Black students in San Diego Diego city schools, along with parents and selected community leaders, are being surveyed about whether they prefer the term "black" or "African American" to describe themselves.
Assistant Supt. George Frey has distributed a questionnaire to 1,500 of the 8,000 black children enrolled in city junior and senior high schools, to 1,500 parents of elementary and secondary students selected from school district computer records, and to about 80 community leaders chosen from a list provided by the Urban League of San Diego.
The results, which have not yet been compiled, will be presented to Supt. Tom Payzant and his top aides for a possible recommendation to the school board.
Frey, who heads the district's community relations and integration services division, said the survey results from several inquiries made to his office during the past several months concerning district policy about name use. Black leaders nationwide have been debating the merits of a change since the Rev. Jesse Jackson first focused attention on the issue with a call to use "African American" to stress historical and cultural roots.
'Could Be Sensitive'
Many district reports include racial references, ranging from enrollment reports at individual schools to the ethnic makeup of school groups.
"This could be sensitive, but it doesn't need to be," Frey said. An analysis of the results will be presented to Payzant and his aides, but Frey said a recommendation for change would probably follow only if the analysis shows a clear trend toward the new name.
"What I do feel is that we not spend too much time on the identification question" to the detriment of the students' education, Frey said.
Frey contacted principals at a number of city secondary schools--both where blacks are neighborhood students and where they voluntarily bus under integration programs--and asked them to distribute the survey to selected pupils "because in this case students should have a voice in the decision." Frey said elementary students were not included because they do not have a clear racial identification of their own "and are still groping for identity."
Frey's letter explains the background of the debate, quoting from Jackson and other scholars who say that terms such as "colored" and Negro" and "black" refer only to skin color and not to heritage. He also refers to other black academics who say that blacks should "forget the semantic absurdity of what to call people of color and get on with the business of achieving."
Frey then asks the students to choose their preferred term and to offer additional comments if desired.
At Lincoln High School in Southeast San Diego, Principal Ruby Cremaschi said that, "while I'm not sure how significant" the name debate is, "I understand it is a movement and that perhaps the time now is to reference us to geography and culture."
Cremaschi said Lincoln students have talked about the "African American" proposal both in open-forum discussions in the lunch quad and in social studies classes.
Social studies teacher Don Crawford, who gave the survey to 60 Lincoln students, said, "There seems to be a real mix of opinion . . . some students want to be identified by geography and culture, but others say that they're not from Africa but are American. I imagine that the results are going to reflect views across the board."