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PAISD teaches history, so students can look forward


Public school systems facing controversy over building names that honor Confederate veterans ought to tear a page from Mark Porterie’s “book.”

The Port Arthur Independent School District superintendent said on our live streamed Thursday news show that only one person has pressed the issue of changing the names of Lee and Dowling elementary schools, named for Gen. Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy’s commanding general, and for Lt. Dick Dowling, who staved off a Union invasion at Sabine Pass, respectively.

Porterie said the possibility of renaming the schools was most recently raised because the PAISD is due to buy signage for the new Dowling school. If the name may change, he said, he doesn’t want to prematurely buy “Dowling” school signs. That could prove pricey.

Also of note: There is no public outpouring of substitute names for the Lee and Dowling schools, Porterie said. The school system in September is offering locals the opportunity to suggest alternate names to Lee and Dowling, but they’re been few.

For his part, Porterie said PAISD doesn’t celebrate the Confederacy, but he says the schools teach history as it happened to help children understand the past and move beyond it.

“We understand — all of us understand and realize — that slavery was not a good thing. But a time comes that you have to teach what happened for students to understand what they have to do as they move to the future.

“Yes, it happened; but how is that going to make you better? How are the decisions in the past going to help you with the decisions to move forward?”

That journey forward is where we ought to focus. But it helps to glance back, as well.

Education Week noted in an article by Corey Mitchell that the debate over Confederate names on schools has taken place with a backdrop of the racially motivated murders at a Charleston, S.C., church in 2015 and a rally over Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 that resulted in a death. These facts are noteworthy, too:

  • One-tenth of 1 percent of U.S. public schools are named for Confederates.
  • Eighty are named for Robert E. Lee.
  • Most were named for Confederates in the 1950s. Some contend that was done to reassert “white supremacy”; one could argue it was done because the U.S. was approaching the centennial of the Civil War.

Porterie rightly suggests schools ought to be moving children forward. Part of that mission is reminding them where we have been.

By most historical accounts, Lee was an honorable and decent man, worthy of study. Let students know that even great people can have flaws, that much was unsettled in antebellum America and that the war settled much of it. So what will we do with that, moving forward?