The Legacy and Conundrum of Lowell High School
Muddy Waters: School Board's admission and renaming decisions
We're living through times when change is necessary, as we face crises in public health, environmental catastrophe, political mayhem, economic and racial inequality, and the failure of capitalism to manage those issues. Massive social problems breed hysteria and an urgent need to root out the causes of those problems.
Changing school names is a step towards recognizing what has served us and what hasn't, but it's complicated, because historical figures were flawed human beings like the rest of us. People who actually know history, like the graduates of Lowell High, or professional historians—and not appointed officials with attitudes—should decide who did something that deserves a school name.
Eliminating merit-based enrollment is wrong on every level. The city has a high school for the arts, and another for students interested in the trades. There is a bi-lingual Chinese-American high school. Why shouldn't there be a school for those interested in academics? We need serious pursuit of knowledge to train intellects capable of solving all the massive problems we face.”
The committee recommending name changes put Lowell on the list, because they said James Russell Lowell was a racist. At the time when war raged over the right to own slaves, Lowell was an ardent abolitionist who supported giving freed slaves the vote. If the committee read his poems, they would find this:
"No! true freedom is to share
All the chains our brothers wear
And, with heart and hand, to be
Earnest to make others free!"
He may have formed other opinions, later in life, as people often do, but he was an activist who was passionately on the side of the equality.
Dumbing Down Academic Achievement
Eliminating merit-based enrollment is wrong on every level. The city has a high school for the arts, and another for students interested in the trades. There is a bi-lingual Chinese-American high school. Why shouldn't there be a school for those interested in academics? We need serious pursuit of knowledge to train intellects capable of solving all the massive problems we face.
Stripping the school of its legacy, to accommodate one concept of equality, is the lowest point in the dumbing down of America. The only way to solve problems is to give the absolute best education we can offer. The worst thing we could do is downgrade excellence in any aspect of public education. For over 100 years, the name of the school has meant high academic achievement, and we should keep it that way.
Real Problems Need Real Answers
Perhaps the answer is not to put kids who are inadequately prepared for Lowell's academic challenges into a difficult situation, just to make the numbers meet some standard of equality. It might be better to have advanced placement classes in every middle school, for students who'd like to go to Lowell and want to do the work. We have been trying measures like Affirmative Action for decades, and it clearly hasn't fixed racism or sexism.
Lowell High has been accused of racism, because students have to show academic merit to get in. Charges like this imply that Black students can't get the good grades needed for admission, which seems like a far more racist point of view. In fact, any bright kid can love learning and do well, when teachers use imaginative and compelling ways to engage and inform. The need for imaginative engagement in the classroom is even greater in communities where financial burdens are most dire, and hope is hard to find.
While it's a problem that there are not enough minority students at Lowell, other than highly represented Asian students, it may just be the result of the agency's policies. Teachers are limited by standard methodologies and supervision that discourages anything else. The kind of teaching needed to engage students in unsupportive situations is different from that the Department's status quo. Administrators need to let teachers use storytelling, educational play, and creativity to captivate and inspire, where motivation is limited: that's the art of teaching.
The controversies surrounding Lowell High School signify the need to change tactics, but not in the ways proposed by the SFUSD and Board of Education. In fact, the actions of those city agencies demonstrate exactly why we need to retain Lowell's standards of academic excellence.
We're in a period of great change, as we survive the pandemic, a perfect time to rethink how we prepare all students for a better future. We have to begin with the understanding that there are many kinds of intelligence, and only one is academic. We must consider all the issues that affect academic performance and create better ways to overcome them. Until then, we should leave Lowell as is, name and all.
P Segal is a Lowell aluma, and she was editor of The Lowell, the school newspaper, under a former name.
Video Recording of January 26, 2021 hearing at 6:38:10-6:38:36.
Legal Challenge to School Renaming - Atty. Paul Scott (PDF)
Carol Kocivar on Renaming Schools
School Board Resolution on Assignments (Collins)