Push to change high school name in Honolulu divides Hawaiians
August 5, 2022 1:55 PM   Subscribe

 
If any name should be changed, it's McKinley High School in Hawaii. “I have no problem saying in the future, ‘I graduated from Honolulu High School, formerly McKinley High School,’” . indeed.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:39 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


“It was like stabbing me in the heart,” [former state lawmaker Suzanne Chun Oakland] said of hearing about the effort. “It’s like going into your family and saying you have to change your family name.”

Could be worse. If someone changed the name of my elementary school that would be like being burned at the stake while watching my grandparents be forced to learn Esperanto.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:55 PM on August 5 [14 favorites]


i was gonna quote exactly what justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow quotes. i can't imagine being that attached to a school experience. different strokes i guess.
posted by glonous keming at 2:58 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


The name of my middle school was changed the year before I graduated from it because a local philanthropist donated a buttload of money. We had to buy all new gym uniforms. They'll get over it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:31 PM on August 5 [8 favorites]


my old high school is now a burmese cultural center

i am very happy about this as i hated the place
posted by pyramid termite at 3:38 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]


I went to five different schools K-12 and every single one was named after the town they were in. I guess it's different in a city.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:41 PM on August 5


Naming things after places and not people avoids a lot of problems. Like 'Where is that?'
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:43 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]


I can sort of understand the reluctance to change the name, from this quote: "The importance of the “Where you went grad” question has roots in Polynesian culture, which places an emphasis on knowing where someone is from..."

I've spent more time in my hometown in the six months since my Mom passed away than I have over the last 32 years since I moved away. When dealing with people it usually comes up that I grew up there, and one of the first questions I get is "where did you go to high school?"

Knowing that bit of information gives them a sort of shorthand to understanding what part of town I grew up in, maybe a little bit of information on my socioeconomic status growing up, and usually opens the door a little wider for me to get the thing I'm after. I'm not someone from "out of town," I'm a local, even if I haven't lived there in decades.

But no one ever has where they went to high school as part of their identity. It was just a place you went because that was the school near your house. So while I can understand some of the reason why there is resistance to the name change, I also really can't understand it, especially given the name in question.

At least most (all) of the schools where I grew up were named for where they were or for local educators, and I'd hope that if there were schools named for someone like McKinley that the current students would be pushing hard to get the name changed, even if the older generation was against it.
posted by ralan at 4:27 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]


The last, of three high schools I attended, was Ogden High School, named for Ogden, the town which was named for Peter Skene Ogden, a brutal murderer, prolific fur trapper industrial strength manager for major fur trading corporations of the day. Ogden is not going to change it's name, nor the name of it's high school. Peter Skene Ogden is a poster boy for plunder, a man's man, who had several Native American wives. He saw the rare, unsullied beauty of the Canadian, American, Spanish, and Native American West, and absolutely ravaged it. That he was held in high regard is a warning for us all, we are still trying to undo his never dying, ever destructive, mentality.

They are never going to rename Ogden, Utah, Black Hawk, Utah, or Ogden High School, Black Hawk High. But, Black Hawk was formidable, so they named some war birds after him.

I salute the efforts to rename assets, and conserve cultures. I salute the hard look at our collective past, and the search for heroes who better represent the kind of character we want to share with our children and grandchildren.
posted by Oyéah at 5:08 PM on August 5 [9 favorites]


I can't say I understand where the people who are against changing it are coming from. I understand how they consider where they went to high school a part of their identity but.... this is not going to change where they went to high school. The school isn't going anywhere. Who is going to stop them from answering the question the same way they always have if that's what they prefer. It will be understood just fine.
posted by bleep at 5:33 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]


Honolulu reporting in! Some of this comes down to how school sports culture is different here. The only great sports rivalries out here are between high schools. And, because lots of alumni stay on island most of their lives (and their kids often go to the same school), it's not unusual for people to have a much longer relationship with their Alma mater.

(The Polynesian cultural aspect mentioned above is, of course, a factor too)

President McKinley annexed Hawaii (yes yes not by himself) and fuck him very much for that. McKinley HS is in my neighborhood and my awesome friends who went there are really the ones who have a dog in this fight. That said, yes to Honolulu High School. McKinley doesn't deserve that school - they're way too good for him.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:38 PM on August 5 [16 favorites]


The last, of three high schools I attended, was Ogden High School, named for Ogden, the town which was named for Peter Skene Ogden, a brutal murderer, prolific fur trapper industrial strength manager for major fur trading corporations of the day.

You know, I never thought much about where the towns my schools were named for got their names. I only know that the town with my high school was named for the biggest landowner, a farmer and pillar of the local Quaker community. One of his descendants was a few years ahead of me in school, a real BMOC, as far as such a thing goes in such a small town. The only thing we learned about William McKinley there was his assassination, because it happened so close to where we were.

If the change does come in Honolulu, I hope the older alumni can embrace the former name as not only a signifier of where their school was, but also as a souvenir of the particular time at which they attended.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:34 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Last time I drove by, my old High School was a Muslim community center. They'd spruced the place up, so good for them. I think that the school we were attached to was finally torn down. The school that replaced our is a baccalaureate academy, which I don't think I've ever seen. A lot of the schools around where I grew up have changed, and I think, gotten new names.
Here in Texas, High Schools are important, and I know people who moved to get into the right school (for their football program). I'm not sure how important their names are.
posted by Spike Glee at 8:44 PM on August 5


Around here schools by default get location/neighbourhood based names. Many of them later get changed to be named after people but those people are always locally significant deceased educators rather than some political figure. Even then some names end up being problematic (there are many opportunities for evil in all endeavors and education is hardly exempt *cough*residential schools*cough*) and it can be a hassle to change it again. But at least we don't have schools named after people because they were really good at owning people or something.
posted by Mitheral at 9:23 PM on August 5


The “stabbing me in the heart” response has become so freaking commonplace. Basically, “ you need to respect my immature emotional responses”. It's a stance that resonates with people who have an infantile obsession with guns and trucks.
posted by brachiopod at 9:30 PM on August 5 [7 favorites]


What Hawaiians are debating is exactly the same experience many other post-col places go through, and it's never not fraught for exactly similar reasons. Wish you guys the best, at least it's not exchanging one plundering elite to another plundering elite (but local!).
posted by cendawanita at 9:48 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]


They recently changed the name of my high school in order to honour the local First Nation. When it was announced, the public outcry was loud and pronounced and so many (white) people - - many of them (white) people who hated every goddamned minute of high school - - suddenly developed a deep well of school pride. The old name was just the road it was built on and I bet not 1 in 100 of the prideful (white) alum could have even told you why the road was named that in the first place. Hint: it was named after a white guy.

The reaction was pure racist bullshit, even if there was this thin patina of nostalgia on top of it.

But as a result, they kept the old name and just added the new name to it, so it now has a really stupid sounding name.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:50 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]


I can't say I understand where the people who are against changing it are coming from.

When you say “This name is bad”, a lot of people hear “…and you are bad for not saying it was bad when you were a teenager too.”
posted by Etrigan at 4:03 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


Knowing where someone went to high school has long been an important identity marker for Hawaii Midwestern residents and helps connect people in the state’s close-knit communities determine your socioeconomic status.
posted by geoff. at 5:29 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


If you want to write a FPP about high schools in the Midwest, go for it. I'm sure there are plenty that are named after white people who took over independent nations. But don't literally cross "Hawaii" out in a discussion about Native Hawaiians.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:47 AM on August 6 [15 favorites]


Honolulu reporting in! Some of this comes down to how school sports culture is different here. The only great sports rivalries out here are between high schools. And, because lots of alumni stay on island most of their lives (and their kids often go to the same school), it's not unusual for people to have a much longer relationship with their Alma mater.

(The Polynesian cultural aspect mentioned above is, of course, a factor too)


It sounds like it is even more intense on the islands, but this all seems consistent with what I see in small towns around here. In places where people stay their whole lives and mostly don't go on to college or other further education, the high school is a major identity marker and I am all the time hearing people talk about their high schools (and asking the equivalent of "where you went grad?"), what sports they played and key rivalries, really memorable classes, etc..

It's totally different from my own experience where I have no tie to a high school (moved around and went to more than one high school, went on to college and grad school elsewhere, moved around more) but it's real and important to people. I can totally understand why people would be upset about a name change (or worse, a school closure), though I also suspect that when it happens, people will be able to adapt pretty fluidly.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:23 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


Here on the Big Island there was a recent effort to rename Captain Cook to its traditional name. Not being an actual municipality or similar governmental unit the main effect would’ve been getting the Post Office to change names. I didn’t see any significant reason other than cost but it petered out. 🥺
posted by billsaysthis at 2:08 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


I guess it's different in a city.

Or in a ruralish county that has enough residents to need its own school but that can't name it for the nearest incorporated town because that town already has its own school named that.
posted by solotoro at 4:06 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Some thought will come up with a list of geographic names that can be applied to a school for a name.
  • It's on a street with a name or there is a major/noteworthy street nearby: Street Name School
  • There is an officially named hill/mountain/river/pond/etc. relatively close: Hill/Mountain/River/Pond School
  • Near by town took the town name? County Name School
  • County and town names already taken? Name of Neighbourhood School
  • School lies N/S/E/W/NE/SE/SW/NW of town/grid centre? N/S/E/W/NE/SE/SW/NW School.
  • Maybe there is a park near by that you can turn into Park Name School
  • If the school serves a/the indigenous population you can double your list by considering all the above suggestions substituting indigenous name.
Sprinkle some qualifiers like High/Middle/Elementary in there where appropriate. The only caveat is you have to vet the origins of the place name you are stealing from; don't want to be naming your school on Civil War General Street the Civil War General Street High School.
posted by Mitheral at 6:11 PM on August 6


I guess it's different in a city.

Or in a ruralish county that has enough residents to need its own school but that can't name it for the nearest incorporated town because that town already has its own school named that.


That reminds me that my rural high school was one of the only ones in the area to remain independent instead of merging with a neighboring district to pool resources. And most of those merged schools ended up having names that were portmanteaux. E.g. if the Newton and Portland districts merged, the Newton-Portland school would come to be known as “Newport.”
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:29 PM on August 6


From 2014:
Hawaii High School Confidential: Where All Politics Is Truly Local

I would be fine with a name change. My mother worked at McKinley and although I never went there, I was there every summer until I started junior high school. A name change wouldn't change my memories. I would also be fine if they change the name of my alma mater, one of the other schools on Oahu that is not named after the area it is in.
posted by LostInUbe at 9:40 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


on the whole school name changing issue big picture... nobody thinks kids--the people who actually spend all their time in these places-- actually give a shit what dead person the school is named after. the name takes on a significance totally independent of the person. campaigns to change the name seem so forced and performative to me because i don't see any evidence that the old dead asshole was really being honored in any substantive way.
posted by wibari at 9:53 PM on August 6


Yeah, having grown up in the Midwest and coming up on 10 years in Hawaii, it's not the same. There are resonances, but it's different in very particular ways. The private school landscape has implications about social positioning that you don't get anywhere else, in it's interactions with race and culture.

I do wonder if the genericness of Honolulu High is part of the problem. There's nothing there to positively latch onto, like with a person name or symbolic whatever. Also, is there really no other high school in the city? That's how it is on much of the big island, so it's all *placename* *level* school.

This is also a chance for me to tell about my favorite high school mascot ever, which is the Hilo High Vikings. Yes, they have a mural of polynesian voyagers and nordic vikings together. Because how could they not.
posted by DebetEsse at 10:52 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


nobody thinks kids--the people who actually spend all their time in these places-- actually give a shit what dead person the school is named after.

My daughter just graduated from a high school that took a traitor’s name off the front door a few years ago. It was absolutely the kids who actually spent all their time in that place who actually gave a shit what dead person the school was named after. Dismissing these changes as the work of outside agitators is a lie in the service of historical monsters.
posted by Etrigan at 11:22 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Yes, they have a mural of polynesian voyagers and nordic vikings together. Because how could they not.

Joel Rosenberg's Guardians of the Flame series features Polynesian Vikings. I wonder if there was any inspiration.
posted by Mitheral at 12:19 PM on August 8


There are several high schools in Honolulu (technically all of Oahu is under the jurisdiction of Honolulu). McKinley is sort of in the heart of the city though, closest to the Capital, easiest access for kids cutting school to go to Ala Moana.
posted by LostInUbe at 5:12 PM on August 8


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