It was remarkable and unexpected that the Falls Church School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to remove the names of Founding Fathers from two of its five public schools on grounds those persons were slave owners at the time of the American revolution in which each played major roles. It was that the vote was unanimous that made it a surprise, because the issue had generated very divided and often contentious responses since the School Board decided to take up the issue in June. Numerous board members testified Tuesday that their views on the matter had changed even more than once during the course of the deliberations and School Board chair Greg Anderson noted Tuesday, “There are times when two opposing things can be true at once. This is one of those times.”
The fact that the vote was unanimous will hopefully help the community to come to closure on this matter and move on. There have always been boisterous dissenters in town who oppose the prevailing majority on almost everything. They will undoubtedly persist for a time on this one, especially on the grounds the board decision flew in the face of an unscientific poll conducted by a consulting firm that showed a two-to-one preference the other way. But we found the arguments of all the board members Tuesday night to be compelling by situating the spirit of the Founding Fathers not in the context of the 1790s, but in today’s world and in their duties as board members to advance the best educational environment affirming the full enfranchisement of all going forward.
One astute observation: the Founding Fathers themselves would not want schools named for them, because they knew the process they’d set in motion toward justice and equality necessarily involved evolution in the effort. The board vote Tuesday was another step in the spirit that Mason and Jefferson sought to advance with their great seminal achievement.
There is a lot in the history of Falls Church that needs reckoning in the wake of failures to advance a “more perfect union” in the last 250 years. But it is also true that while the City’s neighbors were going pell-mell naming schools for racist Confederate and pro-segregationists to protest Supreme Court desegregationist moves in the 1950s, Falls Church resisted and instead chose names of relatively far more progressive Founding Fathers instead. Also, the City’s main non-VDOT-controlled thoroughfare was named for Abraham Lincoln, the arch-enemy of the racist Confederacy. So, it has not been all bad, or good.
The next big question is what the new school names — replacing George Mason and Thomas Jefferson — will be. That will also be a challenge for the entire community, but one which we hope can be settled in a way that keeps a positive community spirit intact in Falls Church.
We hail the board’s bold action Tuesday and are eager to help engage the process of selecting new names.