When Patricia Eaton, a teacher at Wilson High School, arrived at All Souls Unitarian Church with her son yesterday morning, she was surprised at the sight of about 25 demonstrators carrying signs promoting African-centered education and shouting, "David Eaton has to go! He's a traitor to his race."

Eaton is the sister of David H. Eaton, the All Souls senior minister who is a member of the D.C. school board.

"Can you tell me what African-centered education is about?" she asked one of the picketers.

The man replied, "It's about your education, your heritage, about how whites screwed you for centuries and how you need a feeling of self-worth."

Eaton, expecting a more informed answer, responded: "You need to get your information correct in order to educate."

The picketer snapped back. "You need to get your head on correctly . . . and know where you are from!"

With the demonstrator's words, Eaton, who lived and worked in Africa for 20 years, said a shiver of fear and anger shot through her. "Here were people attacking my commitment just because I was trying to understand what the issues are," she said. "I know that I can play a vital role in this movement if I can be taken off the defensive. But you're automatically put on the defensive if you ask questions or even challenge {the picketers'} approach."

In the aftermath of Friday's tumultuous meeting of the Board of Education that ended Andrew E. Jenkins's controversial tenure as superintendent of D.C. public schools, supporters of Jenkins's have expressed grave doubts about the future of the African-centered curriculum in District schools.

Jenkins said his termination now rather than in June as planned was largely the result of his desire to introduce an African-centered curriculum into the school system, not such serious problems as the fudging of enrollment statistics, the moving of nearly 100 school principals and the lack of teachers and books in some classrooms.

Jenkins's performance aside, it is important that we go beyond the emotionalism surrounding the Afrocentrism issue and get some facts. It is clear that emotions need to be reined when water pitchers are hurled at school board members and demonstrators throw up picket lines around churches and cannot engage in meaningful dialogue with people who query them.

Because I knew that some of the early calls for African and African-American history had come from the board's 1988 Values Committee report that had been worked on by David Eaton and others, I asked him whether the fears of parents, community activists and students were founded.

"No, no," he said, and read this recommendation for the Afrocentric program that the board had passed unanimously: "The committee cannot stress emphatically enough its conviction that African and Afro-American history are absolutely essential courses of study for D.C. public schools."

Added Eaton: "The Afrocentric program will be in no way diluted . . . . The board has approved Jenkins's $750,000 request for the Afrocentric proposal, and whoever is superintendent, either interim or under contract, will implement that program and the multicultural program."

Mayor-Elect Sharon Pratt Dixon, when asked her position on the issue, stated her support of what the schools are trying to do by pointing to the role of Washington as an international city. She said children should be taught the seminal role of Africa and added that it is very important for their development that they have an accurate picture of history.

The emotional post-Jenkins era in the D.C. schools also is a critical period for the controversial and fragile concept of African-centered education.

While the chaos at the school board meeting came from the deep historical hurt and anger on the part of many people who thought Jenkins and Afrocentric education in the District were one and the same, the school board is on record as saying that the concept is bigger than Jenkins.

To fight confusion, now is the time for planning, organizing and engaging in constructive dialogue within the school board, the school system and the community. This is an idea whose time has come. It would be unfortunate if ill-placed emotionalism and misplaced loyalties disrupted the introduction of African-centered education. Even now, it is the children, not Andrew Jenkins, who are the victims.