on which these Berkeley parents could be focusing their energy.

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