Dallas ISD [Independent School District — that is, the public school system — RD] is researching the histories of Ben Franklin, Sam Houston, Thomas Jefferson and 17 other historical figures, looking into whether their connections with slavery or the Confederacy should prompt reconsideration of their names on DISD campuses.
Last Thursday, DISD administration recommended changing the names of four schools honoring Confederate generals: Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston and William L. Cabell elementary schools. During that discussion, it was mentioned that there is a much broader list of at least 21 names that bear further investigation, if trustees were compelled to do so.
They’ll be compelled, all right. More:
The Dallas Morning News has obtained a copy of that list, which includes Texas revolutionaries and founders such as Sam Houston, James Bowie and William Travis, U.S. presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and Dallas pioneers James Gaston and William Brown Miller.
Elizalde acknowledged to trustees the difficulty in drawing a line on where to proceed. Some of the schools’ namesakes were involved with the Confederacy, but in lesser army ranks or non-combat roles. As examples, Elizalde mentioned John H. Reagan, the Confederacy’s postmaster, and Nancy Cochran, who according to Elizalde’s research, “encouraged her sons” to fight for the Confederacy.
So let me get this straight: in Dallas, Texas — Dallas, Texas! — the school board is thinking about expunging the names of Sam Houston, as well as Alamo heroes Jim Bowie and William Travis? That is even more shocking than Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin. If you’re not from Texas, or never lived there, it is impossible to overstate the reverence with which Texans hold men involved in the Texas Revolution. Except in 2017, I guess it actually is possible.
The demographics of the DISD student body tells the story:
That graphic is from DISD data, which also reveal that whites make up only five percent of DISD students. What is troubling is that racial identity is so strong that black and brown Texans may not see the state’s history as their history — and indeed, may not see American history as their history, owing to the impure thoughts and deeds of 18th and 19th century men with regard to race.
Imagine the impoverishment of the minds who believe the most significant thing to know about Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin, is that they were in some way tainted by slavery. Imagine the ignorance of school leaders who are going to investigate whether William Travis and Jim Bowie — both of whom died in 1836 at the Alamo — could have been involved with the Confederacy, which came into existence in 1861.
And imagine the spiritual decrepitude of those who would scrub the names of Travis and Bowie from Texas schools if they were found to have had anything at all to do with the Confederacy.
It’s disgusting, this iconoclasm. In 2015, 40 percent of DISD’s schools received a failing grade from the state. To be fair, over 90 percent of DISD’s students come from low income homes, meaning that the school system has tremendous barriers to overcome in educating them. Still, the fact that the DISD trustees are even considering a cosmetic, p.c. gesture like this is a farce.
Yeah, yeah, I know: Dreherbait, no big whoop. But here’s the thing: this knee-jerk iconoclasm tells us something important about where we are headed as a country. When the Founding Fathers, as well as regional figures like Travis and Bowie, are held up to contempt, and “banished” because they do not fit contemporary standards — well, we are destroying the kinds of historical narratives that all nations need to cohere. We certainly should not overlook grave flaws in these men (e.g., that Jefferson, architect of liberty, owned slaves), but it’s madness to regard them as if these tragic flaws made them mere villains. I mean, look: Martin Luther King Jr. was unfaithful to his wife, but it takes an ideological pinhead to believe that this ugly fact diminishes King’s extraordinary accomplishments, takes away from what he gave to America, or in any way threatens his place in American history.
Very few great men and women are saints. I wish the knotheads pushing this iconoclasm would reflect seriously on where this is all headed, or likely to lead.
By the way, it’s starting in France now. There’s a movement to rename schools, etc., that were named after Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV’s finance minister who, in that post, had a lot to do with French involvement in the slave trade. The man leading the campaign is head of the French equivalent of Black Lives Matter, and writes in Le Monde: “How can we teach living together and republican values in the shadow of Colbert?”
Right, because the name of a 17th-century French minister of state on the school prevents students from learning about republican values. What a crock. In Dallas, those public school students may graduate knowing next to nothing, but at least they will not have suffered the indignity of having studied in a school named for someone their progressive elders told them to hate.
The French reader who sent me the link said:
French republicanism has it good that culture wars and identity politics are virtually non-existent – until now. The local equivalent of BLM is trying to ban the name and effigies of Colbert from the public square because of his ties with the slave trade. First reactions are perplexed and even frankly hostile but it also started that way in America and now…
UPDATE: Reader Devinicus says:
Symbols are fundamentally statements about who/whom (or as Lenin said, кто кого?). This movement to rename schools in Dallas is just as Rod says — a statement by non-white residents that Texas history is white history and therefore is an affront to them.
Whether they are correct to feel this way is neither here nor there in my view. What interests me is the (I would say necessary) effect which Diversity has upon history.
As America becomes less and less white, the history of America becomes less and less valuable and interesting to Americans. And why wouldn’t that be the case? After all, white Americans are not especially interested in 17th, 18th, and 19th century American Indian history because “that’s not us”.
Before the era of Diversity was the era of assimilation and the “melting pot”. The effort was to convince (and force, let’s be honest) all that American history belonged to them and theirs even if they were not white, not Anglo, not Protestant, not even Christian. And to a significant degree, it worked.
But that is not the project of Diversity, which instead values difference for the sake of difference and either objects to solidarity in principle or has absolutely no program to produce it beyond “Hey, let’s listen to John Lennon’s ‘Imagine‘ again …”.