Progressive Bikeshedding

I’m in Tahoe this long weekend with my extended local family. My in-laws have kids in SF public elementary schools. They are very involved parents in the Richmond district. On Friday night after the kids went to bed we were chatting about school life and the struggles of remote learning in the community.

Deeply regrettable stuff. I learned of the hotline where parents can call in to vent for 60 seconds. Seriously, 1 minute. It’s a desperate outlet. Parents feeling that “they are unfit to be parents”. Totally overwhelmed by the demands of holding down jobs, guiding their kids 24/7, being short with their kids, and their kids becoming distant, troubled, sad or any other strain of negativity you can imagine exacerbating the parents’ dire year even further. A vicious cycle.

Then there’s the clinically tragic. Consider the alarming reason why SF is suing the schools for remaining closed:

UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital has seen a 66% increase in the number of suicidal children in the emergency room, and a 75% increase in youth who required hospitalization for mental health services, the lawsuit said, quoting pediatricians, child psychiatrists and emergency room doctors.

Last month, UCSF Children’s Emergency Department at Mission Bay reported record high numbers of suicidal children seen and treated, according to the legal filing which did not provide detailed numbers of cases and hospital visits. It also quoted doctors citing an increase in anxiety, depression and eating disorders among children, consistent with national data. (Link)

Now this is all quite bad (after using a thesaurus to find the right word I rejected all the candidates. “Bad” wins.)

But it’s not shocking. If Covid revealed how our economic supply chains were globally optimized to the penny, we should not be surprised to discover that a typical household was already driving on a spare.

What was shocking was what I read about the SF Unified School District, coincidentally, just before the conversation with my in-laws. After they told me their stories, I simply read aloud what I learned in Bob Seawright’s Better Letter earlier that day:
The school board of the San Francisco Unified School District recently voted to move ahead with a plan to change the names of more than 40 schools. The plan called for removing from schools names of those who “engaged in the subjugation and enslavement of human beings,” who “oppressed women,” who committed acts that “led to genocide,” or who “otherwise significantly diminished the opportunities of those amongst us to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Among those to be excluded are Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John Muir, Robert Louis Stevenson, Paul Revere, and Dianne Feinstein.

[pause for family to grok the irony of reading this together on President’s Day Weekend]

The board eliminated Lincoln’s name because of his policies toward Native Americans; Washington’s and Jefferson’s names were struck because they held slaves. The Paul Revere Elementary School will be renamed because of Revere’s role in the Penobscot Expedition of 1779, a Revolutionary War naval assault on a British fort from the Penobscot Bay that the committee assumed, bizarrely and wrongly, was intended to colonize the Penobscot people.

Perhaps it will become Robespierre Elementary and the school board will offer instruction in Maoist constructive self-criticism. 

Robert Louis Stevenson, an important area literary figure, is having his name removed because the poem, “Foreign Children,” from his famous collection, A Child’s Garden of Verses, used the rhyming word “Japanee” for “Japanese.” James Russell Lowell was wrongly claimed to have opposed allowing Black people to vote. It was enough to cancel Lowell. The name of James Lick was ordered removed because his legacy foundation funded an allegedly racist art installation nearly two decades after his death.

Clarendon Elementary, named for Clarendon Avenue, on which it sits, will lose its name because, as the Board of Education explained, the name “can be traced to a county in South Carolina, one of the 13 Colonies named for Edward Hyde Earl of Claredon [sic] impeached by the House of Commons for blatant violations of Habeas Corpus.”

[I was reading all this aloud and decided to take a let-that-sink-in pause. They would need a moment to collect themselves before the crazy train picked up speed again]
Gabriela López, the head of the San Francisco Board of Education, defended the overall decision along with the decision not to consult any historians during the process because she doesn’t want to “discredit the work that this group has done” despite their questionable judgment and glaring use of false information. In her view, those pointing out even obvious errors are “trying to undermine the work that has been done through this process.” 

López insisted that people are “up in arms” because they “have a problem with the discussion of racism.”

Oh, and “Lincoln is not someone that I typically tend to admire or see as a hero.”

In general, any breach of political purity precluded a name from fronting a school irrespective of countervailing good works. There was one exception, however. When a member questioned whether Malcolm X Academy should be renamed because Malcolm was once a pimp, and therefore subjugated women, the committee decided that his later deeds redeemed prior errors. Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, the Roosevelts, and the others did not receive similar forbearance.

In other San Francisco school news, the school board has deemed acronyms racist, and SFUSD’s vice president, Alison Collins, asserted that the concept of merit is also racist. Just this week, after two hours of debate, the board rejected a gay dad of mixed-race children from volunteering for one of several empty seats on a parent advisory group that didn’t have any gay members or men. Their problem was that he’s white and doesn’t bring diversity to the group. Really.


Let me stop here for a moment. I don’t especially like bringing attention to the most ridiculous and therefore straw version of progressivism. Doing so undermines progressive ideas that actually deserve attention (Moontower readers might be surprised that I almost agree with “meritocracy is racist”. In fact, the reason I don’t agree, is because that statement is an object level instance of my meta belief that meritocracy is largely “besides the point”. Maybe I’ll discuss this at some point when I’d feel less bad about a flock of unsubscribes. Like right before there’s enough readers to shove me into the paid tier of Mailchimp.) But also, I couldn’t help but share the insanity as it collided with what my family was telling me.

I’ll let Bob’s pragmatic sentiment be the outro…

Meanwhile, the SFUSD has no plan to reopen its schools despite the weight of scientific authority establishing that reopening can be done safely and that remote school is bad for kids. Priorities, people.

While nearly half (48%) of San Francisco’s residents are white, only 15 percent of public-school students are white. It’s hardly a coincidence that San Francisco’s private school are open, all but conclusively establishing that the city’s care for “the least of these” is far more symbolic and performative than real. As the Apostle James made clear, believing the right things without action on them is worthless.

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