Local Commentary

What’s in a School Name?

Soon it will be decision day for the Falls Church School Board. It’s down to a matter of weeks now before the board will have to decide whether or not to change the name of two of its public schools currently named for Founding Fathers who, despite their world-historic roles in the establishment of a democratic republic in the midst of tyranny, did not repudiate their own ownership of slaves.

As reported on Page One of this edition, the School Board has taken on the matter in the wake of this year’s Black Lives Matter social insurgency spearheaded by a new generation and a new sensibility recognizing our collective social striving for justice and equality, that proverbial long arc Martin Luther King promised us would bend in the direction of these things, needs leaning on to work.

This age has not arrived to us in a vacuum. The American Revolution was an extraordinary achievement. It succeeded where others in its time and others failed. It was rooted in the simple but incredibly profound notion that “all persons are created equal,” the super-historic phrase embedded in the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson. Every significant advance in this revolutionary republic’s life has been based on an advance in the application of this core notion. Notwithstanding the passages of time, by it was slavery outlawed and all slaves emancipated, albeit at the cost of many lives in a war. Laborers granted rights to organize, women achieved the right to vote, and equal access to education, opportunities in employment and at the ballot were affirmed for all regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, disability or, most recently, sexual orientation.

Our nation’s problems remain in the execution of these promises, and the murder of George Floyd this summer drove that point home for millions who had to witness a murder in real time. Systemic racism and inequality persist in this land to a shocking degree and the overtly racist, cruel and anti-democratic presidency of Donald Trump drives home how true this still is. Honestly, anyone who refuses to affirm “equal justice under the law” for all Americans doesn’t belong here. We are not just a country, but a revolutionary democracy defined by that notion.

2020 has been a year of reckoning for such values. If a lawful public entity feels that changing a name of a school or other public place will better reflect or advance our nation’s core values, then indeed it should. But it must be done with an eye to the due respect and affirmation of the courage and sacrifices that so many of us, imperfect as we are, have made since the time our noble Declaration of Independence was first drafted.

A name change should not be about the shortcomings of anyone, except for the criminal elements of the Confederacy, that treasonous insurgency against our republic. It should be about our ongoing striving for “a more perfect union.”