Letters to the Editor from June 25 – July 1, 2020
Having spent my career in public service conducting congressional investigations and evaluating government programs, I found my professional instincts kicking in as I read the recent letter to the editor, “Nearly 700 Signatures Support Changing TJ Elementary Name” (Falls Church News-Press June 18-24, 2020). The author’s assertions that Jefferson “beat young African Americans as young as age 9, and took pride in these actions” gave me pause and prompted my own effort to examine them.
After reviewing dozens of scholarly sources — including book reviews, newspaper articles, blog accounts, and other online information — it was clear that these assertions are untrue: there is no evidence that Jefferson ever beat youthful slaves at Monticello or any of his other properties or took pride in the use of corporal punishment. Likewise, the assertion that Jefferson “boiled down the life of a human being’s worth to a profit margin” is at best subjective and misleading, seemingly reflecting views expressed by the author of a controversial recent book that purported to shed new light on his life and character.
Clearly, as the letter writer also notes, Jefferson is a “complicated figure.” It has long been known and scholarly works in recent decades have broken new ground on the paradoxes and contradictions in what he did, said, and wrote over his lifetime. Still, I wonder how many of those 700 signatories to the name change petition would have done so had they known that the information provided to persuade them was false, misleading, and/or exaggerated. Indeed, in my view, it is precisely such information we need to avoid if we are to make headway in addressing the tumultuous issues and problems we face. In fraught times such as these, positive results more than ever depend on the kind of sound and accurate information and clear-headed thinking missing from the author’s letter and apparent approach to the name change question.
Preserving Nature Should Be Priority For Fellows Site
I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Byers’ recent Guest Commentary on preserving the Fellows Site in a more natural state, allowing it to remain as a native habitat for all to enjoy. Not only would building infrastructure such as tennis, pickleball or volleyball courts or a dog park be expensive to build and maintain, more importantly it would destroy one of the last vestiges the City has of a large grouping of protected mature trees and other native habitats essential for birds, pollinators, and other wildlife.
The importance of maintaining native habitats cannot be understated. According to recent studies, since 1974 we have lost more than 45% of our native insects and other invertebrates, which are essential for pollination as well as the entire food chain. Birds require approximately 70 percent native plantings to survive, yet a cursory review of most yards in Falls Church shows less than 20 percent native plantings. The good news is that we can do something about this by maintaining native habitats where they remain, by planting native species of trees, shrubs and flowers whenever we can, and by reducing (even a little) our lawns and replacing them with native plants.
I urge Falls Church to strongly consider creating and maintaining a park that serves not just selected residents for a few hours a day (such as courts or a dog park would), but a space that would be open to all and that would serve as a gift to future generations. Any survey should include opportunities for residents to choose activities such as observing nature, walking through native areas, preserving native plantings, bird-watching, maintaining habitats for birds and pollinators, a quiet place to enjoy a naturalistic setting, watching fireflies, or learning about the environment.
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