Yale Renaming History is a Danger to Education
It’s not about John C. Calhoun, but about keeping track of where we’ve been and learning from the difficulties of the past.
Recently, the Yale Corporation renamed one of its residential colleges for computer scientist Grace Hopper, dropping the name of John C. Calhoun, whose political philosophy included a defense of slavery.
The decision came after months of campus protest over honoring Calhoun whose beliefs many find abhorrent. Tampering with the historical record, however has its dangerous side.
Similar demands for renaming buildings honoring historical figures have been made at other institutions including Princeton University, where students took issue with the use of President Woodrow Wilson’s name because he did not share modern sentiments on race and supported certain segregationist practices.
History is no doubt filled with unpleasant happenings. To demand, however, that events we find distasteful be removed from our consciousness is not only counterproductive but invites the normalization of whitewashing and selectively engaging with history.
Prior to Yale’s announcement, the policy of the university recognized the importance of facing history rather than sweeping it under the carpet when it is difficult to bear. To this effect, university President Peter Salovey said, “Through teaching and learning about the most troubling aspects of our past, our community will be better prepared to challenge their legacies.”
If this precedent of renaming is to continue, we might demand that President Bill Clinton’s name be removed from a plaque outside of the Yale post office because his administration failed to intervene during the genocide in Rwanda.
People of Irish heritage might insist that the Seychelles rename its capital, Victoria, because its namesake queen reigned over the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland during the Irish famine, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1million people and was caused, in large part, by British grain import practices.
Perhaps Washington, D.C., ought to be renamed because George Washington kept slaves who were not freed until after his death.
Yale’s recent decision is not the first instance of attempting to modify history. The practice was a preferred means of state control over collective memory in the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin was known to order the removal of political opponents from official records when they fell out of favor. For example, Stalin notably ordered the likeness of commissioner Nikolai Yezhov be blotted out of a photograph following his execution in 1940.
Events such as these served as inspiration for aspects of the nightmarish world conjured by George Orwell in “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” In Orwell’s imaginary state, there is an agency called the Ministry of Truth, which revises events in history to fit with the narrative preferred by the party in power. The protagonist of the book, Winston Smith, is an employee at the Ministry of Truth, and he comes to understand with growing horror how the government edits old newspapers and publications to convince citizens that certain events never took place. The activities of the Ministry of Truth created a society in which it became impossible to decipher the government narrative from what had actually taken place.
As important as Orwell’s point is, perhaps the most pressing concern today is that we may begin to view history only through the lens of those currently living. There is much to learn from observing the differences between the past and present; as the British author L. P. Hartley wrote: “The past is a foreign country: They do things differently there.”
Should renaming become a part of life, we, as a society, are in danger of losing track of where we’ve been and learning from the difficulties of the past. Refusing to engage with unpleasant aspects of history does nothing to aid our appreciation of the ways of life, shortcomings and beliefs of those who came before us. History, by definition, is not just a reflection of what we happen to believe at the present. Rather, it tells the story of how our views and values have evolved, often for the better.
Erich J. Prince, 22, of Philadelphia is a senior majoring in political science at Yale. He lives in Davenport College. This article appeared originally in the February 15, 2017 edition of the Hartford Courant.
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Changing history is the first thing that a communist government does to control the narrative that they want to present i.e. The former Soviet Union.
The “Progressive” move from education to indoctrination.
It’s been said that those who refuse to learn history are condemned to repeat it.
I would add, that may be the intent.
Don’t be silly. Remembering history doesn’t mean one should honor villains. Nobody will forget John Calhoun or Woodrow Wilson just because their names no longer decorate respected places of learning; they will be remembered for as long as the evil they did continues to affect our world. Or do you think our failure to name colleges for Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and other such villains means we’re doomed to forget the lessons we learned from their evil? Or do you think that if some public building were named after Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer it should keep that name forever?
The fact that in the 1930s Yale thought it appropriate to name a college after Calhoun, when such a decision would have been unthinkable 50 or 60 years earlier, just goes to show what a degenerate time that was, when the KKK had so much influence on US society, and how grateful we should be that we have only to deal with the SJW, BLM, and other lesser evils.
“The fact that in the 1930s Yale thought it appropriate to name a college after Calhoun, when such a decision would have been unthinkable 50 or 60 years earlier, just goes to show what a degenerate time that was, when the KKK had so much influence on US society, and how grateful we should be that we have only to deal with the SJW, BLM, and other lesser evils.”
I was mostly with you until the last phrase of this second paragraph. BLM marching through the streets chanting “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? NOW!”, followed by the murder of several police officers does not strike me as a “lesser evil”. Nor do the rhetoric and actions of Islamic Supremacists, either abroad or in this country; see Dearborn, MI, Boston, MA, and Orlando, FL. As to SJW’s, their anti-U.S., anti-Jewish, anti-freedom, pro-leftist work on college campuses across the country should give pause – hell, should frighten – anyone who wants this country to remain even nominally free.
No, these are not “lesser evils”.
BLM is certainly a lesser evil than the KKK. The Klan was not about rhetoric; it was the terrorist wing of the Democrat Party, and in its heyday it held half the country in its thrall. Its membership included many elected officials and judges, and its admirers included even a president. Neither BLM nor the various kinds of SJW have reached that sort of influence. and Yale’s decision to name a college after Calhoun can only be explained by the Klan’s influence at that time.
BLM is certainly a lesser evil than the KKK.
Not when it had the resources of Obama’s DOJ behind it.
Come on. Anyone who can seriously claim that BLM is even in the same class as the KKK is either utterly ignorant of history, or a moral cretin.
How many people has BLM killed? Raped? Beaten? Burned out of their homes? Harmed in any way? BLM has, so far, been about venting hateful rhetoric, calling for violence, causing disruption, and generally making nuisances of themselves. How can you compare that to the biggest terrorist organisation this country has ever seen?
Now tell me how many state legislatures BLM controls, how many governors, how many judges, how many police forces, how many supreme court justices. The answer is none. At most it had a few boosters in the DOJ for a few years. So how can you compare it to the KKK? 0bama said some nice things about BLM? Big deal. Wilson screened Birth of a Nation in the White House.
Don’t you dare mimimize the Klan by putting BLM in its class.
Yale University is named after a slave Trader. So why pick on Calhoun? Yale should be proud that an alum became Vice President.
Slave trading was a lawful and respectable business when Elihu Yale engaged in it. By the standards of his day he was a respectable person. Calhoun was a villain by the standards of his own time, not just ours, and he was justly reviled by most decent people. Yale has no reason to be proud that this creature corruptly obtained that office; it should be ashamed of him.
Calhoun was a very important leader in the House of Representatives. He was certainly not a villain by the standard of his time, any more than slaveowners Jefferson or Washington were villains by the standard of their time.
He was a villain and despised in his time. He was a “leader” like Jesse Jackson was a leader.
A rose by any other name…..
This new writer’s last name is ‘Prince’, symbol of class-driven royalty, totalitarianism, and often outright tyranny. The name offends me, hurts my feelings, and I demand he change it. He can keep ‘Erich’, however.
Yale was once a great educational institution. Now they are no better than Nazi bookburners. The Corporation should rename the Administration and faculty. They are certainly not preparing the students for the real world. One cannot apply the morality of today to that of a different century. To do so prevents any understanding of History and where we came from and will result in a recurrence of behavior of the past. Yale of today is an narrow minded embarrassment.
Naming the college for Calhoun in the first place was applying the degenerate morality of the 1930s to someone who was despicable in his own day.
applying the degenerate morality of the 1930s to someone who was despicable in his own day.
Despicable to you, maybe, but to his constituents, not so. He represented community values. Think on that the next time you savage someone for violating community values.
The same is true of every villain who ever held elective office. By saying so much you’re saying nothing at all.
Salovey is a subversive leftist president. The president before, Richard Levin, served a very long time and withstood the rot, and even improved the university. He was great.
So when doe Yale change it’s name to some Socialist Justice Warrior?? tick tock @ Slave Trader Yale.. tick tock
Let’s not forget democrat hero and Hillary Clinton mentor, Robert KKK Byrd:
Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program
Hillary Clinton Praises ‘Friend and Mentor’ Robert Byrd
Shouldn’t Yale change its name since Yale was named after a slave trader?
Sigh. Covered that several times. Yale was a respectable person by the standards of his time; Calhoun was not.
Not only was Calhoun an important national figure of his time.
Elihu Yale gave the new university an endowment, then got them to name the place after him by promising a larger endowment, and never delivered the larger amount of money!
If they objected to that they could have renamed it immediately. Obviously the amount he gave was sufficient to justify the name.
Calhoun was “important” like Harry Reid is important.