4.15

For Whom Is and Could Your School Be Named

Every one of the nation's 130,930 public schools has a name. While many are named for the town or street where they are located (e.g., Boston Latin School; Pleasant Street School) or a nearby geographic feature (e.g., Monument Mountain School), thousands are named for historically important individuals.

San Diego High School buildingSan Diego High School is the Oldest Public School in California Still on its Original Site
San Diego High School by Conquerist is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Many schools are named after former Presidents (see list of educational institutions named after presidents). Some schools are named for other prominent historical figures. For example, Dunbar High School in Washington, DC, the first public high school for Black children in the United States, is named for the poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar.

Dunbar_High_School_DC_new_buildingDunbar High School DC (new building) by DC Public Schools | Public Domain

School names express not only the history of the school but of the country. In 2020, there were approximately 300 schools in 20 states named for men associated with the Confederacy during the Civil War (Mitchell, 2020). Dozens of those schools are in Texas, Georgia, and Alabama. Robert E. Lee is the most frequently named former Confederate figure. Some of these schools have been renamed following the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

For whom is your school named and for whom might it be renamed to? The question is both timely and complicated. The online activity When Should a School Be Renamed? from KQED Learn poses the following questions for students and teachers to consider:

In this activities, you will research the name of your school. Then you will design a proposal for changing the name of your school or another school in your state. 

Activity 1: Research and Present the History of the Name of Your School

Activity 2: Propose the Renaming of a School

In New York City, an activist named Jacob Morris led an effort to rename city streets after Black New Yorkers (Boyer-Dry, 2021). Gold Street is now Ida B. Wells Place and there are 40 other roadways renamed for individuals including singer Paul Robeson, civil right activist Ella Baker, lawyer Charles Hamilton, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Not everyone in the African American community appreciates the efforts of Mr. Morris who is White and works alone. They urge a more collaborative approach that involves more community members in renaming streets to more accurately convey the history of the city and its peoples.

In this activity, you will take a collaborative approach to proposing the renaming of a school by collecting and analyzing data from school and community members. 

Additional Resources

Connecting to the Building Democracy for All eBook

Building Democracy for All: Public Service as a Career

Connecting to the Standards