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Renaming Schools: Why are the “Sanitizers” Bent on Re-writing History?

You cannot get more American than George Washington, the President who adorns the One Dollar bill emblazoned with “In God We Trust.” Yet in 1992 he came under attack when the parents and staff at a New Orleans school succeeded in replacing his name with that of Dr. Charles Drew, a noted black physician. The decision stemmed from a controversial Board policy calling for the renaming of all schools named after former slave owners or others who did not respect “equal opportunity for all.” http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/race_relations/july-dec97/schools_11...

The renaming schools controversy spread quickly to other cities and towns. Across the United States there were then 450 schools named for George Washington, including George Washington University in D.C. Hundreds of other schools were identified because they were named after American presidents who owned slaves, such as Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and George Mason.

Renaming schools to defrock former historical notables opens up a ‘Pandora’s Box’ and has sparked controversies in many school districts. Social justice advocates and special interest groups are usually the instigators and the “sanitizers” all claim to be “correcting past wrongs.” Charges of racism, genocide, and inhuman cruelty are heaped upon the dead and are too often simply accepted without much scrutiny. Few citizens dare to object, fearing vilification at the hands of the liberal media or retaliation from what remains of the politically correct (PC) vigilantes.

Since the late 1990s, school renaming controversies have erupted periodically in the United States more than in Canada. The meteoric rise of Barak Obama in 2008-09 prompted a spate of U.S. schools to appropriate his name. Student Noah Horowitz created a furor in Houston, Texas, in August and September 2009, when he when he lead a spirited campaign to remove the names of six Confederate leaders from HISD schools. http://wn.com/Noah_Horwitz A valiant attempt in January 2011 to rename Rochester High School after U.S. Army 1st Lt. Adam Malson, an Iraq War hero, was blocked because it violated school district policy.

The old controversy is back in the Canadian education news. Removing the name of Halifax’s founder, Edward Cornwallis, from the masthead of a South End junior high school is perhaps the most recent and blatant example. http://thechronicleherald.ca/Front/1249921.html The case against Cornwallis hangs on the fact that he issued a 1749 proclamation putting a bounty on the scalps of Mi’kmaq men, women, and children.

Renaming Cornwallis JHS has stirred up a hornet's nest in Canadian education. Many historians simply object to judging historic figures by today's standards or from one rather narrow viewpoint. The Mi’kmaq claim is also not supported in John E. Grenier’s 2008 book The Far Reaches of Empire: War in Nova Scotia, 1710-1760. In it, Cornwallis is depicted as a British colonial official who used “brutal but effective measures” to “ wrest control of Nova Scotia from French and Indian enemies who were no less ruthless.”

Basing public policy on re-writing history can only lead to further social injustices. The distinguished Canadian historian J. L. Granatstein put it best: “You can’t apply today’s standards to people in the past. That just gets silly.” http://www.macleans.ca/article.jsp?content=n7231269

What motivates the sanitizers in their campaigns to change school names? Why are parents and the public so inclined to accept the “demonization” of historical figures at face value? If we continue to judge past military or civic figures by present-day standards, where will it end?

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