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Saturday, June 25, 2022

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News + PoliticsEducationHas the Chron even noticed that we are in a national reckoning...

Has the Chron even noticed that we are in a national reckoning over racism?

From the coverage of the school names changes, apparently not.


I have to ask: Has the San Francisco Chronicle even noticed that this country is in the middle of a badly needed and way overdue discussion and reckoning about race?

Apparently not.

My kids went to McKinley Elementary, a really wonderful school named after a really terrible president.

Let’s take a look at the way the paper has covered the recent School Board decision to rename 44 schools that honor someone linked to the nation’s ugly history.

The Chron, by the way, continues to argue that it’s a fair and objective news source.

I’ll start with the headline:

Washington and Lincoln are out. S.F. school board tosses 44 school names in controversial move

Naturally, the paper has to start with our Great Founding Father Washington and the venerable Abe Lincoln, to stir up agitation among its mostly older readers. And “tosses 44 school names?” that makes it appear the action was random and done for no reason.

Now let’s look at the first few paragraphs:

The names of presidents, conquistadors, authors and even a current U.S. senator will be removed from 44 San Francisco school sites after the city’s school board Tuesday deemed the iconic figures unworthy of the honor.

The 6-1 vote followed months of controversy, with officials, parents, students and alumni at odds over whether Abraham Lincoln and George Washington high schools, Dianne Feinstein Elementary and dozens of others needed new names with no connection to slavery, oppression, racism or similar criteria.

Critics called the process slapdash, with little to no input from historians and a lack of information on the basis for each recommendation. In one instance, the committee didn’t know whether Roosevelt Middle School was named after Theodore or Franklin Delano.

Excuse me: The conqistadors, the slave-owners, the people responsible for killing native Americans are all by definition “iconic?” And they are “deemed unworthy of the honor?”

Even the description of the criteria for renaming seems snarky: “no connection to slavery, oppression, racism or other similar criteria.”

And the “critics” cited in the link? That’s Families for San Francisco. It’s an organization run by people who are connected to some of the most conservative movements in the city.

I know the process hasn’t been perfect (but not, I would say, a “travesty,” as Joe Eskenazi puts it) and maybe Abe Lincoln’s name should still be on a school, and we can debate this forever. (There’s a lot of discussion about whether Sen. Dianne Feinstein allowed a confederate flag to fly at City Hall, but nobody mentions that she vetoed the city’s first bill that would have allowed LGBT domestic partners some basic rights. She sided with the Archdiocese and talked about LGBT people as “changing life styles.”)

But this is, and ought to be, a serious discussion, and the School Board has every right and responsibility to take it on. My kids went to McKinley Elementary, named after a terrible racist imperialist anti-labor president, and wore his name on their shirts. What’s wrong with changing the name?

In fact, what’s wrong with updating a lot of the school names to reflect people who worked for and represent the values of this city and community?

Oh: It’s “expensive.” At $1 million, spread over several years? That’s 0.001 percent of the SFUSD annual budget. You want to talk about things the district spends $1 million on that are far less important than this?

And this discussion has nothing to do with the discussion of re-opening the schools. You can be unhappy about the fact that so many schools are old and the classrooms have almost no ventilation and many teachers are, or have partners who are, at high risk for COVID, and that the board hasn’t figured out a way to re-open safely (and I agree). But addressing a history of systemic racism right now isn’t interfering with the re-opening in any way.

Seriously: Can anyone argue that if the board had dismissed this discussion the schools would be opening one day sooner?

I clearly have an opinion about this. So does the Chron news department. One of us is being honest about it.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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