San Francisco Historical Society Opposes Renaming Schools

October 28, 2020

In a letter to the Board of Education, dated October 29, 2020, the San Francisco Historical Society has stated its opposition to the renaming of the city’s schools as proposed by the Names Advisory Committee of the Board of Education as authorized in Board Resolution No. 184-10A1.

The Society focuses on San Francisco and regional history as influenced by the trail of history from the past to the present. It believes that study of that long and varied journey, coupled with knowledge of the wide range of peoples, cultures and beliefs that created our city is the proper background for education. We provide publications, lectures, classroom presentations and guided tours to further this goal.

Our children need to know that history is a story of many parts, rights and wrongs, to be able to evaluate the past, live in the present and prepare for the future. The names program, as envisioned, erases much of the complexities of the past and creates an all or nothing evaluation of people and events that does not serve as a learning or educational experience. It is education through censorship which has a long history of leading to institutionalized ‘truth’.

The Guiding Principles of the Names Committee for those to be erased are so broad and treated as being such a zero tolerance guide that they lead us to believe that this is not the creation of a group of ‘exceptional people appointed to investigate, study or analyze a given question’. Rather, it appears to be a group with an agenda that does not respect the nuances of time, place and existing culture which is what history and education are all about. It is a negative approach that does not appear to lay the groundwork for a positive learning experience.

The proposed criteria for identifying new school name possibilities seem to focus on a number of issues or ideals that are local, near term, vague and reflect current trends as to what is ‘right’. This does not appear to expand children’s horizons or focus them on preparing for the challenges of the future they will face in a different more mature setting. Parents entrust their children to the school district with the hopes and expectations that it will prepare them for the future and real life where they overcome adversity through the background of knowledge of what others have done before and how they overcame the problems of their times.

The Society questions what is actually being taught as history in the schools if the proposals on the committee reflect what is acceptable to be taught. We are currently undergoing a societal change in personal and group behavior due to the Covid19 crisis. History is a recording of crises and how they were met. It teaches us that what we may think is new, may not be, but a variation of what has occurred in the past. Children need to know what men and women faced in the past, how they dealt with it, or failed, why the results varied and what they should learn from them. Critical thinking depends on critical knowledge and the schools cannot offer that within a censored environment.

We hope that the changes proposed may not happen to the extent proposed, but we suggest that the entire process be put on hold until a more normal social environment can exist. Actions taken in a time of crisis, not related to that crisis, can become suspect in the eyes of the public. Once the schools are open, faculty and administration in place, PTA, alumni and parent groups can have meetings. then there will be the time ‘to engage the larger San Francisco community in a sustained discussion regarding public school names’. The schools, their existence in the memories of many, and their actual presence belong to all San Franciscans and should not be treated as if the school district is the sole caretaker of what is the public’s heritage.

We hope we can be part of the future discussions on this subject and offer our advice, expertise and experience to assist in creating a program that focuses on teaching, learning, discussion and mutual respect for all parties involved.


For more information, please contact the San Francisco Historical Society at 415-710-7332 or