Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Milwaukee School Named After Ben Carson

The Benjamin Carson Academy of Science "fails to meet expectations." Remind you of anyone?

By - Nov 9th, 2015 01:22 pm
Ben Carson

Ben Carson

The City of Milwaukee has public schools named after presidents from Washington to Obama, as well as one named after presidential candidate Ben Carson, who will be here Tuesday to participate in the Republican debate. Will he visit the school?

The Dr. Benjamin Carson Academy of Science was named after the neurosurgeon in 1999. In a news story at the time, principal Deborah Thompson said it was “no accident that we named the school” after the prominent physician who overcame poverty and a difficult childhood in his native Detroit. “He is an excellent role model to our children because many of them live under similar situations,” she said.

Carson’s academic history has come under scrutiny lately, and the media easily debunked his story alleging that he had been offered a “scholarship” to the United States Military Academy. There are no such scholarships offered to anybody since there is no tuition at West Point that would require a scholarship. Uncle Sam foots the whole bill.

Dr. Benjamin Carson Academy of Science, 4920 W. Capitol Dr. Photo by Dave Reid.

Dr. Benjamin Carson Academy of Science, 4920 W. Capitol Dr. Photo by Dave Reid.

Although his educational back story is shaky, the Milwaukee school is not the only one named after Carson. There is the Dr. Benjamin Carson High School for Science and Medicine in Detroit, and in 2003, the Atlanta school board renamed a middle school after Carson. In order to do that, the Atlanta board had to vote to waive its usual naming policies, which required a five year period after an individual’s death in order to be commemorated in the name of a public school.

In Milwaukee, the school board also voted for such a waiver. Here, the requirement is that the honoree be dead for a decade. The requirement appears to be observed in the breach, however, since Reagan and and Obama were alive when their respective schools were named after them. Reagan, however, was out of office by the time of his recognition.

One reason why there is a tradition of naming certain public facilities only posthumously is for the simple fact that living people sometimes embarrass themselves, or turned out to be not as great as they themselves thought, and this may indeed be the case with the Carson presidential campaign, now that the brilliant surgeon is in a different “operating” environment. Carson has informed the world that the pyramids were built not by the Egyptians, but by Joseph, in order to store grain. He has also said the founding of Islam occurred well before the birth of Christ, and wrongly suggested the Baltic States are not members of NATO. We must hope those sorts of facts are not taught at his namesake school.

The whole question of whether to name things after living people seems a bit arbitrary in this state. Tommy Thompson, while governor, had a state park, a trail, a fish hatchery and a state fair youth center named after him. He’s still alive, but were he to die tomorrow, would there be any movement to so lavishly honor his name? Perhaps he thought not or wanted to get his ego stroked while still alive.

Meanwhile, we have perfectly dead people from the area who have yet to be memorialized. We have generic “Shorewood High School” that graduated a Chief Justice of the United States in William H. Rehnquist, but there has been no move afoot to rename it after the school’s most famous graduate. But then, the Zucker brothers, also graduates, are much funnier than him, though still alive.

Carson Academy was Pleasant View School

For many years, the Carson Academy was known as Pleasant View School. Despite the bucolic name, the school had a bad reputation in the area, according to minutes of the school board deliberating its name change. It opened in 1973 as a school for special needs students. Over the years, this group has been integrated into the general school population. Pleasant View became home to the Pleasant View Alternative High School, Lady Pitts, School Age Parents Program, the MPS Home/Hospital Program, and Ebenezer Day Care Center.

According to the minutes:

On January 16, 1999, at an initial open house/informational meeting for the neighborhood, a discussion in the community began regarding changing the name of the facility to better reflect the mission, as well as to let people know that the new school is very different from the former school. Those in attendance at the open house agreed that the name change to Dr. Benjamin Carson Academy of Science would reflect the vision, philosophy, and direction of the new school. …

Those in attendance at the open house agreed that the name change to Dr. Benjamin Carson Academy of Science would reflect the vision, philosophy, and direction of the new school. Dr. Benjamin Carson is a famous African American Scientist and Surgeon who is the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. …

On April 12, 1999, the Administration wrote a letter to Dr. Benjamin Carson, requesting permission to use his name for this school. On June 9, 1999, Dr. Benjamin Carson gave permission to use his name for the new school.

Because the school was named “after somebody yet alive,” the board got a waiver of Administrative Policy 5.01(6), and the Carson Academy was born.

Fifteen years ago, on November 6th, 2000, its first year in operation, the school was visited by Carson himself who was in town to address the Milwaukee Public Schools “Hot Topics” conference. He cited the influence of his mother on his educational development, and brought up his time at Yale. Back then, he had not yet invented his story about West Point, where he never even applied.

What’s In a Name?

If naming a school after an inspirational hero or a U.S. president is a good idea and produces tangible results, then our public education system would be well on its way to improvement. However, it appears that starving a school system of funding is more likely to provide poor results than naming a school after a prominent individual is likely to provide good results. Looking at the list, you get a feeling schools should simply be numbered, like in New York City.

In any event, all public schools do receive a “number” — a school report card issued by the State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Private and charter schools, the latter of which use public tax revenues, are exempt from this particular requirement, making it very difficult to assess the totality of our educational system.

Let’s put Dr. Carson and his school in context — with a score of 45.9, it “fails to meet expectations,” according to the State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction school report card. The school could be a candidate for a takeover overseen by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, one new program thrust upon our educational system by the legislature and Governor Scott Walker.

The Obama school does even worse with a 35.9 score. Other presidential schools, five of which failed to meet expectations, include Washington High School of Information Technology (32.9), Madison (33.9), Roosevelt (44.4), Pierce (48.8), Lincoln (50.6). The best performing presidential school is Reagan 64.8.

Meanwhile, we will be watching the Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee with great interest, hoping the good doctor offers a shout out to the Milwaukee school named after him.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed Jackson as a presidential school. Gwen T. Jackson School, an elementary school on W. Hadley St. between N. 21st and N. 22nd streets is named after the local civic leader.

3 thoughts on “Plenty of Horne: Milwaukee School Named After Ben Carson”

  1. Duane Snyder says:

    Regarding the naming of a Milwaukee school for Ben Carson……….in the words of another Carson, i.e., Johnny Carson, “That is some weird wild stuff, I did not know that”.

  2. Dan Adams says:

    Unless there is another MPS school named after Andrew Jackson that I’m not aware of, Jackson Elementary is named after local civic leader Gwen T Jackson (who I’m pretty sure is also still alive).

  3. Bruce Murphy says:

    Dan, you’re correct about that, thank you, and we’ve fixed the error.

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