Professor and head of the Department of Geography Derek Alderman has conducted extensive research on schools named for Martin Luther King Jr. Recently, Alderman was interviewed by Education Week to discuss the naming of schools after the Obamas.
Schools across the country elected to be named after former President and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama. But these schools paint a panorama of a divided nation, one separated by race, class, and place.
Many are located in places like Normandy, a struggling St. Louis-area enclave where unemployment rates are high and high school graduation rates are low. According to Education Week, the schools in Normandy are among the poorest and most segregated in Missouri. All but a handful of the 400 students at Normandy’s Barack Obama Elementary are black and almost all of them qualify for free or low-cost meals. The racial and economic segregation that persists here can be found in Obama-named schools across the nation, from Los Angeles to Long Island. More than 90 percent of students who attend the namesake schools are black and Latino. Fewer than 4 percent are white.
“When you look at the larger geography of naming schools, we do see a reaffirmation or reinforcement of segregated boundaries,” said Alderman. “School names matter. It’s part of our larger way that we imagine ourselves and project our identities onto places and onto people.”