Friday, March 25, 2011

No, Nobody Thinks You're Hogwarts

Witchcraft Heights Elementary School in Salem, Massachusetts has been the bane of my Google News Alert for "witchcraft" for some time now. Every time an event happens at the school there it is among my listings that are supposed to contain articles about real Pagan or magical practices. Incidentally, one of my other pet peeves along those lines is Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," which shows up in the listings every time somebody reviews a new production of the play.

Now a member of Witchcraft Heights' School Committee wants to change the school's name to honor a former Salem City Councilor.

The School Committee is considering a proposal to rename the Witchcraft Heights Elementary School after former City Councilor Leonard O'Leary, although it is unclear if the request meets the district's policy on school naming.

School Committee member James Fleming raised the proposal at Monday's regular meeting, citing O'Leary's 24 years of service as councilor of Ward 4, the neighborhood where the Witchcraft Heights school is located.

"I think he should be honored," Fleming said in an interview. "[The school] is in his ward and it would be appropriate to name it after him."

Fleming, a former city councilor, said O'Leary was an advocate for the schools and a dedicated public servant. O'Leary died in 2007 at age 64.

So far, so normal. Schools are renamed after recently deceased public servants all the time, and I have to admit that it would be in my own personal interest to knock events from Salem's elementary school off my Google Alert.

But then we come to this:

The school is the only one in the City not named for a person from Salem, and the name "Witchcraft" could cause confusion about "what kind of school" it is, Fleming said.

Wait a minute. Is this guy serious? Because it sounds like what he's saying here is that with "witchcraft" in the name people are going to get the school confused with Harry Potter's Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and show up looking to try out for the Quidditch team or asking how to get to the Gryffindor common room. Maybe there are people that stupid somewhere in the world, but I'm pretty sure they're not going to be found anywhere near a school, even the one that may have produced serial eyeliner abuser and self-proclaimed "warlock" Christian Day.

This leaves me wondering if Fleming is one of the many conservative Christians who manage to get themselves elected or appointed to school boards all over the country. Some are from groups that preach ridiculous nonsense about how "Satanism" and "Witchcraft" are in the process of taking over America even though poll after poll shows that more than three quarters of the population is Christian. Even taken all together Wicca, Paganism, Satanism, Thelema, and other occult-related religions are tiny. There are more Hindus in this country, and they only represent 0.4% of the population. Members of such conservative Christian groups have been known to engage in symbolic nonsense like sign-snatching or renaming things along lines that they believe God will find less objectionable.

As far as renaming the school goes, I'm torn. On the one hand it would be a big help when searching through Google news items, but on the other hand if it turns out that this proposal is motivated by some sort of religious fanaticism I don't want that to succeed. The one thing I am sure about is that nobody out there thinks Witchcraft Heights Elementary School is where you enroll if you want to learn how to handle a wand.

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Morgan Drake Eckstein said...

Silly question (or two): Is Witchcraft Heights also the name of the neighborhood? And if so, why is no one trying to get the name of the neighborhood changed?

Scott Stenwick said...

Witchcraft Heights is not a neighborhood in Salem, it's just the name of the school. So I suppose if this guy succeeds in changing it he'll be able to wipe out references to witchcraft in the town.

Which he won't. Because it's Salem, the biggest witch-themed tourist trap in the western world.

Unknown said...

Part of me is really, really hoping that this is just an attempt to honor a hard-working public servant. The cynic in me wonders, though...