Editor’s note: Under public pressure and facing a mass recall, the San Francisco School Board announced that it would put the planned renaming of 44 schools on hold. The list of names deemed racist included Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Paul Revere, among many others.
The city’s school board acknowledged that some of the name changes occurred despite inaccurate information. The school board also received sharp criticism for focusing on name changes rather than the process of reopening.
The following is a republished op-ed by Jarrett Stepman explaining why the relentless push to erase history is often divorced from fact or truth and why it’s such an ominous trend for the future of the country if it continues unchecked.
The school board’s decision to at least postpone renaming demonstrates how shining light on radicalism can make authorities and people in power change their behaviors:
Does the truth matter? Not if you’re the woke president of the San Francisco Board of Education, apparently.
A revealing interview by The New Yorker with the San Francisco school board president, 30-year-old Gabriela López, gave some insight into the mindset of a public school board that just decided that 44 of its schools needed to be renamed because of their “racist” ties.
Abraham Lincoln? Gone. George Washington? Gone. Paul Revere? Gone.
It was clear during the interview with López that the school board cared little for historical accuracy or for ensuring that Bay Area students receive a fuller view of the past.
No, the point of the renaming exercise was to simply wield the power to purge anything it deemed problematic.
Lopez even admitted that there were some factual mistakes made during the name-changing process, which, unsurprisingly, did not involve any historians.
Journalist Alex Griswold did a good job of highlighting some of the absurdities of the school board’s list based on its public project notes.
It’s clear that every person on the list was painted in the most simplistic and uncharitable light possible. It reads like a series of lazy oppo research projects with Wikipedia and questionable blogs as the sources.
For example, the school board decided to change the name of Lowell High School because James Russell Lowell, an abolitionist from the early 19th century, “wavered in his commitment to equality for black Americans.” It turns out the school wasn’t even named after him. The name was stripped anyway.
One of the more hilarious—or, rather, pathetic—entries was on Horace Mann, the father of the common school movement and modern public education. His entry says, “More research needed,” presumably because it couldn’t find any dirt on him.
One wonders what Mann would think about the fate of his public school project.
Revere was cut because, according to the notes, he was part of the Penobscot Expedition in 1779, which was “connected to colonization.” The only actual connection to colonization is that it was a battle against the British in the American war for independence. Revere was canceled anyway.
When New Yorker reporter Isaac Chotiner asked Lopez about this clear mistake and inquired into what the criteria for the list was, she answered:
So, for me, I guess it’s just the criteria was created to show if there were ties to these specific themes, right? White supremacy, racism, colonization, ties to slavery, the killing of Indigenous people, or any symbols that embodied that. And the committee shared that these are the names that have these ties. And so, for me, at this moment, I have the understanding we have to do the teaching, but also I do agree that we shouldn’t have these ties, and this is a way of showing it.
So it was fake but “true”—true in the sense that facts can be little more than a muddle of “themes.”
Would it be OK for students at San Francisco schools to include such fake but true information in their schoolwork?
When pressed to address inaccuracies and the flawed approach to renaming schools, Lopez accused The New Yorker reporter of undermining the project.
“I think what you’re pointing to and what I keep hearing is you’re trying to undermine the work that has been done through this process. And I’m moving away from the idea that it was haphazard,” Lopez said.
It’s quite clear from both the interview with Lopez and from the school board’s notes that they were simply looking for reasons—any reason at all—to justify erasing names.
It was taken for granted by the school board—assumedly created to further the education of young Americans—that historical figures once celebrated by past generations must be denounced, disappeared, and mostly just forgotten.
Lopez dodged around the question of why Lincoln, in particular, had to be stripped from his pedestal.
She pointed to a ridiculous claim that Lincoln was somehow particularly guilty of killing “indigenous people.” When pressed about what she personally thought about Lincoln, she said:
I think Lincoln gets more praise than the … how can I say this? Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t think that … Lincoln is not someone that I typically tend to admire or see as a hero, because of these specific instances where he has contributed to the pain of the decimation of people—that’s not something that I want to ignore. It’s something that I’m learning about and that I know it’s not often spoken about.
Sure, Lincoln successfully led the country through its greatest crisis and ultimately brought an end to slavery.
But according to the San Francisco Board of Education, Lincoln didn’t do enough for black lives. His accomplishments just aren’t good enough to earn praise from board members, whose heroic accomplishments include drawing up purge lists and making sure teachers and students can’t get into classrooms.
Lincoln isn’t worthy of being honored because he didn’t demonstrate commitment to every element of the evolving 21st-century woke creed. Therefore, he shall be banished to oblivion.
The whole episode should not just be dismissed as the actions of a few small-minded, woke leftists on a local school board. No, it’s clearly part of a much larger and destructive trend, which unveils what the war on history is all about.
None of the debates about various historical figures in recent years has really been about any individual or about getting history right.
Sure, whenever woke, leftist activists pick a new target, media outlets and the academy get to work peddling long essays to “reexamine” the legacy of this person or that person.
Just look at The New York Times’ 1619 Project, allegedly about studying the history of legacy of slavery in America. It began with the since-removed statement that it was intended to “reframe” the history of the country to make slavery the cornerstone of the republic instead of liberty.
The project’s architect, Nikole Hannah-Jones, now spends her time dismissing and insulting the 1619 Project’s critics who have pointed out numerous factual inaccuracies in it.
She is now apparently The New York Times’ official inquisitor, rooting out heresies within the organization and taking over the role of the human resources department.
It’s been clear from the beginning that the movement was ultimately going to make little distinction between the Confederacy and Lincoln. All are part of America’s racist past, all must be purged—regardless of intent, regardless of any sort of nuance about the human condition.
Here is what the war on history is really about: The woke left has deemed America—and the West more broadly—as guilty, and to be punished for its sins.
This broad, great “awokening”—despite the language of standing for the oppressed and underprivileged—is being carried out by those with immense cultural and official power.
The most woke, the most powerful, will now act as modern social justice Torquemadas, seeking heresies within their dominions. And these dominions now include the most prominent media, educational, corporate, and governmental institutions in America and across the globe.
What they want is revolution, what they want is absolute power over the minds of the living and lives of the dead. Again, historical detail is a trifle, an occasional inconvenience in the path toward the ultimate goal of control.
If you think this is too unlikely to worry about, just consider how much ground the movement has already captured in a short amount of time.
In 2017, the PolitiFact fact-checker said that “there is scant evidence of a broader movement to take down statues of Washington and Jefferson.”
In 2021, every one of the men depicted on Mount Rushmore has been placed on the chopping block for cancellation. Even the mountain itself.
In saner times, this would all seem absurd. But it is clear that America must now decide whether to cling to the ideas of 1776—to the belief that there is objective truth best discovered by free minds and free people—or to submit to the woke left’s program of erasure, censorship, and propaganda.
In watching this unfold, I will say that I’m eternally grateful to my parents for pulling me out of Bay Area public schools as the early stages of this ethos began to emerge years ago.
Americans who still seek the truth, like the canceled Thomas Jefferson, oppose this new tyranny over the mind of man and aim to ensure that the next generation is not wholly captured by such a pathological and self-destructive ideology.
Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email [email protected] and we will consider publishing your remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature.