Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Old School Tie

[posted by Callimachus]

I read this several days ago, and it's been bugging me ever since.

After analyzing trends in public school names in seven states, representing 20 percent of all public school students, we obtained the following statistics:

  • Of almost 3,000 public schools in Florida, five honor George Washington, compared with eleven named after manatees.

  • In Minnesota, the naming of schools after presidents declined from 14 percent of schools built before 1956 to 3 percent of schools built in the last decade.

  • In New Jersey, naming schools after people dropped from 45 percent of schools built before 1948 to 27 percent of schools built since 1988.

  • 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.

  • In Florida, nature names for schools increased from 19 percent of schools built before 1958 to 37 percent of schools built in the last decade.

Similar patterns were observed in all seven states analyzed.

Today, a majority of all public school districts nationwide do not have a single school named after a president.

Civilizations typically die long before they fall. And they die typically of accumulated small failures and surrenders. Dry rot and termite bores. And this is what they look like. Oozing change, so little-noticed that it never makes the evening news. When did children stopped getting savings accounts? When did we start wearing sweat pants to restaurants?

Or naming schools after leaders? Almost certainly this is a by-product of the demythologization of American history. None of the Founders is politically correct enough for a modern school board. What director could vote to name a school after a slaveowner? All of the presidents are tainted by their politics. Martin Luther King's name is about the only safe one left.

The original American public schools back in the mid-19th century tended to be named for their locality. But in a modern consolidated school district, attendance boundaries often cross municipal lines and there are fewer and fewer schools that can be named for their neighborhoods.