Renaming a School—and a Modest Proposal

San Francisco’s school board has proposed changing the names of up to 44 local schools.  That action has sparked controversy.  But a century ago, Chicago dealt with a similar matter.

After the United States entered World War I in 1917, a wave of anti-German feeling swept the country. One example was name changing. German measles became European measles, sauerkraut became liberty cabbage, the noble dachshund was changed to the liberty pup.

Fighting Fred Funston

In Chicago, the Bismarck Elementary School had been standing on the northwest corner of Central Park and Armitage for over twenty years. Once war was declared, however, the long-dead Otto von Bismarck was seen as an example of German militarism who didn’t deserve to be commemorated in an American school. Someone suggested that the school name be changed to honor General “Fighting Fred” Funston. He had just died, was a hero of the Philippine conflict and the San Francisco earthquake, and had been in line to command American forces in the present war.

A few members of the school board thought the name change was ill-advised, and delayed action. The full board overrode the objections, and Bismarck School officially became Funston School on May 1, 1918.  It remains Funston to this day.

So what to do when a school name becomes embarrassing or unfashionable?  I’ll repeat a proposal I made several years ago.

The Board of Education should sell naming rights to its schools.

Funston School

Think of all the money that could be raised from corporations, or advocacy groups, or political candidates!  And as a tribute to a departed loved one, a public school building is more accessible than a lunar crater or a star.  Then, after 20 years or so, the Board could auction off the name again, and raise more money.

Why not? It worked for Northwestern University and Ryan Field.


8 Responses to “Renaming a School—and a Modest Proposal”

  1. 1 JAMES F. O'NEIL May 5, 2021 at 12:07 pm

    I lived near Raster Elementary.
    Saint Justin Martyr is gone.

  2. 2 Garry May 5, 2021 at 11:21 pm

    We still don’t have any public buildings or streets named after Enrico Fermi!

    • 3 J.R. Schmidt May 6, 2021 at 6:25 am

      CPS does have a Fermi Elementary School at 1415 East 70th Street.

      • 4 Garry May 6, 2021 at 9:51 am

        When I looked up a list of CPS schools, it didn’t come up.

      • 5 J.R. Schmidt May 6, 2021 at 10:13 am

        I subbed at Fermi a few times when I was in grad school at U-of-C during the 1970s. The building wasn’t that old then. Maybe CPS closed it, or repurposed it. I’ll check it out the next time I play golf at Jackson Park.

      • 6 Garry May 7, 2021 at 2:01 am

        I looked it up. It was closed, only 237 students out of a capacity of 450 at the time of closing.

  3. 7 jayg May 23, 2021 at 3:41 am

    Seriously what corporation, advocacy group, or political candidate would want their names associated with a Chicago public school?

    • 8 J.R. Schmidt May 23, 2021 at 2:13 pm

      There are a number of high-performing schools which might positive attract interest—Lane Tech and Whitney Young come immediately to mind. As for a troubled school, a politician might pay to have the school labeled with an opponent’s name.

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