Survey of parents, alumni, allowed multiple votes on question of removing Ben Carson’s name from a Detroit high school
There were no safeguards to stop people from taking the survey more than once, district admits
School districts around the country have been in the news this year for renaming school buildings. In Michigan, the board of the Detroit Public Schools Community District voted to change the name of the Dr. Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine.
Nikolai Vitti, district superintendent, admitted at a Nov. 15 board meeting that an online survey conducted before the vote to remove Carson’s name from the building was not sophisticated enough to ensure that nobody could vote more than once. Vitti said he trusts that people would be honest and only vote once. Which is different than ensuring people only vote once.
The district says it promotes diversity, equity and inclusion. In practice, however, it erased from the community someone who has political views it disagrees with. This is what recently happened to Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon, former U.S. cabinet secretary and candidate in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Despite his accomplishments, the board of education voted to take his name off the high school — because of his political views.
Members of the school board initiated the process. Vitti sent out notices of the survey to alumni, parents, students, teachers and others. He noted at the board meeting that the district conducted the survey to gauge stakeholder response; the board did not intend to base its decision on the survey.
The survey showed 375 responses, though the district had no way of knowing if anyone voted more than once. A vast majority of responses, 86%, favored removing Carson’s name. By contrast, 14% were against the idea. Several national publications reported there were 1,500 votes. This is inaccurate. The 1,500 came from a subsequent survey for another school building. Listen at the 38-minute mark.
While members of the school board took time to remove from a building the name of someone they don’t agree with, Detroit schools continue to struggle. The four-year graduation rate at the school named after Carson was 93.48% in 2016, but it dropped to 82% in the most recent information at MiSchoolData.org. The dropout rate went up from 3.26% to 9%.
Vitti explained the name change in a statement to CapCon:
Community members have been expressing concerns regarding how, under Emergency Management, the school’s name was changed to Ben Carson. Emergency Management was an imposed governance structure that did not represent the voice of Detroiters or their vote. The school’s previous name was founded on the rich history of Dr. Ethleen Crockett. Added to the concern regarding how the name was changed was the fact that many Detroiters felt that Dr. Ben Carson’s political positions and decisions as a policy maker did not reflect Detroiters and therefore a school should not be named after him.
Through the recommendation of the superintendent and the urging or (sic) several school board members, the school board voted at its regular board meeting in October 2022 to initiate a school name change consideration process. That process concluded with the majority of current students, staff, parents, alumni, and community members favoring a name change for the school.
At the subsequent November school board meeting the school board voted to change the name of Ben Carson High School to Crockett Midtown High School of Science and Medicine considering the superintendent’s recommendation, which was based on the engagement process that included a survey and three engagement sessions. This change will first be reflected on the school’s and district’s website and letterheads. School signage will be completed by the spring. The school’s colors, mascot, and logo will remain the same.
Carson is one of the most accomplished individuals to have attended Detroit schools. He was raised by a single mother, Sonya Carson, who was one of 24 children. She was raised in the foster care system and had a third-grade education. When she found out her husband had another secret family, she had the temerity to divorce him and provide for her two young sons, even though she was considered virtually illiterate.
By Carson’s account, he was considered by classmates to be the “class dummy” by the time he reached fourth grade. It’s interesting that the school district promoted him from grade to grade even though he could barely read. In other words, the Detroit school system was failing its students even in the 1950s.
Carson’s mother worked three jobs because she did not want to get on welfare.
When she noticed her sons were failing in school, she forced them to go to the library and check out two books each week and then write reports on them. That was on top of their regular schoolwork.
Carson and his brother would hand in their reports. Their mother would give them back and say they were not good enough and had to write them again.
“Years later we realized her marks were a ruse,” Carson would later write. “My mother was illiterate; she had only received a third-grade education.”
His mother’s drive in the face of extreme hardship and adversity pushed Carson into academic excellence in short order. An illiterate mother who worked three jobs pushed her sons to greater heights than did the Detroit school system.
In time Carson became a doctor, rising to become director of pediatric neurosurgery at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Carson, the first surgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head, later led the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Ben Carson, a child of Detroit and a student of its schools, rose from a “class dummy” to become a pediatric neurosurgeon. And in his hometown, none of that matters. In Detroit, Carson has been canceled for the atrocity of wrongthought.
Jamie A. Hope is assistant managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email her at email@example.com.
Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.