Over the past few years, a progressive movement dedicated to renaming statues, schools and other public places originally named after racist leaders of the past has risen to prominence. Many people, including Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro, want these schools renamed. However, their names should not be changed because we must learn from the painful lessons of history and renaming schools can become a slippery slope when every slaveholder needs to be questioned, potentially one day including the likes of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.
The names of all schools in Montgomery County will soon be reviewed to “ensure they are appropriate,” according to a Feb. 26 Bethesda Magazine article. However, by changing the names of any schools, MCPS would be encouraging people to forget valuable lessons that can be learned from these historical figures.
Speaking about Confederate monuments, John Daniel Davidson of The Federalist, an online political magazine, said that though their original purpose was to venerate Confederate heroes like Robert E. Lee. Removing these monuments would undermine their modern-day de facto purpose of serving as a haunting and cautionary tale to the current generation. Similarly, if schools named after these figures of the past were to be renamed, MCPS would just be encouraging its students to erase the ugly parts of history, such as slavery and the Civil War, instead of providing students with important learning moments. Furthermore the school system should invest their energy and resources into various academic improvements, not panels to consider renaming schools.
People often forget that certain important founding fathers were slave owners themselves. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and John Jay all owned slaves for all or part of their lives, among other founding fathers, according to a 2016 Encyclopedia Britannica article. Will it someday be unacceptable to name schools after founding fathers or other important historical figures for public schools? And how far are people willing to go to erase the painful details of history?
Even if the scope of the renaming were to be limited to just Montgomery County schools, there would still be three high schools (HS), namely Col. Zadok Magruder, Thomas Sprigg Wootton and Richard Montgomery HS, that would need to be renamed because each person owned slaves at some point, according to a 2018 article by The Current of Watkins Mill HS.
While it is understandable that some, including Navarro, want these schools renamed to better represent the student body of the present day, the costs of renaming large schools like Magruder, Wootton and Richard Montgomery HS would be enormous. If these schools were to be renamed, millions of dollars worth of school property and merchandise would have to be rebranded to adjust to the new name.
Instead all of that money should go toward more important things, such as investing in security, curriculum or classroom improvements and reducing class sizes, among many other important things. Improving education should not include whitewashing history when so much effort is being put forward to teach it in the same schools that may be renamed.