A Google Doc, used by a San Francisco Public Schools renaming committee to track historical research into “controversial” figures whose names appeared on 44 of the district’s buildings, was “rife with historical errors,” and contained information gathered through “casual Google searches” — and in some cases, the information did not relate at all to the individual considered “controversial.”
San Francisco’s school district voted last week to accept a committee’s recommendations and to rename 44 schools, including buildings named after former Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, inventor Thomas Edison, Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere, and California’s longtime Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein.
The underlying rationale for many of the name changes was already suspect, as The Daily Wire reported, noting that a story reportedly linking Feinstein to a Confederate flag on display was poorly sourced and that Lincoln was included among the “controversial” figures because he “did not show through policy or rhetoric that black lives ever mattered to them outside of human capital and as casualties of wealth building,”
But problems with the renaming committee’s research go even deeper, per the New York Post.
San Francisco’s Mission Local obtained a copy of the committee’s Google Doc through a group called “Families for San Francisco,” which prepared a report arguing against the district’s renaming decisions.
“Mission Local fact-checked the source material and reasoning that the board’s school renaming committee relied on — and came to damning conclusions, including that committee members avoided consulting with historians — relying instead on shakily-sourced Wikipedia entries and TV shows,” the Post noted.
“Businessman and philanthropist James Lick, the wealthiest man in California when he died in 1876, got the boot because the committee disliked his funding of a sculpture depicting a prostrate Indian at the feet of white men. The monument was recently removed from the Civic Center,” the Post noted.
Lick, it turns out, did not commission the statue. His estate paid for it, but it was completed and installed nearly two decades after Lick died.
Paul Revere was “court-martialed for alleged cowardice and insubordination following the disastrous ‘Penobscot Expedition’ against the British in 1779,” Misson Local notes, but his name only ended up on the list because, he was “by some alchemy, tied to the conquest of the Penobscot Indians,” which the committee could not prove, but also could not abide.
Poet James Russell Lowell was targeted because one committee member noted, “he did not want Black people to vote.” It’s not clear where that committee member’s information came from; Mission Local consulted a biography of Lowell, which stated that he “unequivocally advocated giving the ballot to the recently freed slaves.”
As for consulting a historian, San Francisco’s renaming committee bristled at the thought.
“What would be the point? History is written and documented pretty well across the board,” the committee chair, Jeremiah Jeffries, said. “And so, we don’t need to belabor history in that regard. We’re not debating that. There’s no point in debating history in that regard. Either it happened or it didn’t, as historians have referenced in their own histories. So, I don’t think there’s a discussion about that. And so, based on our criteria, it’s a very straightforward conversation. And so, no need to bring historians forward to say – they either pontificate and list a bunch of reasons why, or [say] they had great qualities. Neither are necessary in this discussion.”
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