Trigger warning: The following editorial commits microaggressions against a popular grain, bland school names and the North Star. It also contains content that may be upsetting to Bend-La Pine School Board members. Fortunately, evidence suggests they pay little attention to what other people have to say anyway.
The Bend-La Pine School Board declined Tuesday to pick a name for the district’s next elementary school. The ostensible reason for the delay was the absence of two board members, but it’s just as likely that the five board members present at the evening meeting didn’t want to deal with the backlash that would have met an unpopular decision. And thanks to the district’s handling of the naming process, a decision almost certainly would have been unpopular.
The district’s first mistake was creating a public process that ended up ignoring utterly what the public had to say. Using an online survey, the district asked the public to recommend names for the new school. The most popular name by far was Arlie Seems Elementary, Seems being a longtime district teacher who died in 2013. Yet the district’s naming committee snubbed Seems and his 131 votes in creating a short list composed of Ruth Reid, Florence Drake and North Star, which combined received a whopping nine votes.
Seems’ daughter, Katie Kessel, pointed out to the board Tuesday that the public’s top choice was “not simply overlooked, but ignored.” If you ask the public’s opinion and ignore the results, she asked reasonably, “why ask the public in the first place?”
The district’s second mistake is one that hasn’t yet been made: naming the new school North Star, which is the naming committee’s top choice. Even if the board decides to continue ignoring Arlie Seems, choosing North Star would be a disappointment, as it would necessarily pass over two names that belong to people who played important roles in Bend’s history. Apparently, a star hundreds of light years from Earth better captures the essence of education in Bend than Drake and Reid, two women who actually lived and, in Reid’s case, taught here.
One possible explanation for North Star’s popularity among the school-naming crowd is its blandness. Naming schools after people can become controversial, especially if unflattering biographical details subsequently emerge. Naming your school after an animal or an inanimate object is safe, if unambitious and uninspiring. Ironically, according to the naming committee’s report, the North Star moniker is intended to motivate students to “explore and reach for the stars.” Never mind that Drake, an early Bend settler, and Reid, a pioneering teacher, did just that.
If all of this process and controversy produces North Star Elementary, district residents will have learned two things. First, district officials don’t care what the public thinks. They’re just pretending, and not very hard at that. Second, what district officials want above all is bland, safe school names.
Perhaps it’s time, then, for district leaders to be honest about their intentions and dispense with the public-process charade when naming the district’s soon-to-be-built high school. Instead, they should simply choose the blandest name they can find.
Our recommendation: Oatmeal High School.
What does oatmeal have to do with Bend? Absolutely nothing, but with enough effort you can rationalize anything. That’s what the district’s naming committee did with North Star, after all. North Star Elementary is the district’s northernmost school, the committee wrote. The star after which it’s named has been a “reliable navigational tool,” which presumably the school will be as well. And then there’s all the “reach for the stars” stuff.
What about oatmeal? Well, it’s good for you, just like going to school. It isn’t a lot of fun, but, then, school often isn’t either. Also in oatmeal’s favor: It calls to mind both Oregon’s agricultural history (it’s grown in the state, and horses eat it) and Bend’s changing demographics (granola and oatmeal stout, anyone?).
The biggest problem with Oatmeal High is what to call the sports teams. The University of Pennsylvania already has the Quakers, a name that might create church-state objections in any case. No team wants to be known as the Oatmeal Cookies.
That leaves, by default, the Oatmeal Mush, which pretty much says it all.