San Francisco Unified School District Drops Word “Chief” Out of Respect to Native Americans

We have been following the language guidelines and word bans that have become common in academia. The latest is out of California where the San Francisco Unified School District is reportedly dropping the use of the word “chief” in job titles to show respect for Native Americans. Critics have objected that the word has nothing to do with the reference to the head of a tribe. The District also notified people that “a replacement term has yet to be determined.”

SFUSD spokesperson Gentle Blythe told the San Francisco Chronicle that, “[w]hile there are many opinions on the matter, our leadership team agreed that, given that Native American members of our community have expressed concerns over the use of the title, we are no longer going to use it.”

The change will immediately impact 13 officials who use the word “chief” in their titles, but they will have to wait until a new alternative is found, according to the New York Post.

The word is actually derived from the Old French word “chef,” meaning “the head of a group.”

There have been an array of such controversies over terms being dropped for what some may incorrectly assume to be their meaning or origin.

There was the decision at Harvard to drop the traditional term “House master” despite the lack of any connection to slavery. There was also the school district which dropped a cougar mascot as disrespectful to older women.  There was also the move to drop the term “quantum supremacy” in physics. Many schools have moved to drop the term “alumni,” which is already gender neutral.

We have faced the same type of debate over the campaign to drop the “Colonials” mascot at The George Washington University. SA Sen. Hayley Margolis, CCAS-U, is quoted in the Hatchet as saying “When we talk about the Colonial in history, what does it mean? And is that really what we want our school identity to be?”

The Colonials is not a general reference to colonialism or a celebration of colonization. To the contrary, the Colonials (including George Washington) fought against being a colony. They fought the British Empire and its belief that you could subject a people to such foreign rule. The term “Colonials” is an obvious and direct reference to those who fought in the Revolutionary War. It is an inspiring symbol for any school.

As educators, we have some responsibility to maintain a principled, if not grammatical, position in the use of terminology and language.

 

93 thoughts on “San Francisco Unified School District Drops Word “Chief” Out of Respect to Native Americans”

  1. What ignorance! The word was first used in the 13th century…before the New World was even discovered. Even the WaPo ran an op-ed in 2020 about this. Our enemies are laughing at the sort of things we find important these days whilst they wait for just the right moment to strike. In a previous lifetime–2017–this ran in the Toronto Star about a similar move in Canada.
    https://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editors/2017/10/14/your-letters-the-word-chief-is-a-sign-of-respect-not-derision.html

  2. I have a solution for the San Francisco education folks. An already-accepted substitute for Chief was passed by Congress during GW Bush’s administration in or about 2002 — It’s called the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and refers to the corporate Officers as ‘Principal’ executive officers rather than the Chief Executive officers. No need to reinvent the wheel.

  3. The repeated personal insults directed at Jeff and Natacha on this blog are disgusting, disappointing, and violate the blog’s civility rule. I urge Professor Turley to speak out against the use of such personal insults and take other appropriate action to improve the civility of his blog.

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    1. Anonymous, I’m going to chill on the political vitriol and offer a measured opinion. The Russians are embarrassed by this war at this point. This is what happens when one tries to maintain one of the biggest militaries in the world on an economy the size of Spain.

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