What started as one father's shock over his seventh-grade son's book report on David Starr Jordan's involvement in eugenics has culminated in a committee's recommendation to rename that Palo Alto Unified school, as well as two others named for men who promoted eugenics.
A majority of the school district's Renaming Schools Advisory Committee, convened last year to study the issue of renaming, has recommended in a final report that David Starr Jordan Middle School, Terman Middle School and the Cubberley Community Center be renamed (the latter only if it is reopened as a school) due to their namesakes' leadership in the early 20th-century movement that promoted the reproduction of genetic traits of particular races over others.
The 61-page report and 15 accompanying appendices reflect nine months of meetings, research, community outreach and often contentious discussion among committee members who vehemently disagreed on the value of renaming schools. In a minority report, four members who oppose renaming argue "the images these names evoke are not of an ugly racist ideology but of shared memories, community and growing up."
But the majority of the committee's 13 members — which include the student who wrote the book report on Jordan and his father, other parents, alumni, one teacher and other community members — believe that the schools' names evoke reprehensible beliefs that are at direct odds with the values and mission of a public school district.
"With everything we now know about the eugenics legacies of David Starr Jordan, Lewis Terman and Elwood Cubberley the majority of the committee believes that it is time to close the chapter on honoring these men and to create a sense of shared community and identity with new names -- names we can all be proud of, namesakes who did not endeavor to disenfranchise and diminish students whose identities or learning differences didn't live up to their preconceived ideals but also names that maintain the close relationship of the community with its schools," the report states.
The report presents an exhaustive argument for renaming, detailing the histories of Jordan, Terman and Cubberley — both their professional contributions to the community and their advocacy of forced sterilization, racial and ethnic segregation and other eugenics-driven beliefs. Jordan is best known as the founding president of Stanford University; Terman, as a psychologist and Stanford faculty member known for creating an IQ test, and Cubberley, as a professor and later dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Education.
In response to the argument that it is unfair to judge Jordan, Terman and Cubberley by today's standards, and that eugenics was popular in their time, the report provides examples of several people contemporary to the three men who spoke out against eugenics.
The report also notes the growing number of school districts, colleges and universities that have been grappling with the same questions, with different outcomes.
The renaming committee did agree that more education on eugenics is needed in Palo Alto Unified, recommending that the district incorporate the history of the California eugenics movement and Palo Alto's role into secondary schools' social-studies curriculum.
The committee is also recommending that the school board add the values of "integrity, innovation and inclusion" to a policy on naming criteria.
The group is not recommending the district change the names of any other schools.
The group also researched the potential financial impact of renaming — the cost of changing everything from school signs and uniforms to business cards and letterheads. The committee estimates the price tag would be about $97,600 and about $45,600 at Jordan and Terman, respectively. Replacing the uniforms for after-school athletics teams at a single site would cost an additional $12,800, according to the committee.
Several community groups have taken official stands in support of the recommendation to rename, including the Palo Alto Community Advisory Committee (CAC), which supports families of students with disabilities; Parent Advocates for Student Success (PASS), which supports minority students and families; and the Terman site council.
Arguments against renaming
In their "minority position" report, the four committee members who oppose renaming do not deny the three namesakes' involvement in what they describe as a "repugnant and non-inclusive" ideology. But to remove the three men's names, they argue, would be to erase the symbolism and generations of memories tied to the schools.
"As decades have passed, these names have been decreasingly associated with their namesakes and increasingly with the place," the minority report states. "To change the name of this school will sever the connection with the past."
Three of the four minority-report supports are Palo Alto Unified alumni. The fourth is a current Jordan teacher.
The minority report also notes that "there are many who feel that renaming institutions, however well intentioned, serves as a moral Band-Aid that glosses over deeper issues, such as the continuing presence of the achievement gap, and mutes the lessons of history."
The majority report argues that renaming is, in fact, doing the opposite as the "conscious, public act of facing the Eugenics legacy."
"In the true spirit of democracy," the four opposing members offer a compromise solution in their report: to hold a public ceremony or ceremonies to formally remove the full names of David Starr Jordan, Lewis Terman, and Ellwood Cubberley from official school records and facilities but retain the generic names of Jordan, Terman and Cubberley for the sites. The members argue that removing the names completely, even with the addition of curriculum on eugenics, will mean future students will be less engaged in that history.
"The controversial and emotional nature of this issue justifies a compromise, as the stakes are high for each side," the report states.
A different committee member, Ben Lenail, offers another "middle-of-the-road" compromise in his own report: to name Terman after Frederick Terman, Lewis' son, and publicly reject any ties to the father's legacy.
Yet another committee member, Stan Hutchings, a staunch opponent of renaming from start to end on the committee, wrote his own "do not rename" piece. In it he argues that "a school environment has much more influence on belonging, acceptance, respect/values than a school name" and that the district's time, resources and attention would be better focused elsewhere.
The question over whether to rename or not now lies in the hands of the school board, which will discuss it at a future meeting.
If the board decides to rename Jordan, Terman and Cubberley, it is unclear through what process and when new names would be selected. The renaming committee suggests engaging in a "site-centric renaming approach that involves the students, staff and parents, and helps to create a sense of name ownership and belonging."
To view the renaming committee's final report and accompanying appendices, go to pausd.org.