Montgomery County tries harder than anyplace else to do the right thing.

It halts highways to save brown trout, demands its share of low-income housing, supplements federal welfare checks with local funds, provides a people's counsel to help citizens sue the county, operates the nation's only local liquor control department, prohibits public smoking and even regulates leaf-blower decibels.

Only Montgomery County has politicians who become priests, its own "Sensitivity Awareness Day" and not one, but two, nuclear-free zones.

And now it has a county school board policy that says, "All new schools will be named in honor of either a woman or a member of a minority group (American Indian, Asian American, African American and Hispanic) ... "

The problem, according to board member Blair Ewing, is that "we seemed to be naming schools after distinguished males who were also white." Only five of the county's 266 schools are named for women or minorities; 25 are named for white males.

Despite the school board's suggestions, most school-naming committees, made up of local parents and teachers, preferred naming their schools after white males or their geographic regions (Seneca Valley, Quince Orchard).

Frustrated, and with two dozen new schools planned, the school board finally abandoned the voluntary approach. From now on, only female and minority names will be accepted.

So when the naming committee in Kentlands, a new Gaithersburg subdivision, recommended "Kentlands Elementary School," the school board substituted "Rachel Carson Elementary School" instead.

How Montgomery Countyish. A battle between good and good; a community's right to name its school v. the county's duty to uplift women and minorities.

And how Montgomery Countyish to insist on doing the right thing even when it makes no sense.

The school board's "women and minorities only" policy is symbolism run amok. And worse, it's symbolism in lieu of substance.

"Symbols are important," says Judith Vaughan-Prather, director of the county's Commission for Women. "The name you give to an institution, especially one as important as a child's school, will communicate a lot to a student."

In the case of Rachel Carson Elementary School, says Vaughan-Prather, "Those students will grow up knowing that women also are scientists."

Fine. It's a symbolic gesture to help even things up between men and women, like naming hurricanes after men. But even a cause as praise-worthy as making people equal must have some common sense limits.

Once we've evened up school names, how about school mascots? Do the Rockville Rams become the Rockville Ewes? How about Churchill's Bulldogs? When have we gone too far?

Northern Virginia has a penchant for naming its schools after Confederate generals. Is that offensive? Must there be an equal number of Yankees?

It's a perfect world where everyone's even ... to the lowest common denominator.

Without question the school board's "women and minorities only" policy will help even things up for some -- perhaps, many -- people. But must society embrace every scheme, no matter how harebrained, that somehow makes people more equal?

After all, when it comes to feminist sensitivity Montgomery County isn't exactly the New England Patriot's locker room. Both the county's representatives to Congress are women. And after next month's elections, the county's state senate delegation will most likely have a female majority, while white males on both the county council and the school board give way to women and minorities.

Perhaps our schools aren't adequately named for women, but women run them. Montgomery County has 102 female principals, and 77 percent of the system's teachers are women. Minority teachers, only 13 percent of the total, make up 38 percent of this year's new recruits, a positive step.

Not so positive is a recent report on minority education by Yale psychologist Edmund Gordon, which criticizes the county's minority education effort as "insufficiently comprehensive ... and insufficiently implemented." Minorities, who make up more than a third of the country's 103,500 pupils, lag in test scores and attention, says Gordon.

The report bristles with recommendations for correcting the situation. Naming schools after minorities and women wasn't one of them.

The task of truly evening things up for minorities and women is as difficult as it is important. It shouldn't be demeaned by symbolic gimmicks and shortcuts that pretend to solve the problem.

The writer is vice president of a Silver Spring development firm and a frequent contributor to this page.