As you may recall, I closely covered the recent whoop-tee-doo in Palo Alto that led to stripping the name of the Terman Middle School, the public middle school with the highest standardized test scores in California. The school had been named for Lewis Terman, the father of standardized testing in America, and his son Fred Terman, the father of Silicon Valley. Lewis Terman is accused of advocating eugenics, while a proposal to change the school’s name to solely honor his son Fred, the Stanford dean of engineering who more or less invented the Silicon Valley model, was rejected on the grounds that Fred must have inherited his father Lewis’s Bad Genes.
Considering that, due in large part to the accomplishments of the Terman family, the average dumpy 2,000 square foot ranch house in Palo Alto on a modest lot sells for about $3 million dollars, I think it would be right and fitting if the good folks of Palo Alto erected a solid gold pyramid in honor of the Terman name.
But that’s not how things work in the current year. Instead, while the local politicians are agreed that the Terman name is an abomination and must go, Palo Altans were soon at each other’s throats over what to rename the school. From the San Jose Mercury-News:
Chinese-American community balks at possible use of local historical figure with Yamamoto surname; district board to make decision March 27
By KEVIN KELLY | [email protected]sgroup.com | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: March 19, 2018 at 11:31 pm
The specter of Pearl Harbor has mobilized some of Palo Alto’s Chinese-American residents against the school district’s plan to rename two middle schools.
They’re worried that Fred Yamamoto, one of six Palo Alto historical figures among eight finalists being considered, could be confused with Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor bombing during World War II.
“There exist certain hurt feeling when the last name ‘Yamamoto’ is mentioned, especially for Asian immigrants whose families were tragically affected in China, Korea and Southeast Asian countries during World War II,” reads a petition (http://bit.ly/2DFS5zy) opposing the suggested name that had garnered more than 750 signatures 14 hours after going up early Monday morning. “This Japanese admiral is whom many first think of upon hearing the name ‘Yamamoto,’ and our middle schools should never be affiliated with such a person.”
The Palo Alto Unified School District is changing the names of Jordan Middle School, named after David Starr Jordan, and Terman Middle School, named in part after Lewis Terman, because both men were leading advocates of eugenics. The name changes were sparked by a student’s book report on Jordan, Stanford University’s first president, in the fall of 2015.
Nearly three dozen community members spoke, most of them against naming either school in honor of Fred Yamamoto, during a Recommending School Names Advisory Committee meeting Monday night. …
Others acknowledged Fred Yamamoto, a 1936 Palo Alto High School graduate held in a Japanese internment camp during World War II who later joined the U.S. Army, is an inspirational figure, but said a school named after him would just cause confusion among Asian-Americans.
Fred Yamamoto was an interned Japanese-American who volunteered to fight for America, was assigned to the famous Fighting 442nd, the most decorated unit in American military history, winning 21 Medals of Honor. Yamamoto was killed in action in Europe at age 26.
One parent said giving a school the Yamamoto surname is akin to naming a school with Jewish students after Adolf Hitler or anyone with Hitler as a last name. Another parent said if a Palo Alto school had been named Yamamoto, he would have chosen a different district for his children.
“If we do change the name (to Fred Yamamoto), parents won’t want their kids to wear shirts representing the school,” added parent Fan Yung.
Keri Wagner, a district parent, said in an email to The Daily News that opposition to Fred Yamamoto’s name is being led by a “small, vocal subset” of the Chinese-American community flexing an “inherently racist position” against what is a common Japanese surname.
“When I meet someone Japanese, I do not think of Pearl Harbor, and I’ll bet most Americans have the same view,” Wagner wrote. “I’m appalled that their racism is tolerated in Palo Alto, and I believe most Northern Californians do not subscribe to those beliefs.”
Advisory committee member LaDoris Cordell suggested that tension among ethnic groups in the district is the “elephant in the room.”
Naming the old Terman school after Yamamoto was eventually stifled by Chinese anti-Japanese racism. It was decided instead to rename it after Ellen Fletcher, the late Palo Alto city councilwoman, a Jewish woman from Berlin, who was instrumental in adding bike lanes.