On Renaming Schools

The Ontario Elementary School Teachers union has recently come out calling for the removal of the name Sir John A. MacDonald from all schools because of his waged “genocide” against Indigenous peoples in Canada.   The argument is that we wouldn’t expect Jewish kids to happily attend Adolph Hitler Elementary School in Germany, so why would we expect Mohawk children to attend Sir John A. MacDonald Secondary School in Waterloo, Ontario?

In response some on the Right (and centre) object that the Leftists pushing this agenda of tearing down statues and insisting on renaming buildings and institutions are “revising history” and practicing Presentism – judging people of the past by current moral standards. Truthfully, everyone born 100 years ago was a racist, sexist and homophobe by today’s standards.  We need to consider that had you been born in 1920’s Germany then very likely you would have been a Nazi.  Had you been born in 1920’s Russia then very likely you would have gladly marched dissidents off to the gulags.  This is not to say that you would have been a “bad” person if you had, only that humans are fallible and our behaviours and attitudes are influenced by the cultures we are raised in and those cultures spawned a lot of deeds we would judge as evil today.  But just because we are born in this age and in this part of the world does not somehow make us uniquely and morally superior to those flawed peoples of the past.  We are flawed as well and should humbly appreciate this fact.  No doubt in just a few short decades our own children will look back at our attitudes and be dismayed and disgusted – does that make us “bad” people?

However, the Left view commemorative statues and naming things in honour of past leaders as an endorsement of those individuals and thus their worst beliefs that cannot be abided. I cite their “worst” beliefs because the Left never seem to want to judge people on the best things that they did but only on the worst things.  Forget that Sir John A. MacDonald was a founder of a great Western country that has since founding provided freedom and prosperity for millions of people and participated valiantly in wars against evil regimes.  No, let’s judge him by his starving of Indigenous people and establishment of residential schools.  Of course the counter argument is that whitewashing someone’s record could warrant even Pol Pot could have a school named after him if we restricted ourselves to judging people solely on the best they had to offer during their lives.

What if we approached this problem with a libertarian solution – the practice of Localism; provide local autonomy over cultural matters. If the people of Waterloo want Sir John A MacDonald taken off the name of their high school let them vote and say so – it’s their school, not the federal or provincial governments.  If the people of Charlottesville want a statue of Robert E Lee taken down let them vote locally and decide – it’s their history, not the history of Californians.  Conversely if the people in Quebec want the name of Wilfred Laurier retained on their buildings despite his advocacy for a Chinese head tax and calling Indigenous people “savages” then that’s their decision and if the people in British Columbia asked that his name be pulled off buildings there because of the high Chinese populations that’s OK too – the two solitudes can coexist.

However, the imposition from on high of politically correct directives on these matters should be avoided.  The argument on both sides has merit but polls show consistently that most people are opposed to the Left’s historical revanchism so why let a minority impose its will on the majority regardless of the minority’s claim to moral correctness.  Make the decisions on these matters local and democratic.  The great fear of course here in Canada is that the Panda Bear Justin Trudeau and his leftist sycophants at the provincial levels will start to make this an overarching policy and once again the imposition of cultural values of Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa being imposed on everyone else.

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