Credit the Centennial School Board for embracing the change and challenges that come with serving an increasingly diverse student population. While some districts might put the burden on new students to figure out how to fit into Centennial, the school board is instead looking at how to stretch and grow into a district that is more responsive to students, no matter their race, ethnicity or national origin. It's a forward-looking attitude, especially notable in the east Multnomah County district that has scarce dollars for funding new programs or adaptations.
But in their eagerness to back up their good intentions, school board members are poised to ditch their good sense. The board is considering a proposal to drop "Lynch" from the names of three elementary schools named for a pioneer family — not because the family had any actual connection to the abhorrent practice of lynching, but out of concern that the name can conjure up those associations. School board members should reject the proposal, recognize the damaging message such a move unwittingly sends, and step up to the responsibility of educating students using facts and context, not assumption and bias.
As The Oregonian/OregonLive's Janaki Chadha reported, the three elementary schools, Lynch Wood, Lynch View and Lynch Meadows, were named in honor of the family who donated land for a community school more than a century ago. But the Centennial superintendent said an increasing number of questions and complaints are coming from families of color who are wary of the word.
This is where teaching should play a role. It's not just the obvious lesson that words have multiple meanings or that people bring different perspectives to the same issue. There's the lesson of who the Lynches were — a family headed by Patrick and Catherine Lynch who came to the United States in 1867 from Ireland, according to census documents. They were immigrants, just like many of those joining the student body at Centennial and other school districts throughout the area. While it's unclear what drove the Lynches' decision to leave Ireland, many Irish immigrants in the mid-19th Century left due to famine and political unrest, themes that resonate today. The Lynches and their donation in 1900 to support education exemplifies the kind of significant contributions immigrants have and will continue to make to the local community.
Instead of telling that compelling story, the school board would rather hit the delete button, in some patronizing misinterpretation of what it means to champion equity. Equity, however, isn't about curating an alternate reality to protect students from any discomfort. Equity is about equipping students with the support, curriculum, guidance and resources that help them navigate the complicated reality that we live in and assists them to achieve their potential.
The proposal in front of the school board also insinuates that a person's name can be so shameful or disturbing that it should be changed or suppressed. While the motivations may be different, it's that kind of stunted thinking that led opponents of former President Barack Obama to highlight his middle name, Hussein, in a disgusting effort to discredit him through xenophobic innuendo.
Explaining the Lynch name in the three schools is easy compared to teaching about Oregon's exclusionary history and its continuing effects. If the Centennial School Board thinks this is too big a challenge for them to handle, then families in the district have far more to worry about than what to call their neighborhood school.