On Tuesday, the Falls Church school board in Virginia voted unanimously to change the names of Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and George Mason High School, achieving one of the great feats of bureaucratic cowardice by knocking out the father of the Bill of Rights and the author of the Declaration of Independence all at once.
School Board Chair Greg Anderson, in announcing the change, said, “The Board took seriously the viewpoints and concerns raised by many students, parents, staff, and community members. We thank everyone who shared their perspectives with us and will be mindful of your comments as we now begin selecting names that reflect the diversity of opinions in our community. Our schools must be places where all students, staff, and community members feel safe, supported, and inspired.”
Contrary to Mr. Anderson’s blatherings, the viewpoints of anyone who claims to feel “unsafe” because an elementary school is named after Thomas Jefferson should not be taken seriously. A person who raises such concerns should be summarily dismissed as insincere, stupid, mentally ill, or some combination of the above. Their opinions on the issue are not important, their feelings do not matter, and their desire to dethrone our greatest national heroes should not be treated with even a modicum of respect.
But that is how it should be, and we know that how it should be and how it is are two different things, especially these days.
A report from the local Falls Church News Press says that the board was making the move out of respect for the “strongly-felt sentiments of students, teachers and citizens.” Although it is also noted that a majority of that group actually did not want to change the names. The board members ultimately caved to the demands of the unreasonable minority. As it often goes.
It takes a special sort of coward to make this sort of decision under these circumstances, and footage from a school board “work session” in June, when they first began talking about this issue, shows that board is indeed occupied by those sorts of coward. The members can be seen babbling semi-coherently about “equity” and “inclusion,” none of them seeming too terribly excited about the name change, but none possessing the minimal courage required to speak up decisively against it.
This is how bureaucracies, from the local school board all the way up to the federal government, often wind up making mind-numbingly terrible decisions. Not everyone involved has to be a radical ideologue. There are usually only a few. The rest just have to be so spineless that you wonder how they manage to sit up straight in their chairs.
All of the wimpish waffling and platitude-spewing eventually gave way to a decision — the wrong one, as expected. One of the school board members, Philip Reitinger, in explaining his vote during the meeting on Tuesday night, inadvertently provided a master class in Orwellian rationalization. Reading prepared remarks, Reitinger said that he’d decided to vote for changing the name partly because Donald Trump “put kids in cages.” It’s not clear why Thomas Jefferson should be blamed for the immigrant detention policies instituted by Obama, or even why Donald Trump should be blamed for them. All Reitinger could say was that Trump’s alleged bigotry had led him to conclude that the board had to “do more for diversity.” He also implied that having a school named after Jefferson and Mason “makes a statement” that people are not created equal. Finally, he claimed that the best way to “live up to” the words of Thomas Jefferson is to “no longer have a school named after him.”
The cowardly coup de grâce came later that night when the school formally known as Thomas Jefferson Elementary (perhaps we can take the Washington Football Team approach and rename the school simply The Elementary School) tweeted out the news of the name change, and then deleted it as soon as people started criticizing it. The schools have made their decision, and now they’ll hide under their beds until the mean people stop yelling at them about it.
As it happens, the board members are able to hide under their beds, or in their beds, because schools in the Falls Church system have been shut down since spring of last year. They recently voted to extend the “remote learning” farce until 2021. So, while students remain abandoned, in limbo, having not received a real education in nine months, the board has spent its time conducting a moral assessment of a Founding Father who died 200 years ago.
Needless to say, their moral assessment was wrong. Yes, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. So did George Mason. These were flawed men, but their flaws were nearly ubiquitous in their time. Not everyone owned slaves, of course, but I doubt whether any single person on Earth in the year 1776, or any year before it, or even in the century after it, could have passed as racially enlightened by our standards today. Most of the world still cannot pass that test. In Jefferson’s time, his perspective was about as enlightened as it got, and that’s how he and George Mason and their compatriots managed to lay the groundwork for what would soon become the greatest — not to mention most diverse and racially tolerant — country on Earth.
We honor the Founding Fathers for that great achievement. We don’t honor them because they were perfect. We honor them because we are Americans, this is America, and they are the men who built it. That should be reason enough.
If it is not reason enough, then no historical figure is safe. Great people often committed great sins. Martin Luther King Jr. was allegedly a serial philanderer who watched and, according to FBI docs, laughed as a woman was raped. If we cannot put Thomas Jefferson’s bad choices into context, then why should we lend that grace to MLK? If we are looking for a perfect hero among mere mortal men anywhere on Earth, anywhere in history, we will not find him. Even if we are searching simply for someone who would not be called “racist” and “bigoted” by people today, we still will not find him. Either we can choose to see historical figures in the context of their time, judge them accordingly, and celebrate them for the great things they achieved while choosing not to emulate whatever evil they committed, or we can systematically go back through time and condemn every person who ever lived, and all of our ancestors who established, fought for, and passed down to us, every good thing we have in our lives. The Left has chosen its path. And its one that leads nowhere but to insanity.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.