Saturday, June 12, 2021

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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.

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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.

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.

14 COMMENTS

  1. I’d give both you and the Board of Ed a failing grade on this one. The school renaming process was biased, incompetent and inconsistent. The BOE booted out Feinstein and Lincoln for their percieved racism, and yet it didn’t even consider Chavez, a harasser and haranguer of undocummented immigrants at the border, and Malcolm X, a blatant misogynist and anti-Semite. The message from this Board — tough luck if you’re a girl/woman or Jewish in this school district. This is the most corrupt, abusive (their full throttle, incessant smear campaign against the students of Lowell H.S. should really be seen as child abuse, or children abuse, to be exact), disgusting Board of Education I’ve ever witnessed. And there are a whole bunch of us SF voters who are going to turn the tables on them and a lot of us are women, and you know how women can be when they get riled up. Should be a fascinating rest of 2021.

  2. “And this discussion has nothing to do with the discussion of re-opening the schools.”

    I could believe you; but then I hear that most of the private or charter schools have managed to reopen while SFUSD has not. Looks like ‘deck chairs on the Titanic’ stupid.

    Hey – some of those names are past their Due Date, fur sure. And others are not, while many deserve reconsideration (and possible removal). But the point really is that one of the chief “values” of San Francisco is (not Carl Nolte, but …) – process. And this process stunk. Wikipedia research?

    As for the cost … obviously not a problem at all, when SF can hoist its budget 10% in a year – and still run a deficit, and no one even mentions it. Just take it out of the Rainy Day Fund (and they will need to ask someone for more money).

  3. I agree with Eshkenazi’s take in Mission Local, that this process had all of the reasoned consideration of the history involved, weighing trade-offs, of a book burning. There are plenty of renaming and reclaimings to be done, only not as summary judgements.

  4. tom I would have a lot more respect for Diane Feinstein if she would retire – I think public servants should retire at 85 whether they are judges, governors, senators or Presidents. i would support Biden for a second term, but I think its time Ms Feinstein let someone else step in and have a turn.
    We don’t really know everything about people from hundreds of years ago. George Washington had slaves but he also saved Americans from the slavery of the British. ON the other hand there are more recent public figures deserving of name recognition – the Ruth Bader Ginsberg school sounds good.

  5. Simba, I agree with 505 that it is preferable that schools be named only after dead people.

    But I agree with you that SF is really an oddball in terms of its values and politics. Feinstein represents all of California and she is certainly not too conservative for the state. It is just from a SF/Berkeley perspective she is a right-wing extremist.

    As you say almost anyone from decades or centuries ago would not be considered PC by modern standards. But as I was taught when studying history at college: “You should not judge the acts of one time from the moral standpoint of another time”

  6. Its pretty hard to find someone from hundreds of years ago with an unblemished record. What’s wrong with naming a school after a living person, Kamala Harris or Nancy Pelosi would be perfect – the two most powerful women in the USA are both from a little corner of the country known as the San Francisco Bay area. There must be something pretty special about the place.

  7. No Mr. Tom, I was just adding to the list of things that mark Feinstein as not the greatest person on the planet. She opposed Harry Britt’s domestic partners legislation and preferred the child molesting Catholic priests’ version of sexual decorum to that of the lesbian and gay community (to say nothing of the new iterations of sexual and gender identity that have developed in public discourse since the early 1980s).

    My biggest problem with naming a school after Feinstein is that she’s still alive. The same with Pelosi Dr in Golden Gate Park, and Willie Brown span. There are plenty of dead people to honor. Some people disagree with me on that, and it’s really okay.

  8. flight505, are you suggesting that Feinstein’s name should be removed from a SF school because she did not go on a march?

  9. The point is that the School Board has much better things it should be working on than controversial renaming of schools. For example, how to educate children during the pandemic, and how to improve the education of children in one of the worst school districts in the nation.

  10. Feinstein never rode in the Pride Parade, either. Also, after a straight man from Ireland got fag bashed in front the Wells Fargo ATM near 16th Street BART, she offered a reward for the arrest of the perpetrator(s). Some of us were unimpressed: she had never offered a reward when an actual gay man got fag bashed. But at least Di Fi thinks some lunatic US Senators (I don’t mean her) were doing important democratic work by perpetuating the idiotic belief that Trump one the 2020 presidential election.

  11. Mayor Breed waxes nostalgic about her childhood days at Rosa Parks Elementary School even though she did not attend Rosa Parks Elementary School. The school she attended was called Raphael Weill Elementary School and was named after a French Jewish immigrant who, among other thing, served on the school board (and almost certainly saved his descendants from annihilation). By name, the school the Mayor thinks she attended did not actually exist until about the time she was in college. Weill Elementary was RENAMED (oh the horror and waste of time!) in 1995 to honor Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Next time Breed shakes her fist, ask if she wants Rosa Parks to be un-renamed. Also, ask her if Army Street is a better name than Cesar Chavez (she might think it is, given her frequent antipathy toward Latinx people). Golden Gate Park has a JFK and an MLK (not to mention a Pelosi) Drive. Oh, and I think the block in front of City Hall is Polk Street, not Dr. Carl B. Goodlett Place. Does she want to fix that and resettle the names on the map to the glory days of San Francisco? We should also unrename SOMA so it can be correctly referred to as South of the Slot. Dupont sounds much more authentic than Grant Avenue. Get rid of Herb Caen way, stat! And what the fuck is wrong with her not blathering on about the ridiculous name “NoPa?” Think of all the wasted Realtor time that could have better been spent helping flippers and Ellis Actors (which would create more homeless people, whom she could say just moved her from out of town). What is her position on Willie Brown having the western span of the Bay Bridge named after him? Maybe taking away Jeff Adachi Lane would be a good start – you know, public defenders are bad people. Also, Breed should work to undo the renaming of the 600 block of Willow Street (right by where she grew up and went to Weill Elementary School) after Earl Gage, Jr. That would be a double win for her: fix the name to what it should always be AND get back at Supervisor Preston. Neither Breed nor Valle Brown would listen to the Black Firefighters Association, but Preston got it done shortly after taking office. How about Warriors Way? Terry A. Francois strikes me as a pretty good person to name a street after – and to keep it named after him.

    Also, since much of the handwringing about renaming schools has to do with SFUSD not focusing every minute on reopening the schools (and an ostensible concern for the health of public school children), it is important to know that the city has been unable to implement some very basic changes to the Tenderloin that would allow the 3,500 kids who live there to get outside. Since May, I have been part of a group working to effect those changes, but now eight months later literally nothing has been done. This despite weekly meetings with more than two dozen city staff from multiple departments, including the Mayor’s Office. Even harvesting “low hanging fruit” that would have given the city some brownie points with UNICEF has been beyond the city’s skill set. Since San Francisco cannot even take a couple of steps toward showing a United Nations agency that the city that knows how doesn’t treat (poor) kids like trash, the Mayor has actual problems that she and her departments continue to fail to deal with.

    A few more choice gems from SF’s competence and ability to focus and get things done: the Rose Pak Memorial Subway line is … how far behind schedule and how much overbudget? How about the Transit Terminal. I know it took forever to (mostly) finish, but at least there weren’t any problems immediately after it opened. Oh, wait …. The Van Ness BRT is almost two years behind schedule and significantly over budget, so Breed needs to get out there and start digging, wiring, pouring concrete, directing traffic, painting and whatever else is needed to get it done – plus she should do so without any OSHA-type worker protections because, just like teachers, construction laborers don’t have a right to request a safe job site.

    It might also be worth pointing out the Great State of California is out of vaccine, so maybe state officials like Phil Ting should shut up about SFUSD’s work on complex issues. Additionally, the state did such a fine job on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge (not the Willie Side) that it opened six years behind schedule and 25 times the original cost estimate.

    Recently, the Chancellor and Dean of UC Hastings decided not to rename the school (though UC Hastings is not the original name of the law school, so at some point someone meddled and wasted time). Despite that bold leadership on the part of David Faigman, Hastings is still not open for in-person classes. Without the distraction of cogitating on a new name, though, I can’t understand why the doors aren’t open so future lawyers can go to class together in person.

    In any event, most parents/guardians are not yet willing to send their kids back to school sites, so rushing the reopening for on-site learning won’t actually solve the extraordinarily urgent, complex and painful set of problems around getting public school children back in their classrooms, in the libraries and on their playgrounds. Plus, if the city really wanted to make that a possibility, they should really focus on getting full Muni service restored so kids can actually get to school when they are able to reopen safely.

  12. Here’s the rub, Tim.
    NOBODY cared about this, including you, until this year.
    Now nobody cares that children aren’t being taught. But the BOE is willing to spend hundreds, even thousands of hours of paid staff time (cost?) to figure out what PC name won’t smear them for schools that aren’t even open.
    Yet you are bending over backwards to defend this “travesty” – well said by Joe E.

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