If you think the basic problem with education is the cost of instructing illegal aliens, poor teaching, low test scores or any one of a number of other concerns, you're wrong. The prestigious Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank renowned for advocating charter schools, vouchers and anything reactionary that pertains to education, sees it as the left-wing tilt to the naming of the nation's public schools.
In a seven state study of names given by school boards to new schools, Manhattan's scholars found that contrary to past practice educational institutions are more likely to be named for natural objects and animals rather than prominent public figures. The problem is especially significant when it comes to a decline in the naming of schools after presidents. Manhattan found five "George Washington" schools in Florida but that state also had eleven named for manatees.
"This," Manhattan moaned, "raises serious questions about how well schools are performing the civic mission of public education.... Public schools should restore their civic mission and spend the political capital to name schools after individual people who exemplify desirable values that students should emulate."
Are you ready for the "Donald J. Trump leadership high school?"
Thanks, Manhattan, for telling us what's really wrong with our public schools. Kids are not inspired when they enroll in California high schools named Foothill, Skyline, Mt. Diablo or Yosemite. That leads to sloppy scholarship, truancy and a lack of civic responsibility. But name a school for Calvin Coolidge or Warren Harding and test scores will rise dramatically.
Do you really think kids would carry weapons and drugs to a Los Angeles school named for a prominent figure from our past? Guns at David Starr Jordan High? Pot at Thomas Jefferson?
Manhattan has put its finger on something that school boards across the country should have realized long ago. A basic function of education is to instill in students the high values associated with exemplary individuals the kids will respect.
So, why the dearth of presidential names among the new high schools? Is it some sinister liberal conspiracy? An analysis of California high schools reveals a variety of names, most of which go back to a time when a fledgling school by general agreement carried the name of the city or county where it was located. There's a lot more civic pride in winning for Moreno Valley High than for Franklin Pierce Academy. The town's business people, and local politicians, realize that.
It may also be that the more prominent presidential names were already taken by the time a district added a new high school. There were two Roosevelts but confusion would follow if a district named one for FDR and another one for Teddy since newspaper editors tend to ignore the formal name.
Still, California districts have not slighted the presidents in naming new schools. There are several Kennedy, Wilson and Hoover Highs, and Roosevelt Highs abound. As yet, however, there doesn't seem to be a Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon High. Johnson High in Sacramento honors a California governor, not a president.
Manhattan didn't turn its researchers lose on California, but if it had they would have found that our school boards have used names of some rather distinguished individuals, mostly males, in recent years. Martin Luther King and Henry J. Kaiser are both recognized. Sacramento, despite being the state capital, showed little inclination to honor that distinguished California statesmen Earl Warren, the state's most illustrious native son. That was done by Bakersfield and Downey. But Sacramento did name a school for Luther Burbank.
Frequently, important people of an area or city were honored, usually in naming elementary or junior high schools, even though their achievements were often forgotten. San Francisco's Ida B. Wells, San Jose's James Lick, Eureka's Zoe Barnum and Santa Clara's Adrian Wilcox are high school names that mean very little in the rest of the state.
Despite Manhattan Institute's cry for a return to the old ways, California school boards have done a pretty good job of staying out of trouble in their selections. Fortunately we do not have a Rush Limbaugh High, or schools named for Oliver North, Ann Coulter, Jerry Falwell or any of the other purveyors of right wing nonsense.
What would Manhattan say about a Bill Clinton Family Values Magnet School?