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Demosthenes's avatar

Can you name a non-controversial historical figure?

Asked by Demosthenes (12763points) October 17th, 2020

The city of San Francisco is planning on changing the names of public schools bearing the names of “controversial historical figures” like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. (Mayor London Breed called the timing of the move “offensive” because the schools are not even open yet).

But what got me thinking was: who can be called a “non-controversial historical figure”? What’s an example of a morally clean controversy-free historical figure (other than, say, religious figures like Jesus Christ or the Buddha) whom we could name a school after?

(I’m not suggesting that the schools need to be named after individuals. I’m simply skeptical of the concept of historical figures free of controversy).

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18 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

You hit the nail on the head. No school or building should be named after a person, because every person has a history and not everyone is supportive of that history.

Religious figures most of all.

Look, history is ugly. People did many good things, but those same people did bad things – or at least things that are considered bad today.

I think we need to face up to the fact that nothing – no one – perfect, and move on.

Demosthenes's avatar

Some on the left argued that building a statue of someone implies that they are perfect and worthy of worship. I can understand that argument, but I don’t totally agree. In general, though, I am not a fan of statues of people and I am not sad to see most of them go. But is naming a school after someone an implication that they are flawless individuals? Is it an insinuation that we should ignore their flaws and pretend that they are perfect? We know what’s going to happen if we change the name of “George Washington” to a progressive POC: dirt is going to be brought up from that person’s life and they are going to be deemed unworthy of having their name on a school. There’s no end to it.

seawulf575's avatar

I guess “non-controversial” is in the eyes of the beholder. Controversial could be anything. Lincoln freed the slaves and is seen as controversial. Washington led a rag-tag army against the strongest army in the world and won our freedom for us…and is seen as controversial. Any human will have something that could be viewed as controversial. Even someone as selfless as Mother Teresa is viewed as controversial. You could pick a man, a woman, a gay man, a lesbian, a transgender, a black, a white, a Latino….anyone…and you can always come up with something to say they were bad about. MLK did great things to help guide the black community yet he can be accused of cheating on his wife, cheating to get a degree, beating women, watching and laughing as one of his friends raped a woman and many, many more.
I think the entire effort of doing away with “controversial figures” is idiotic. It reduces those people to just one part of their life and ignores everything else they might have done.

longgone's avatar

Sophie Scholl. Blatant nazis would protest, but are we seriously going to try and placate those?

Dutchess_III's avatar

This is a great question. Everyone knows this person from the past because they were controversial. Well maybe except for Betsy Ross.

Caravanfan's avatar

Isaac Newton
Albert Einstein
Marie Curie
Igor Stravinsky
Samuel Barber
Ansel Adams

chyna's avatar

Mother Teresa
But why not just name the schools by the name of the street they are on? Oak Street Elementary, or other indicators of where they are located such as West Side Elementary?
And as for libraries or other buildings, the same thing, such as West Side Library, Oak Street Museum.
But of course influential people donate money to institutions in the hope the institutions will be named after them. Some people think way too highly of themselves.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Oh, Mother Teresa was VERY controversial. She still is.

kritiper's avatar

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

rebbel's avatar

Mister Ed
Yogi Bear

hmmmmmm's avatar


or Fred Rogers

seawulf575's avatar

Isaac Newton was involved with slavery
Albert Einstein was entirely against religion which would seem controversial to millions
Marie Curie had an affair with a married colleague and broke up his marriage. Not to mention her discoveries involving radium let to millions of radium dial watches which ended up poisoning the workers painting the radium on the dials.
Stravinsky incited a riot with his music.
The list goes on. Ansel Adams depicted the Native Americans as being happy and content on their reservations. Samuel Barber was together with Menotti and Herranz at overlapping dates. You can find something on everyone.
I don’t subscribe to these things defining these people or taking away from their accomplishments….but you can still find something on everyone.

Nomore_lockout's avatar

Florence Nightingale? Not sure I spelled her name right.

Nomore_lockout's avatar

None of us is perfect, past present or future. If we were this planet wouldn’t be going to hell in a hand basket.

JLeslie's avatar

Maybe NYC has it right.

PS 14
PS 22

Make it simple.

Or, name the school after the town. My high school was the same name as the city it was in.

I don’t think any of the schools I went to were named after anyone.

Edit: I think PS was for elementary schools in NY, but you can still use the idea. PS or HS for high school.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I’ve never gone to a school that was named after a person. I simply went to Derby High School.

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