Palo Alto School Board Considers Renaming Middle School Named After David Starr Jordan, Stanford's Founding President and Prominent Eugenicist

The parent of a Jordan Middle School student started a petition to change the name after helping his son with a book report on the school's namesake.

The Palo Alto Unified School District will consider changing the name of Jordan Middle School in response to a petition circulated by a parent who learned from his son's book report of the namesake's racist ideologies.

Jordan Middle School is named after Stanford University's founding president, David Starr Jordan, who was also a leader in the eugenics movement—which sought to improve human genetics through sterilization and by discouraging reproduction by people with undesirable traits, such as race and class.

Indiana University
Historic photo of David Starr Jordan.

"[Jordan] has no place at our school in Palo Alto," said father Lars Johnsson, who created the petition. 

Johnsson presented the petition with over 300 signatures to Palo Alto Unified School District board members on Tuesday evening. The board has decided to formally discuss changing the name at a January meeting.

Johnsson's interest in changing the school name began when he read his son's 7th grade book project. His son chose to write about Jordan and his controversial theories.

"I took an unusual interest in his school work and said 'Let me read this book,'" Johnsson said. He said he was shocked when he learned more about Jordan's beliefs. "He was a lifelong leader of white supremacy and eugenics was his tool for his vision."

Jordan is a historical figure renowned for the work he contributed to ichthyology (the study of fish), and controversial because of his strong beliefs in eugenic studies.

In his book "Blood of a Nation," he outlined his Darwin-influenced reasons for creating a master race."The survival of the unfittest is the primal cause of the downfall of nations," wrote Jordan.

Jordan was a founding board member of the Human Betterment Foundation, a eugenics organization that was based in Pasadena, California.

Jordan was also president of the World Peace Foundation for four years. He was anti-war because of the loss of superior genes due to fallen soldiers.

"More than all who fall in battle or are wasted in camps, the nation misses the ‘fair women and brave men' who should have been descendants of the strong and manly," Jordan wrote.

Johnsson believes Jordan as a school "role model" sends a negative message to students. Johnsson, who is German American, and his wife, who is Jamaican-American, have two children who attend the middle school.

"I want this for our children, I want this for our community," Johnsson said. "I think it's a teaching opportunity that will inspire our children, specifically inspire our minority children, and can instill in them the belief that contrary to the beliefs of Dr. Jordan they can achieve anything if we prepare them for life."

[NATL] Top News Photos: Pope Visits Japan, and More

Palo Alto Unified joins other districts across the country who are reconsidering school names.
A South Carolina school district this week voted against renaming Robert E. Lee High School, named after the confederate general and slave owner. Students at Lebanon Valley College in Philadelphia want "Lynch" Hall renamed because of racial overtones.

Jordan Middle School is not the only school named after Stanford's first president. One high school in Los Angeles and one in Long Beach are named after David Starr Jordan, as well as a middle school in Burbank.

"It is an educational institution and is meant to reflect the 21st century values we have in Palo alto," Johnsson said. "To David Starr Jordan it was very obvious that only the white race is intelligent and that the fact that you're not white you cannot be intelligent…that is so contrary to what we believe in, what the school district preaches, the achievement gap we're trying to work on, that he clearly is the wrong role model just for that belief."

The Jordan Middle School PTA will discuss the petition at a meeting Thursday morning.

Contact Us