Learning and the name game

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There was a very interesting study that I came across recently about school names: It’s increasingly rare, apparently, for public schools to be named after presidents or people in general and increasingly common for them to take the names of various natural features. During the last two decades, a newly built public school in Arizona was almost fifty times more likely to be named after some thing like a mesa or a cactus than after a president.

“This shift from naming schools after people worthy of emulation to naming schools after hills, trees, or animals raises questions about the civic mission of public education and the role that school names may play in that civic mission,” wrote the study’s authors (who speculated that the trend was due less to our culture’s “increased skepticism of inherited wisdom [and] revisionist history” and more to the increased reluctance of school boards and local officials to enter into potentially messy political conflicts).

It’s a curious point, isn’t it? Though I can’t help agreeing with the New York Times‘s Claude Haberman: “One can understand why some cities find comfort in a natural object like a mesa. Unlike many politicians and other public figures, mesas are mostly on the level.”

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