by Jess Walters
It will cost a San Francisco school district more than half a million dollars to cover up a “controversial” mural of George Washington, after a handful of activists complained that the mere sight of the nation’s first president was “traumatizing” to students.
Robby Soave at Reason Magazine reports that the San Francisco Unified School District will meet next week to discuss which of three “cover up” options is best for the mural, “The Life of Washington,” which graces the foyer of George Washington High School.
They’ll decide whether to paint over the mural at a cost of $600,000, hide it behind paneling at a cost of $875,000, or hide it behind curtains (for the low, low price of just $300,000).
As Soave points out, that money could go to any number of important initiatives or even to hiring more teachers — the middle option, a $600,000 paint job, could support one newly hired SFUSD teacher for more than six years (SFUSD is currently experiencing a teacher shortage) — but a 13-member working group, tasked with scrubbing SFUSD of controversial historical monuments and materials says the school has no choice but to jettison the work of art.
The painting “glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, manifest destiny, white supremacy, oppression” and “doesn’t represent SFUSD values of social justice, diversity, united, student-centered,” the working group said in a report issued earlier this year.
Oddly enough, “The Life of Washington” isn’t meant to be a rosy interpretation of Washington’s life. Painted in the mid-1930s by a “Russian-American artist named Victor Arnautoff, who held leftist sympathies,” the mural actually depicts Washington setting controversial priorities, sending men to conquer the west at the expense of Native Americans, and plotting the future of a free United States while turning a blind eye to slavery.
But it’s the painting’s depiction of Washington’s darker tendencies that ultimately irked a group of “outside busybodies,” according to National Review. Intent on ignoring the actual content or meaning of the painting, several activists who showed up at the working group’s meeting on the murals suggested that the depicted violence against Native Americans and other minorities be taken at face value, not as a commentary on Washington’s larger legacy.
“Why do we have to explain the pain caused by the visual offense that we see in that building that is supposed to be an institution for learning?” one woman reportedly asked the working group.
A Native American present at the meeting objected to the activists’ concerns, pointing out, Reason says, that the mural shows “what actually happened” when Washington dispatched pioneers to conquer the west. But the progressives, intent on whitewashing Washington, took no notice.
They also, it seems, took no notice of George Washington High School students who, National Review says,”were against its removal or just apathetic.”
Concerns over the mural seem to have originated not with any actually “traumatized” students, but with former San Francisco Unifed School District board member, Matt Haney, who has since gone on to an illustrious career in San Francisco city government. Beyond just painting over or covering the mural, Haney actually wanted to change the name of George Washington High School because George Washington owned slaves (a fact depicted in the mural he wanted covered up).
Now, San Francisco will spend a half million dollars saving students from something they didn’t require saving from. And, according to Reason, if the $600,000 figure seems unduly high for a project that could probably be completed in a weekend with several cans of white paint from Home Depot, it’s because it is; San Francisco schools are required to conduct an “environmental impact survey” before they can commit to any major building transformation projects, including a paint job.