Confederate Monuments, Names of Schools, etc.


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.


Roe V. Wade Isn’t Actually About Choice

Sometimes I see a meme that genuinely helps me think differently about a topic. We’ve allowed the discussion about abortion to become a discussion around the word choice. I understand the decision to focus on that word. But the fact of the matter is, the discussion about abortion should be about medical safety and health (even though there’s a problem with that right now*).

The Roe V. Wade decision occurred when I was about 15 years old. I didn’t even know it had happened, really. But, as the years passed, I learned and grew in my understanding of the issues. I’m sure there were times when I was modestly conservative on the issue (meaning it should only be allowed in cases of rape, incest, woman’s life in danger, etc.) because I was politically moderately conservative in my early college years.

But, I was raised by a single mom, so my ‘women should be independent’ vibe is very strong. So, I’ve long favored a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. I have known for about 25 years that the main issue for me isn’t if women will have abortions. Women always have and will have abortions when they so choose, no matter the law. The issue is if those abortions will be safe for the woman.

I became clued-in on that perspective when a very proper woman of South Carolina heritage said at a party in a voice loud enough to carry through three rooms of the party from the table where the topic was under discussion, “We will not go back.” And the table fell silent, all heads turned, and she said, “I mean it.” That made me curious so that I was open to learning what will not go back meant. As the ensuing years passed I would be open to learning what women would go through to get abortions in the years prior to Roe V. Wade. Scenes in movies or books would include something either obliquely or directly about the bad old days: The expensive travel to far away states where it was legal for those who could afford it, the back alley ‘doctors’, the coat hangers, and the horror drugs.

That clinched it for me, all women must have access to safe and legal abortion. The choice is for the individual woman to make based on her own life circumstances, heart and mind. If you believe abortion is wrong, don’t have one. The clinic is not for you, but for the women who choose it. The mere availability of abortion does not force any woman to have one.

Over recent years the debate increasingly has been framed as Right to Life versus Choice. I was never much troubled by that because it’s not that I’m pro-abortion. I simply believe that each individual should have the choice and implicit in that choice is availability of safe and legally available abortion provisioning. Never have I (nor anyone anywhere, I’ll wager) thought: Hey abortions are available right around the corner and you are pregnant, maybe you should have an abortion instead, because Choice! That’s ludicrous, but sometimes seems to be the way the Forced Pregnancy framers (see below) want to make it look. And, the Choice frame does lend itself to such hyperbole, because its meaning has a note of trivialization of the process. “What movie should we rent? I don’t know, what are our choices?”

Right to Life vs Choice is a false framing of the debate and has lost its value, I worry. It is actually Forced Pregnancy versus Safe and Legal Access (for the dim-witted: Forced Pregnancy is the Right to Life side and Safe and Legal Access is the Choice side).

This is the meme that reminded me of what is actually at stake. I’m sure it has been around for a long time. I just happened to see it for the first time today. I’m glad I saw it, that my thinking was renewed and it led to me writing this.


So, let’s get to work making sure people understand this is about Safe and Legal Access.

*The problem is that medical safety and health concepts are being coopted by right wing politicians as justification for creative methods of restricting abortion. So, they make it so clinics must have physicians with admitting privileges at a local hospital (Texas, for example). Or, they claim in Utah that the fetus must be anesthetized to ensure it feels no pain, against evidence to the contrary and lack of evidence of effective anesthesia for a fetus. So, medical safety and health concepts are being stolen from the choice-oriented forces. They had better figure out how to prevent this from getting worse before they lose all their political ground.

Deporting 210,000, more or less, in the Caribbean.

Turns out that in the Dominican Republic, being born in the country will not make you a citizen. At least, not now. They are rounding up ‘dark skinned’ people with ‘Haitian features’. I can’t even imagine how this racist description could possibly make sense. Anyway, they are rounding them up for deportation to Haiti. Apparently, these humans are alleged to have been born of Haitians who had come to work in the Dominican Republic and that makes them, in the eyes of the Dominican Republic, non-citizens. Preparations for deportation appear underway. To where? How? When?

And, the USA remains silent. Are we not world leaders on human rights? Time to step up and show it, methinks.

Torture is beneath the dignity of the United States of America

It is as simple as that. Torture is a method without moral or scientific justification. We taint our moral standing in the world when we torture. It is a conscious decision, never accidental, never excusable, never appropriate. More importantly, can we get future Presidential candidates to promise they will not reinstate the torture programs of W’s era?