By George, PC's Gone Too Far This Time

CHANGE THE NAME OF THE nation's capital and of the bridge that spans the Hudson? Remove the statues of the nation's first president from Independence Hall, Boston Common, Wall Street, the Virginia state capitol in Richmond, and Newark's Washington Park? Banish the Gilbert Stuart, Rembrandt Peale, and John Trumbull portraits of him from the U.S. Capitol, the New Jersey State House, Princeton University's Nassau Hall, and the dollar bill? Close Mount Vernon, Washington Crossing State Park, and his headquarters in Morristown? Level the Washington Monument and the arch on Fifth Avenue, for which a Henry James novel is named? Kick him off the quarter? These measures may not be all that far off if the latest venture into political correctness becomes a national fad. This fall, the Orleans Parish School Board voted unanimously to rename George Washington Elementary School Dr. Charles Richard Drew Elementary. The action conforms with a policy that forbids naming schools in honor of former slave owners. This is the 22nd such move in the past five years. To be sure, Dr. Drew deserves to have schools named for him. A highly regarded scientist, he served his country well in World War II, first by devising ways to preserve blood plasma and then by protesting what was then army policy of segregating by the race of its donors. Like Thurgood Marshall and Robert McNair, the astronaut killed on the shuttle Challenger, whose names also replaced those of slaveholders on New Orleans schools, Dr. Drew is a worthy role model for young African-Americans. The previous name changes sparked less controversy. The names Marshall and McNair replaced on schools had been those of Confederate war generals. One might argue that Generals Lee and Beauregard fought to dismember the union and for the continued enslavement of what was then one eighth of the population of the United States. If so, what they have to offer children in minority neighborhoods who attend schools named for them are examples of valor and courage. Thurgood Marshall certainly had plenty of both. And Washington? Is the man who did more than any other to win American independence and create institutions that provided the basis for both emancipation and civil rights in the same league with ardent segregationists and former members of the Ku Klux Klan? The man who led the campaign to rename the schools thinks so. He says that "to African Americans, George Washington has about as much meaning as David Duke." He has also likened Washington to Hitler. The simplicity of his statement and the blanket policy it helped produce makes one wonder how history is being taught in New Orleans. They ban the names of all former slaveholders with a single brush. They fail to consider whether those they judge favored or opposed slavery, whether they acted to end it, whether the laws by which they lived allowed for abolition, whether it is fair to weigh them by prevailing standards of our times rather than theirs, and whether they were able to rise above slavery _ a sin in America's founding Madison called a "blot on democracy." Had these so called "educators" pondered these questions, George Washington's name might well have remained on the school's walls. Whereas Jefferson Davis saw slavery as a good that ought to be preserved and extended, Washington saw it as an evil to be ended. This gets him no credit from this graders in Orleans Parish. George Washington was one of the few of the founding generation who actually freed his slaves. In his will he freed them upon the death of his wife and provided funds for the education of the young and the care of the elderly among them. Unlike many of his contemporaries, such as Thomas Jefferson, Washington was never even rumored to have had intimate relations with those in his charge. Nor did he permit in his many absences an atmosphere that tolerated the taking advantage of those in his care. One visiting foreign officer actually complained about that. Too bad they won't be learning that in New Orleans. Washington would not sell a slave against his or her will. He refused to break up families at the auction block. Given that some persons by their race were defined as property, he made those decisions at considerable financial sacrifice. That does not count for much either in New Orleans. Finally, the moral absolutist position the school board has taken spares students and teachers from having to consider the moral dilemmas Washington confronted. Northerners such as Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin, abolitionists from the start, could remain true to their consciences without incurring either political, personal, or financial risks. Washington could not. Like the rest of us, he had to balance many forces in his life. A school board interested in education would have asked more probing questions about Washington and his times. Would Washington have risen to a place of prominence and standing in 18th Century Virginia without the slave system? Could independence have been won without the South? Would the South have entered into the struggle if forced to abandon slavery? Would slavery have been ended without independence? What drew 25,000 African-Americans into Washington's army? How did they affect the war's outcome? How were they treated in the Continental army? What did they think of Washington? Do not suspect for an instant that the surrender of Washington's name from an elementary school in New Orleans will prompt such discussions. Published accounts to date suggest the contrary. New Orleans schools may be the latest to see history as an endeavor to raise self esteem at the expense of thought. Victimization continues on the rise as test scores plummet. Meanwhile, hold onto your dollar bills. They might soon become collectors' items.

Dr. Alvin Felzenberg

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