But over the past decade, even though 12 Northern Virginia high schools have opened to handle one of the fastest-growing populations in the country, not one of them has been named after a person, much less a president or a general. Instead, the various school-naming committees have embraced scenic, geographic or patriotic titles: Battlefield, Colonial Forge, Dominion, Forest Park, Heritage, Mountain View, Riverbend, South County, Stone Bridge, Westfield and two schools named Freedom.Every person, no matter how famous or important, has a skeleton or two in their closet. In case you were wondering about George Washington, he would have an absolutely terrible credit score and was often serious in debt. Indeed, he had to borrow money to make the trip to be sworn in as our First President.
Part of the problem, according to a recent study and some Northern Virginia school officials, is that presidents, particularly the more recent ones, and other well-known people tend to be controversial, whereas few Americans have bad things to say about rivers, lakes, forests or freedom.
Maryland is still naming high schools after people, but it appears to be out of sync with Virginia and much of the rest of the country. According to a new Manhattan Institute for Policy Research study, impersonal school-naming practices are a national trend. Three researchers found that 45 percent of public schools built in New Jersey before 1948 were named after people, compared with 27 percent of schools built after 1988. Similar patterns were found in Minnesota, Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, Ohio and Wisconsin.
"Of almost 3,000 public schools in Florida," researchers Jay P. Greene, Brian Kisida and Jonathan Butcher said, "five honor George Washington, compared to 11 named after manatees. . . . In the last two decades, a public school built in Arizona was almost fifty times more likely to be named after such things as a mesa or a cactus than after a president."
"Today, a majority of all public school districts nationwide do not have a single school named after a president," the researchers said in their report released this week, "What's in a Name? The Decline in the Civic Mission of School Names."
But a skeleton does not diminish their hisotrical importance. To be honest, in my entire K-12 schooling, only my elementary school was named for a person W.E. Cherry. Every other school was named for a location, a town or the neighborhood where teh school was located. Interestingly, the naming controversy does not apply to elementary schools as much as it does to middle and high schools.
While I understand about the desire to avoid controversial figures, it also means that our kids have no sense of history or of the people in history. Naming schools for people offers teaching moments and can set a standard of behavior, but we are abandoning those chances because we fear backlash. Are we so afraid of our history that to name a school after a historical figure has become a taboo or at least a matter frowned upon.
History is not necessarily pretty, but then again, life is not necessarily pretty. Can we not hold up some like Thomas Jefferson as a great man, worthy of learning from both his good points and his not so good points? I would think so.