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Name School for Mundt? What If the Kids Wear Red?

The Sioux Falls School District is consolidating Mark Twain Elementary and Longfellow Elementary into one new building at the Twain site. Republican historian, Thune advisor, and Madison HS debate alumnus Jon Lauck is cool with keeping the Mark Twain name or naming the school for Lord Grizzly author Frederick Manfred or Giants in the Earth author Ole Rølvaag (yes! Norwegian orthography!). But he's making a real campaign for his preferred name: Karl E. Mundt Elementary. The party machine has its blog mouthpiece cranking the mill for Mundt Elementary and twisting the naming process into another political exercise in hating public education if it doesn't go the GOP's way.

Fellow Madison HS grad Jon Hunter thinks naming the school for Mundt is hunky-dory. So does Sioux Falls grand dame Sylvia Henkin.

Mundt is South Dakota's longest-serving Senator, the only one we elected to the U.S. Senate four times (following five terms in the U.S. House). He brought South Dakota all sorts of federal pork-barrel spending. At least as importantly, he was a noteworthy speech teacher and debate coach, a key player in developing South Dakota's outstanding culture of extracurricular speech competition, and a founder of the National Forensic League, which keeps speech and debate alive in schools across the country.

Pals Senator Karl Mundt and Senator Joseph McCarthy, July 19, 1954. © Bettmann/CORBIS
Pals Senator Karl Mundt and Senator Joseph McCarthy, July 19, 1954. © Bettmann/CORBIS

But he was also a Red-baiting, film-censoring SOB. His first Congressional floor speech kicked off an effort to suppress a film that he thought made South Dakota look bad. (Who knows what he would have tried to do to some of my blog posts?) He used Red-Scare tactics to attack political opponents and win elections, even as he advocated passionately for socialist policies like farm subsidies. Mundt was a close friend of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Even after McCarthy's destructive power ebbed, Mundt voted against censuring one of the century's worst Senators, fretting that censuring McCarthy would fuel the worldwide Communist propaganda mills and make America look weak.

I suppose we could dismiss Mundt's coddling of McCarthy as a minor blemish on a career of public service. But it is no small blemish to think that censuring a man who used fear, lies, and reckless character assassination to gain power makes America look weak. Quite the contrary, Senator Mundt: our delay in calling out McCarthy's evil showed our weakness, Finally condemning McCarthy's evil, even if that evil somehow pragmatically bolstered our fight against real Communist threats, showed America's strength.

Mark Twain expressed some radical, pacifist, revolutionary views. His best friend was a socialist. Had Twain been alive during the 1940s and 1950s, McCarthy likely would have attacked Twain... and Mundt might well have sat by silently, not wanting to make America look weak in the war on Communism.

Both Mark Twain and Karl Mundt were complex Americans of notable achievements and flaws. Both have much to teach our children. But I get the sense that those backing Mundt's name for the new elementary school in Sioux Falls are interested in hagiography, not history.

Mark Twain Elementary: I like that name. Let's keep it.


  1. Douglas Wiken 2013.08.26

    Mundt was a tool of the oil industry. He attended the dedication of the Wakonda Post Office around 1960. He could not answer even high school students' questions about why he voted for tax breaks for offshore drilling. He came up with some crap about the mainstem dams on the Missouri in SD being a potential place for drilling and that needed tax protection. Further questioning before he sputtered off to talk to fat Republican women had him replying something totally irrelevant about "butanadyn".

    I knew Mundt would not be able to ever run in SD again after he had a stroke. He could then only talk out of one side of his mouth.

  2. Rorschach 2013.08.26

    The school ought to be named Mark Twain rather than doing away with that name. I don't have any problem naming some other future new school building after the 3 1/2 term communist-hunting senator.

    Next time a school is built, they can choose from a whole list of names of former politicians that includes Karl Mundt, Richard Kneip, Bill Janklow, Tom Daschle, George Mickelson, Larry Pressler, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, the list goes on. May the best former politician win!

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.08.26

    Oil? On the Missouri River? What was Mundt talking about?

    Hey, R, do we have a Larry Pressler school yet? Maybe Sioux Falls could start a second language immersion school and teach French there! Pressler could come guest-lecture!

  4. TCMack 2013.08.26

    Cory, there is no oil on the Missouri River, but there was a hope by the dam boosters to use the river for navigation purposes. Maybe Mundt was implying that oil production by near by Bakken oil field, and transport down the river? Just a guess from a guy who knows the river.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.08.26

    Interesting hypothesis, TC! They discovered oil near Williston in 1951. But did any of the hyrdoelectric dam plans ever include ideas for locks or other systems to move oil tankers downstream all the way to the Mississippi? It's kind of hard to jump the Oahe Dam.

  6. El Rayo X 2013.08.26

    If this is Sioux Falls, shouldn't it be called the T. Denny Sanford Sub-Prime Credit Card Elementary School?

  7. South DaCola 2013.08.26

    Interesting that a political hack piece of garbage is asking a school be named after another piece of garbage senator. Birds of Feather, I guess. I remember when a committee was formed to name Rosa Parks elementary, former city commissioner, Hunking was on the committee, she told me at that time, the biggest suggestion from the public was to name it after Pettigrew (the school district didn't like that, and that is why they shredded all the public's suggestions after they officially named the school), Hunking suggested McGovern, and they told her, "He is too controversial." Ironically, they still named another school after him. I told that story to Matt McGovern not to long ago, and he had never heard that before.

  8. TCMack 2013.08.26

    Cory, the original plan in the 1930's to dam the Missouri was a 21 dam system with locks to transport farm commodities down to southern markets bypassing the rail roads. That plan got shorten to the 6 dams that we now have today, but the lock system for river transportation was still hopeful in 1945. Mundt must have still hoped that it was possible still in 1960, because the dams were not fully completed until then.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.08.26

    Hey, good link, Larry! Mundt challenging Hitchcock? Bad call!

  10. interested party 2013.08.26

    Don't have a dog in the school naming fight but remember that Annie Tallent's name was removed from schools for her unchecked racism. The intent of the link was to paint Mundt with the same white supremacist brush used on Gutzon Borglum.

  11. Mick Zerr 2013.08.26

    Agree! Keep Mark Twain. Every grade school needs a "hero" namesake who kids can read about and tell friends about. Books on or by the namesake should be required reading in the school, or at least made encouragingly available. Adding it to the predetermined curriculum is like pulling teeth. Mundt was no role model to follow. His role model was "Tailgunner Joe".
    Some of us have recommend names for new SF schools over the years. Finally they accepted McGovern. Waiting in the wings is South Dakotan E.O. Lawrence, Nobel winning atomic scientist, inventor of color TV, has a an element named after him, (#103), etc. etc., and the great chief Drifting Goose, who made peace, not war.

  12. MJL 2013.08.26

    They could call it the Janklow Elementary, but they would have to take away all of the books form the school.

  13. Joan 2013.08.26

    Naming it Mark Twain wouldn't really be fair to Longfellow. Heck to save all discussion let's just name it Elvis Presley. I bet that would rattle a few cages.

  14. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.08.26

    A friend in Stratford has a connection to Drifting Goose. He wanted to make a trade for my friend's great-grandmother. I believe it involved livestock and handcrafted items. Her family turned Drifting Goose down. Gramma stayed with the Norwegians on the farm.

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.08.26

    Chief Drifting Goose! Thanks, Mick! I hadn't read about him until now. He gives young people a good example of tackling problems with intelligence rather than violence.

  16. Douglas Wiken 2013.08.26

    How about Albert Einstein Elementary.

    Mundt was just trying to baffle us with bullshit. He was spinning to make it appear his vote for big oil had some South Dakota justification. Years later, an aunt of one of the girls in our class was a Clay County official. I happened to see her when getting a drivers's permit or license or to meet with local draftboard bitch Catherine Olson...anyway the classmate's aunt said, "I still remember how you guys pinned down Sen. Mundt and how he took off when he could not fool you guys."

    Mundt was a jerk.

  17. Winston 2013.08.26

    Keep it Twain, but if it must change perhaps it should be called Peter Norbeck as far as politicians go.... Or how about, Ernest Lawrence, USD alumnus, Nobel Prize winner, and maker of the Cyclotron... Why does it always have to be a politician?

    Mundt was in Washington for 36 years, but what did he accomplish? Oh, I remember, the I-229 Bypass (also known as the Logan Bypass) and all the land acquisition controversies which came with it.... (It was an issue in the 1960 Senate race with McGovern.)

    Janklow? I l am not even going to go there.....

    Pressler? I know there was an interest in naming the Humboldt school after him a couple years ago. Why not, as far as Humboldt goes that is? Regardless of his politics, he was a good student.... Heck, how many Rhodes Scholars have ever come from Humboldt any ways?

    On an other note, I still think I-90 should be called the George S. McGovern Memorial Highway.... A Presidential nominee who can lead you to Mt. Rushmore..... How about that!

    But while we are on this topic, check-out the following link just to humor yourself and to further explain why any place named after a famous person should only be done posthumously:

  18. Michael Paulukonis 2013.08.27

    I remember having dinner with Manfred a couple of times when he came to town. Something to do with some book group? He was quite the character.

  19. Troy Jones 2013.08.27

    Here is the sad thing to me: People look at the naming of a school through their own political prism. Dem's say McGovern school is good. Mundt school is bad. Republicans the opposite.

    Schools are non-partisan but they can reflect local culture, flavor and highlight people of historical significance.

    Whether one agreed or disagreed with them, Mundt, McGovern, Janklow et. al. tell me more about South Dakota than Twain, Sullivan, etc. ever will. And, the names the Sioux Falls School District picks are certainly more relevant than what Harrisburg does (my school district).

    My nominees for the new school:

    Doane Robinson
    Black Elk
    Sylvia Henken

  20. Chuck 2013.08.27

    School should be named for a Role Model in Education. Mundt is definitely not that. Leave it Mark Twain. And, never name it after someone that is alive. Comment on the School District Facebook Page. I did, they love it.

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.08.27

    Harrisburg's elementary names: Freedom, Liberty, Endeavor, Journey, Explorer. They sound like space shuttles... which is o.k. with me.

    Doane Robinson, Black Elk, Sylvia Henkin—I'm open to all three of those... although should one be dead before getting a school named in one's honor? (Did McGovern get such pre-humous honor?)

Comments are closed.