How do we approach education and culture nowadays? What do these words evoke for the immense majority of Puerto Ricans who, for almost three decades, have ignored the existence of secular, public schools? A Department of Education exists but the immense majority of the professional, middle, and high classes do not use it. They prefer to send their children to private schools that, as a whole, do not guarantee a superior education either. That is why in May 2005, the immense majority of the population remained unmoved when public system teachers were ousted due to the government”s fiscal problems; that”s not where they send their children. We have discovered that most public schools are, in reality, public day care centers for indigent families.
And culture? Culture has to do with the experience of being moved by works of the mind and the human spirit. However, the commotion that such works may cause is always registered in a memory that has to be learned. One is not born with it. Culture is what we receive after we are born, and we receive it through a language and historical memory that we do not choose. Culture is learned, it is not acquired through osmosis. Unfortunately, most of the students in Puerto Rico lack basic reading and writing skills. Some even think that “anonymous” is the name of an author. How, then, can we communicate if the basic instrument of education is so impoverished, without distinction of social class?
It is not the teaching of English that has impaired learning Spanish; it is not the interference of one language over another. We have settled into the era of rejection for all that has to do with writing, thinking that we will conquer knowledge with video screens. But we should know that where there is no word there is no world. That is why we don”t have a social space characterized by public debate in which real political arguments may be presented instead of the usual moralizing speeches or vulgar gossip that too often takes the place of debate. Instead, we have a depressing political scene where most politicians babble two or three words and with few exceptions don”t know how to explain their political programs if they have any.
Obviously, education today has no value, according to the market. Getting an education is no longer learning to think critically or developing criteria. No. It is about acquiring technical knowledge. Therefore, when I started thinking about this dossier on Education and Culture in Puerto Rico in the twenty-first century, I thought that the best people to talk about education were historians, poets, philosophers: those who still love words and critical thinking, those who discard profitability and consumption and waste their time reading. After all, being born doesn”t guarantee humanity, as some philosophers and writers have acknowledge: the humanity of a human being is that which exceeds the act of being born and is acquired through language and thought. We are each our own little world, right? But those worlds are merely what we can express in words.
Cultural critcs and Professor
University of Puerto Rico- Río Piedras
Author: Proyectos FPH
Published: January 16, 2008.
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