Juan José Osuna was an educator, orator and historian of education in Puerto Rico. He served as the dean of the School of Education at the University of Puerto Rico. During his incumbency, he promoted greater professionalism among the Island’s teachers.
Juan José Osuna was born in Caguas on June 24, 1884. He studied in elementary school in his hometown. After the death of his father in 1894, he began to work to help support his mother and his nine siblings. While working in a tobacco business in 1900, the manager, Quintiliano Cádiz, suggested he obtain one of the scholarships offered by the federal government to study in the United States. On April 26, 1901, he left Puerto Rico for Pennsylvania to study at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, a school whose purpose was to “Americanize” North American Indians. As part of that mission, the students at the school were required to work, as well as to learn to read and write English.
As part of the educational program, the students lived for several months with a family in the United States. Osuna was assigned to the farm of Mira Welsh, who took an interest in the youth’s education and well-being. He continued working on Welsh’s farm and converted to the Presbyterian religion. In 1905, the Carlisle school granted him his graduation diploma. He had already enrolled at the Normal School in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1903 and in 1906 he earned his teaching degree at that institution.
He returned to Puerto Rico that same year and became a teacher and a Presbyterian missionary in Mayagüez. Two years later, he returned to the United States to continue his studies, this time at Pennsylvania State College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Education in 1912. He then moved to New Jersey and completed a Divinity degree at the Princeton Theological Seminary (1912-1915). He returned to Puerto Rico and worked as a teacher and a missionary at the Polytechnic Institute in San Germán.
In 1918, he continued his doctoral studies in Education at Columbia University in New York, where he graduated in 1923 after presenting his dissertation titled A History of Education in Puerto Rico.
In 1922, before completing his doctoral studies, he accepted the post of director of the Summer School at the University of Puerto Rico, which had been created that same year. It consisted of a series of preparatory courses for public school teachers and Spanish classes for teachers from the United States. In 1928, he became dean of the School of Education at the University, a position he held until he retired in 1945. He was also interim president of the University in 1939 and 1940.
During the years he worked at the University, Juan José Osuna contributed to the process of increasing the professionalism of the teachers of Puerto Rico. In 1925, most teachers did not have a high school diploma, and few had completed the course of study at the normal school or had earned a bachelor’s degree. In 1926, Osuna, along with Gerardo Sellés Solá, José C. Rosario and other educators, was part of a committee that lobbied the legislature to establish fixed standards in the Education Department for classifying teachers. They also requested that teaching vacancies be filled with professionals, or in other words, with educators who had graduated from the University and who had passed a course on pedagogy.
Osuna was also a scholar of the history of education on the Island. In 1949, the University of Puerto Rico press published an expanded version of his doctoral thesis, A History of Education in Puerto Rico, with a preface by then-commissioner of Public Education for the Island, José Padín. Also, as director of the Summer School, he created and edited the journal Revista de Verano (1923-1942), which published many of his lectures and essays, including “El origen y desarrollo del moderno movimiento educativo de España,” “La moderna aplicación del procedimiento científico en la educación” and “La política y la educación.”
After he retired from the University of Puerto Rico, he moved to Virginia in the United States. There, he worked at the Foundation for Education in Washington, D.C., and as an education advisor to the Insular Government’s Office of Migration and Labor in New York.
He died on June 19, 1950, at his residence in Virginia. Various schools in Puerto Rico have been named in his honor, as well as the former School of Education building at the UPR, which currently houses the School of Business Administration.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: October 06, 2010.
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