Bye, TJ

Recent front-page news in Berkeley: Parents, students and teachers at Jefferson Elementary School voted to change the institution’s name to Sequoia. Why? Because, as a slaveholder, he was judged unworthy of the honor and influence of having a school named after him.

Sure — there’s no arguing that he owned slaves. And that he didn’t free them. And that his life fell far short in many important respects from the beautiful rhetoric of freedom he crafted. Granting all that, I still don’t buy that the way to deal with that history is to try to expunge it. I also wonder how we benefit by subjecting every figure from our past to the absolute judgment of our current keen wisdom. It’s one thing to shelve once-distinguished personages who have become less relevant to who we are as a people. In Berkeley, schools memorializing James A. Garfield and John Greenleaf Whittier, remote 19th century icons with no lasting standing in most of today’s culture, have been renamed. Garfield morphed into Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, and Whittier became Berkeley Arts Magnet.

But Jefferson isn’t like Whittier or Garfield. His ideas and flaws are still crucial to our sense of who we are. Better to face that, make his name and legacy something to study for insight into what the United States was, is, and will be than to dump his name as a gesture of multicultural sensitivity. Not too many of the Dead White Men (formerly Founding Fathers) will stand up to a close inspection for political correctness. Even the Great Emancipator — hey, Abe! — comes off as a white supremacist bigot (and a gay one, at that — go figure).

Next on the History Cleansing Hit List: Washington School. Unless it’s named for Booker T., not George. Which would create its own problems for the progressives.

(And the fun sequel to all that is this correction in our town’s semi-daily newspaper, The Daily Planet: “In a June 3 article about the vote to change the name of Jefferson Elementary, Thomas Jefferson was erroneously referred to as the second president of the United States. He was the third.”)

2 Replies to “Bye, TJ”

  1. Hey Dad,
    On the topic, at least by wy of tangent, of where the US is headed I thought you would be interested in reading the keynote address by Illinois Senator Barrack Obama at Knox College. I can’t say I agree with everything he says, neither good or bad in and of itself, but its the first time in a while when I got that feeling in the gut that says America is something worth fighting for, and I don’t mean in the military sense of the word.

  2. Interesting to note that the direction of universal rights and justice for which Jefferson has been knocked down a notch or two have foundations set on the ideals Jefferson brought forth more powerfully than any other person of his period. How long will it be before Martin Luther King Jr is hauled off to the trash heap of history for some “wrong” based on the “improved” values and insites of future generations? What should we expect, nobody wants to talk about their blemishes let alone have anybody else see them, that’s why we have make-up. If we can get these people into the twenty-first century perhaps all Bushes will be referred to only as shrubs. This change would be less costly as well due to it requiring only the rearranging of the current letters and the placement of an “r”. Can we get this on the ballot?

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