By Aris Janigian
Let us now zoom in on San Francisco, the land of romantic fog and shit-stained sidewalks, breathtaking bridges, gutters crammed with hypodermic needles, fabulously high rents and spectacular public parks, Latina nannies and Stanford MBAs. This place where all the ironies of late stage America are on ostentatious display has completed its much anticipated review of school names aimed at expunging those that are hateful or harmful, in any way an affront to any number of historically “marginalized groups.”
Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Garfield, Hoover, McKinley, Roosevelt, even Honest Abe—did not make the cut. In fact, if the SF School Name Research Committee has its way, no school named after any American president will survive. Neither will Thomas Edison, Paul Revere, Francis Scott Key (because he wrote the National Anthem) and Longfellow (because he “wrote poems with stereotypes of non-white people,”) and Robert Louis Stevenson (because “he wrote “Foreign Children,” (a cringeworthy poem that begins by asking “little frosty Eskimo” or “Japanee” (sic) children “O! don’t you wish that you were me?”).”
This is the primitive logic, rhetoric, and syntax of children, of course. Indeed, a virtual children’s crusade has invaded our institutions, promulgating a program to denigrate and eventually eviscerate any white man, in particular, who figures large in our cultural or historical imagination. No civilization not intent on suicide would allow it.
Name-changing will do nothing to avert the ongoing catastrophe of public education in California; or rather we might surmise that the function of public education is changing at the same time as are the names. Opening schools safely, getting students to show up, teaching them how to do math, spell, etc., will heretofore be secondary to taking care of their emotional, social, identity, and moral needs, while demanding they internalize the gospel of Social Justice and acquire the ways and means to cancel dissenters from its catechism. In the arena of humanities, only “Post-Marxist” American History, it seems, will be taught with gusto.
The research document coming out of the school district summarizes the reasons to leave some names standing and chainsaw others. It is illustrative of the dark days ahead for the entire country. Henry Lawton Alternative K-12, we learn, has no place in SF anymore. The document lists Lawton’s crimes as follows: “Waged war on behalf of US Army. Responsible for the kidnapping of Geronimo and 27 other Apaches, who died as a (sic) US prisioner (sic) of war after kidnapped on stolen Native Land. His crime? (sic) is he wanted him (sic) and his people to be free and left alone. Also a huge part of colonizing the Phillippines (sic), which many white Americans at the time didnt (sic) support the colonization of the Phillippines (sic), like mark twain (sic).” Typos are one thing…
In the wake of BLM protests and riots this last summer, a well-organized and well-funded Social Justice quasi-bureaucracy has emerged and now works in parallel with school districts across the Golden State. Starting this Fall, many California schools adopted into their curricula material developed by Black Lives Matter activists, which attempts to attribute students’ appalling record of learning to systemic racism and sexual identity intolerance. Irrelevant—except as a factor in “systemic racism”— are the home environment, parental expectations, social media, video games, mind-sapping apps, poor nutrition, and hard-core drugs— to name just a few extra-curricular factors that scientists, as opposed to cult leaders, have determined again and again are instrumental in getting kids educated or not. With the help of vigilant parents, tutors, and dedicated teachers, a minority of students will undoubtedly get by just fine, go to college and secure great jobs. But for the vast majority we can anticipate unimpeded ruin. It would seem a propitious time to open a private school, especially as charter schools may soon be on the way out too.
Per the research document, schools named after the Spaniards—Junipero Serra, [Father] Sanchez, Jose Ortega, to name just three—and their messianic Mission system are toast. The reasoning here is not without merit, because alongside bringing the gospel to the “heathens” the mission system also brought its fair share of disease and exploitation. Though, to remain consistent, one supposes that the very name San Francisco— the father of the religious order that founded the missions—should be relegated to hell as well.
Less reasonable, if not inexplicable, is the demoting of any American associated with the Mexican American war of 1846. The Post-Marxists now regularly advance the revanchist argument that the US “stole” Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico. Commodore Sloat, after whom an elementary school is named, “”Claimed/Stole” “California” from “Mexico” ,” the document confidently explains. Likewise, Robert Stockton, whom the city in Central California is also named after, is persona non-grata because “Notable in the capture of California during the Mexican–American War. Killed many Indigenous peoples in Mexico.”
It is hard to know what is being asserted here. If there is evidence that Stockton, a naval commander, killed innocent people in Mexico proper, I haven’t’ been able to unearth it. Perhaps what the research committee means by “indigenous” are the Californios, Mexican landowners and government officials who “led” California after the Spaniards were expelled and Mexico inherited a vast empire stretching from Costa Rica in the south to the California-Oregon border on the north. Naturally, there is no mention of how those Californios amassed hundreds of thousands of acres for their own pleasure, loathed their own home governments and frequently rebelled against them; or that they promised Native Americans land and an honorable way of life in “Alta California” only to break that promise again and again and render them into serf-like fixtures on their gargantuan plantations; nor that the Governors were so corrupt and incompetent that Mexico City shifted them out like cheap toy parts. And while we’re setting the record straight, the United States paid Mexico half a billion (in today’s dollars) to settle the peace and retire all claims over these territories (which Mexicans owned for barely 25 years). That’s a lot of dough to get from someone who has stolen from you.
Re-wedding California back to its “Mexican” roots, if not to Mexico itself, and erasing the difference between documented and undocumented immigrants is the Post-Marxists’ goal: “reparations” Californians must be prepared to pay for their criminal acts. We can expect that California students will hear this whopping claim with hardly a smidgen of pushback in the coming years. The Lone Star State is also in the crosshairs. Alamo Elementary is nixed due to “Colonization, but also means poplar tree in Spanish. “Remember the Alamo” was a call for vengeance against Mexicans that was used as a rallying cry at San Jacinto. “ Again, actual history proves more complicated: Texas was so sparsely populated under Mexican rule that American immigration was welcomed, mostly to provide a buffer against the Indian “raiders”–Comanches and Apaches.
Everything about California is collapsing under the weight of its own idiocy, hypocrisy, and delusions. Consider our bullet train, billions over budget, that promised to whisk us across the state at 220mph; how this concrete and earthen monument has come to a revolting stasis, void of purpose, precisely where it began, in the left-for-waste middle of our state. But who knows, maybe somewhere down the road a Conceptual Artist can use it for fodder. Likewise consider how in its literal and metaphorical shadow homeless tents pop up like exotic mushrooms forbidden to uproot. Then there are our sloppily managed water resources, given our propensity for drought, and sloppily managed forests, given our propensity for fires. It’s no surprise, then, that renaming schools is at the top of our sloppily ordered priorities even as we watch public education crumble at our feet. Just one statistic: by the end of the 11th grade only 19 percent of Latino students are ready for college-level math and only 47 percent are ready for college-level coursework in the English Language Arts. (No, it’s not because they are undocumented immigrants: they account for only 1 percent of students in California K-12 schools).
Aside from Alamo there are other places that need renaming, including Presidio Middle School and Sutro Elementary. Tenderloin Community School is a problem because “Tenderloin is word (sic) because before SFPD got paid more money than any other police station both by the city and there was (sic) many police who would beat us trans sex workers and steal from them (sic). the (sic) tenderloin was the more expensive cut of the meat that these cops could afford, the cops in this area made more money than cops from other stations.” Even sadder than this sodomizing of our English tongue is to see this district where gaydom in all its carnal splendor, indifferent to disease and danger, innocently flowered—to see all those delicious connotations disappear with that name. Even mythic places must go, like El Dorado, because “This is a Spanish colonial word that celebrates conquest and colonization, as it went from a person to a place to a (sic) empire that the Spanish kept trying to colonize. This is a colonizer myth. This myth is still pushed and told to kids through the dreamworks (sic) movie about spanish (sic) colonization called The Road to El Dorado.”
It’s almost as though crudity has become a prerequisite for advancing the Social Justice argument.
Cesar Chavez Elementary passed muster as a matter of course, as did a school named after the UFW’s co-founder Delores Huerta. Chavez is a Social Justice icon, his hagiography glowingly recounted by students K-12 as faithfully as once upon-a-time Bible schoolers recounted the life of Moses. Yet a moderately close look at his actual life reveals Chavez was as much a Social Justice sinner as saint. Full of wily strategies to protect farm workers’ economic interests, he regularly called the Feds to pounce on illegal aliens—scabs who threatened to break the boycott—and deport then back to Mexico. One imagines he would’ve been sympatico with the “Orange Menace.” Indeed, Chavez esteemed strong-men, praising, and getting praised in return by the Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Later in life, Chavez became entranced with Charles Dederich, the founder of Synanon, a secular cult that used shaming techniques— including making women regularly shave their heads—to control its members. Chazez’ own quasi-religious order “La Paz”, located in the Tehachapi mountains, used some of these same techniques. At La Paz Chavez was once recorded saying, “Every time we look at them,” referring to farm workers, “they want more money. Like pigs, you know.” Alas, history is so messy.
But not as messy as our pot-holed cities. A recent survey found that Californians pessimism about our state’s future is staggering. It is one thing to pay some of the highest taxes in the country and another thing to get the lowest graduation rates in return. How and why Californians continue to elect officials hell bent on squandering their tax dollars and turning their cities into third world slums is a mystery—but not totally. We can, I believe, turn to the simplest law of psychology for one explanation: the human mind cannot suffer dissonance for long without a breakdown. The dissonance at issue here is the mind-boggling disparities between the state’s haves and have-nots. California has a higher effective (or what’s called “supplemental”) poverty rate than any other state while also hosting the most billionaires—165.
In the past Americans explained it away (while giving handsomely to charity and relief organizations): per Max Weber’s thesis, the Protestant Ethic held that financial success marked one’s closeness to God. More generally, with our emphasis on liberty, private property and free enterprise, most Americans, for much of our history, believed that the have-nots simply hadn’t worked as hard, saved as much, spent wisely, or weren’t as smart or aggressive as the haves.
Today, I would venture, more Americans than ever before disagree with this thesis: it is incompatible with Post-Marxism, which attributes nearly all disparities to systemic injustices. This creates a societal scale mental disequilibrium that requires a fix. To accommodate this new interpretation, the central American ethic must move aside, and a more communitarian ethic must take its place.
This communitarian ethic is not new in America, of course; countless 19th Century groups emerged with the guiding principle that a shared, humble life was an answer to the dehumanizing, cutthroat reality of American society; the Communist Party of America had around 66,000 members at its zenith in 1939; in the 60’s, hippies decried the “empty materialism” of consumerism, lived simply and smoked pot liberally. This past summer we saw yet another incarnation of this ethic with CHAZ, the so-called “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” in Seattle, where, for a very short and embarrassing spell, they had a go at their own garden.
But, short of short-term crises, never has this ethic been a widely supported rallying call for our whole society— indefinitely. So, what happens when you want to keep all your toys, your seventh-story penthouse and 401K in place, and at the same time, mentally accommodate this new interpretation? We might look to California for an answer. This last election voters were asked to strike a psychological deal whereby what they offered up in communal penance wouldn’t hurt all that much to personally lose. Hence, the unexpected “nay” votes on so many progressive ballot propositions that might hit them where it counts. Though the “yea” column prevailed by a slight margin in the more liberal coastal cities, Californians on a whole were, in effect, saying, “So long as I don’t have to pay more for Uber or Grub Hub (Prop 22); or jeopardize my kids’ chances of getting into UC Berkeley or UCLA (Prop 16); so long as I don’t have to up my property tax (Prop 15) ( in fact, if I’m a senior I want to reserve the right to pay the same property tax as I do now if I decide to move to a higher-priced home! (Prop19); ….so long as I don’t have to do any of that, to calm my psyche, I’ll concede to a change in school names, and a few other niggling things.
I believe we will see similar devil’s bargains made at the Federal level going forward. Our country simply cannot accept the thesis of “systemic injustice” and believe in American libertarianism, much less exceptionalism, at the same time. The Biden Administration is likely to concede the cultural and educational and, less so, the environmental realm to the Post-Marxists, while holding tight to the economic and foreign policy realms; but, if the Post-Marxist movement gains even more traction in the coming years, undoubtedly those two realms will be made to concede as well.
Depressingly, even John Muir, who devoted his life to protecting the natural wonders of California is getting chopped: he made a few insulting observations about Indians and slaves when he was young.
But San Franciscans should pause long and hard before felling this particular Giant Sequoia. They might recall that Muir marshalled the Sierra Club to protect Hetch Hetchy from the greed of “monopolizing San Francisco capitalists.” Today, the city gets its water from that reservoir, one that killed natural habitats, and decimated what Muir described as “a grand landscape garden, one of Nature’s rarest and most precious mountain mansions.”
A new dispensation is arriving right before our eyes, and, as usual, California is leading the way. The stories Americans told themselves were never exactly true, let’s face it. They were always less history than myth, a blend of fiction and fact, forever evolving, as all myths must, while leaving the core values at the heart of that myth—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—intact.
Many traditional liberals believe that what we are seeing now is simply another iteration of that evolving myth, but, as I’ve argued before, this naively underestimates the Post-Marxists’ agenda. The SF school district’s research document, and the New York Times’ so-called 1619 Project, which is now enthusiastically taught in numerous schools across the country—in spite of the death-dealing criticism it received—are just two of many such ongoing plans whose goal is less to refine than erase, or, at least, deface our history. If we continue in this vein we will soon reach a dissonance induced breaking point: this country will be so steeped in the narrative of sin that no American with a conscience will be able to countenance America.
We fool ourselves to believe that we can survive without myths. They are fundamental to the functioning of human communities, as they are to the functioning of our own psyches. When one myth is sent to death, another steps in. It is not a question of whether, but which. We may be finally approaching the moment where we can answer the question that William Butler Yeats posed nearly an exact century ago: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”