Roger Scruton liked to say the the core of the contemporary left is a “culture of repudiation,” in which the inheritances of our civilization must be denied and rubbished precisely because it is our civilization, rather than the imaginary one of the left’s making. Harry Jaffa’s explanation of this went as follows:
My understanding of Marxist Communism is that—whatever its own understanding of itself—its necessary result is the extinction of the memory of the past. There will always be a fictitious memory of sorts, which will call itself a memory. But the idea of the leap into freedom—which is essential for the self-justification of Marxism—implies the radical superiority of the future over the past in all fundamental human respects. Any memory of that past, and genuine memory of the past, destroys the illusion of that superiority and hence would have to be extinguished.
Which brings us to the San Francisco School Board, which as everyone has probably heard by now is stripping the names of historical American figures from more than 40 schools in the city, including not only Washington, Jefferson, Hoover, Roosevelt (the Board isn’t sure which Roosevelt the school is named for, but dump it anyway just to be safe) and even Sen. Dianne Feinstein, because more than 30 years ago she failed to support removing a confederate flag from a city historical exhibit promptly enough.
The New Yorker‘s Isaac Chotiner has interviewed Gabriela López, who heads the San Francisco Board of Education, about the de-namings, and the result is one of the most staggeringly stupid things you’ll ever read. Here are just a few of the highlights (Chotiner’s questions in bold):
I read that you stated, “This in no way erases our history. It cannot, and we will not forget the past. But we can honor the work that has been done to dismantle racism and white-supremacy culture.” Can you explain what you meant by that?
There’s this idea that because we’re removing the names we’re somehow removing the stories in what we’re learning, and that in fact is not the case. It’s really just sharing in our schools what is and isn’t uplifted. And that’s part of my work as a school-board member. That’s been my work as a teacher. What are we highlighting in our classes? And what are we teaching our students? And what isn’t being uplifted in our time and our public-school system that we’ve seen throughout history?
Is what you’re saying that in practice we don’t necessarily want to uplift, say, Lincoln, but that doesn’t mean we won’t teach the Civil War or the Emancipation Proclamation?
Absolutely. But, even with that, it’s talking about the brutality and the truth that is often not discussed in our classrooms. And I’m thinking even to my own experience and my own learning, all that I got through my college experiences, that we gain through ethnic studies, is not a process that we normally see in our school career. And so it is discussing the history. Of course, that’s not going anywhere. . .
The reason I bring this up [the lack of consultation with historians] is that some of the historical reasoning behind these decisions has been contested—not so much how we should view the fact that George Washington was a founder of the country and a slave holder but, rather, factual things like Paul Revere’s name being removed for the Penobscot Expedition, which was not actually about the colonization of Native American lands. And so there were questions about whether historians should have been involved to check these things.
I see what you’re saying. So, for me, I guess it’s just the criteria was created to show if there were ties to these specific themes, right? White supremacy, racism, colonization, ties to slavery, the killing of indigenous people, or any symbols that embodied that. And the committee shared that these are the names that have these ties. And so, for me, at this moment, I have the understanding we have to do the teaching, but also I do agree that we shouldn’t have these ties, and this is a way of showing it. . .
I’m curious how you view [Lincoln] generally.
I think Lincoln gets more praise than the . . . how can I say this? Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t think that . . . Lincoln is not someone that I typically tend to admire or see as a hero, because of these specific instances where he has contributed to the pain of the decimation of people—that’s not something that I want to ignore. It’s something that I’m learning about and that I know it’s not often spoken about.
There’s much much more of this in the giant word-salad bowl in the whole article, if you can stand it. The New Yorker says the interview has been “edited for length and clarity,” and if this is “clarity” one wonders how bad the raw transcript must be. Lopez’s bio says she majored in Liberal Studies and Women’s Studies at Cal State, and then received a Masters of Education at UCLA. One wonders how stupid she’d be if she had gotten a Ph.D.
At this point it is probably worth hoping that our public school systems remain closed for good. This is surely the best outcome for San Francisco’s schools.