As an educational issue, it doesn’t rank up there with FCAT motivation, school discipline, phonics programs or abstinence instruction. But it is an increasingly polarizing one: what we name our schools.
Case in point: the folks in Lithia who think there are better names for a school in their area than, say, “Joe Newsome.” For viable alternatives, they say, all a school board would have to do is consult them. That’s why about 75 of them, residents of the FishHawk community, protested outside the Hillsborough County School Board meeting earlier this month.
They say they’re protesting the board’s high-handed process that precludes input from the community. Nothing against Newsome, of course.
Let’s admit something. Unlike a rose, a school by any other name wouldn’t be the same. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it matters. Helen Hayes or Gabby Hayes Elementary? Marcus Garvey or Steve Garvey Junior High? Harry or Truman Capote Middle School? Stonewall or Jackson Pollock High School.
While teachers, curriculum and the quality of instruction are obviously more important, reality dictates that connotation and cachet count. Would it matter if your diploma and resume read: “Sharpton,” “Schwarzkopf,” “Shabazz” or “Shakespeare” High School?
The fundamental problem is two-fold when we name schools after people. For openers, we have many more schools than we have dead American icons. And the disparity only widens. No problem with the Washingtons, Jeffersons, Franklins, Lincolns, Edisons, Wilsons, Carvers and Roosevelts. But all too quickly do we run out of first-tier names. How else to explain Buckhorn Elementary?
No offense intended, but it’s like wandering through the Baseball Hall of Fame and noting the plaques of Ruth, Cobb, Young, Foxx, Gehrig, Williams, DiMaggio, Aaron, Mays, Koufax and Yan.
Worse yet, however, are scenarios for naming schools after the living, typically local politicians and prominent members of the business community. Not only are they not necessarily of icon quality, but the unwritten chapters of their lives could prove dicey for posterity. It’s courting the educational counterpart of Enron Elementary.
Joe Kotvas Alternative School would have been awkward. Two years ago Steve LaBrake Vo Tech might have made the cut. Ronda Storms Magnet School could still happen.
Let’s face it. Except for that special American pantheon of heroes and exceptional achievers, we’re better off going geographical. It avoids needless controversy and helps instill some sense of community in schools too often lacking in identity.
FishHawk High. Why not?