Confederate Monuments, Names of Schools, etc.

Context

Lately, there has been discussion about removal of statues and monuments to soldiers and generals of the Confederate States of America. I guess it got a lot of traction with the discussions about the Confederate Battle Flag flying on State property in South Carolina and its eventual removal. The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. has announced it is removing stained glass that depicts the Confederate Battle Flag. Similar actions are happening in cities across the south, New Orleans, Louisville (granted, Kentucky was not a state of the Confederacy, but it was a slavery state), and Birmingham, to name a few.

It’s not just monuments, schools are named after prominent Confederate figures. There are high schools named for Jefferson Davis, P.G.T Beauregard, “Stonewall” Jackson, and so forth. Of course, several are named for Robert E. Lee. I knew of a middle school and a high school in Louisiana. I would have attended the middle school if my parents had not put me in private school during the height of the integration battles in my home town. I did attend Robert E. Lee High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Robert E. Lee High School

It was an excellent school and prepared me well to go to college at Georgia Tech. I was ready to tackle calculus through my pre-calculus class and had two entire semesters dedicated to Shakespeare. Located near LSU, with many faculty children attending, it was expected to have such things.

Age caught up with Lee and it has been rebuilt with all of the marvels of the modern views of education. It is top notch in all ways, clearly.

As it is slated to reopen in the coming fall, the question of its name has been brought up, and a battle is brewing. The battle is the same as the one over the monuments. Is it appropriate to honor Robert E. Lee in 2016 America?

My Opinion on Renaming

Below, with some editing, is a comment I made in response to an editorial in The Baton Rouge Advocate. On Thursday, June 9, 2016, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board will have a forum to discuss a name change.

Some still question if changing the name is appropriate. Absolutely, it is appropriate.

This is not a decision about political correctness or other such distracting mislabeling. It is about ethical decisions and removing a burden for future students.

Ethical Decisions

This is about making ethical decisions in the here and now about whom we choose to honor and whom we choose to relegate to history books and museum contextualization. By naming a school after an historical figure, by maintaining a statue to an historical figure, we are absolutely honoring that person. Indeed, we continue to elevate that person in public consciousness. Robert E. Lee is a much larger figure in the public consciousness than he should be, in my opinion somewhat because of the many monuments and schools named after him. Thousands of students who attended the first version of Robert E. Lee High School learned about him who otherwise would have read about him in a history book and probably forgotten him soon afterwards. How many people know of George Thomas? Patience, you’ll learn a little here.

Whether to honor a specific historical person or not is our choice based on our ethics. In that choice, we make a statement about how we feel about that historical person’s acts.

Robert E. Lee had a choice to serve the Union or serve the Confederacy. He chose the Confederacy, arguing he was choosing based on loyalty to Virginia. He chose to serve the side protecting the right to ownership of other human beings. Other officers in the United States Army had the same choice at the time of the outbreak of the war. Some men from Southern states chose their loyalty to the United States, some transferred their loyalty to the Confederacy. (They had sworn an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, after all.)

If we maintain the honoring of Robert E. Lee with the name of the school we are saying that his decision to defend slavery was quite all right. We all know it wasn’t because owning humans is grievously wrong. It was an act of misguided loyalty. Others such as George Thomas of Virginia who chose to stay with the Union lost all posessions and connection to the family. They are the heros for whom schools should be named. Alas, I can find no record of a school named after George Thomas. (There is a George C. Thomas Junior High School in Philadelphia, named after a banker important for financial stability of the Union during the war, and not the same man.)

The Effect on Students

We should recognize the effect the name of the school will have on students of the school. Regardless of background, there is a heavy weight associated with attaching yourself to a school named Robert E. Lee.

The descendants of slaves should not need to attend a school named after a man who made the choice to defend enslavement of humans. They should not have to deal with the cognitive dissonance of desiring an excellent education at a place dedicated to a man who fought for their ancestors’ continued enslavement.

I am a proud graduate of R. E. Lee High School, class of ’76. But, over the years, on paperwork for this and that I needed to document the name of my high school. As a psychologist, I know that people are influenced by their biases, even when they try their best to not let those biases have influence. How many times was my application downrated just a small amount, enough to move me out of contention for a job or educational opportunity because of the awareness of R. E. Lee as a man who defended slavery? I can never know the answer in any specific case, but without a doubt it happened, because that’s just how the human mind words. The people making a decision wouldn’t even be able to point to why. They’d just say, “I don’t know, I just have a bit of a negative ‘vibe’ about this candidate.”

It would be better to not saddle future generations of high school graduates with that little bit of extra weight in what will doubtless be a competitive employment and educational market.

Pride in a Name

Fix this now. It is both ethically righteous and a benefit to future students to change the name away from Robert E. Lee. A name of a public structure should be one to utter easily with pride, not one that may require a justification.

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At that Texas school, they knew it was not a bomb.

It is so easy to get caught up in the obvious parts of a story and miss the details that make it all too apparent what was really going on. I’m confident you are aware of the news item about top student, Ahmed Mohamed, who was accused of making a fake/hoax bomb at MacArthur High School in Irvine, Texas, and arrested, fingerprinted, etc. He was not allowed to speak to his parents for over an hour. I admire that in a news conference he was asked if he would meet with the principal of the high school and he said he would not without his lawyer present. They play hard ball with you, play back, they deserve it otherwise their power will consistently be unchecked. Ahmed has all the abused nerds of the world on his side, including President Obama and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg who have publicly proclaimed their support and desire to meet the young man.

That ignorant treatment of the young man was itself worthy of ire; the obvious story had plenty to be outraged about. But, it really isn’t the story that should upset us most.

This is floating around the internet (thank you to my wife for spotting it), a real (or fictional) exchange between two people, one believing the Irvine, Texas school’s statement that they believed the homemade clock was a bomb. Here’s a place to read it in detail (Daily Kos), but this is what the bottom line is: The officials at the school did not evacuate the school, isolate the suspected bomb from people or call the bomb squad. That is to say, they knew it wasn’t a bomb, because anything remotely suspicious is treated as bomb by doing all the above. Their goal seems apparent: to make an example of this kid, to humiliate him for being outstanding along with being of African and Muslim descent, a point of terrible cognitive dissonance, I suspect.

#IStandWithAhmed We all should.

#Distractinglysexy #womeninSTEM #HeyaTimHunt

Because, hash-tagging is cool… what’s not cool is Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt’s comments that he thinks research labs should be single sex only. Women ‘fall in love’, are too ‘distractingly sexy’, or ‘cry when criticized’. Pity he said something so inane that he had to quit his high profile position at University College London. Just goes to show you that just because someone is brilliant does not mean the person is enlightened. Anyway, this links to a bunch of twitter pictures women have posted with the above hashtags and some are brilliant. Woman in cleanroom talking about how hot a hairnet looks. LOL!

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11667981/Tim-Hunt-Distractinglysexy-female-scientists-post-photos-on-Twitter.html

Updated with another list of pictures with awesome captions:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/skarlan/biohazard-suits-are-nsfw

Potemkin Schools

What an apt name for these for-profit schools. Just as the Grigory Potemkin is said to have created post-card ideal (but altogether fake) villages to impress Catherine II in her travels, these schools make it appear they are providing a genuine college education when often they are providing a grade in exchange for money, education is incidental, at best. The Department of Education has said it will be creating a loan forgiveness program for students who took on debt while attending schools that used deception to recruit. The degree of deception and other specifics are still to be determined.

What is contemptible is that we have a system that creates this in the first place. If we had free college education at state institutions as Bernie Sanders proposes, then there would be no air for these for-profit schools to breathe. And, that’s as it should be. These schools are warping the landscape of education, creating expectation of ‘grade for money’ for all higher education, and otherwise yielding evidence of the ineffectiveness of college education when actually these schools are the ineffective ones.

More on FiveThirtyEight.com: http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/loan-forgiveness-for-bad-faith-not-bad-bargain-schools/?ex_cid=538fb

Youth as Investment, Not as Profit Center

Bernie Sanders quite correctly points out that we have shifted from a nation that thinks of education in our children and youth as an investment in our nation’s future to one of treating it as a profit center. Exploitation of that as a profit center leads to many of the maladies that education currently faces. He shows that European nations largely understand the importance of investment, therefore offering free college education. If they can do it, we can, also. I mean, are Europeans more capable than we? Follow the link to read more at Occupy Democrats. http://www.occupydemocrats.com/bernie-sanders-introduces-legislation-to-make-public-colleges-tuition-free/