Ismael Rodríguez Bou, Humanist of the Year 1992
Thank you for the honor granted me by the Puerto Rican Endowment for the Humanities in naming me Humanist of the Year. I wish to express my gratitude to the chairman of the Board of Directors, José M. García Gómez, to all the members of the Board, and to the Executive Director, Dr. Juan M. González Lamela.
I am grateful for the presence of Dr. Norman Maldonado, president of the University of Puerto Rico, Dr. Efraín González Tejera, rector of the Río Piedras campus, and so many of my university colleagues.
Distinguished visitors, ladies and gentlemen.
“The Schools and the Puerto Rican.”
We wrote these lines in the Introduction to the Study of the Puerto Rico Educational System, 1961.
To face the educational problems in Puerto Rico, we must first take into consideration that our schools work for the development of the human being, and that a nation’s true wealth consists of the people, and not the artifacts of civilization – not factories, not machines, not even the land itself – and that it is mankind that must be cultivated.
The nation, and undoubtedly the schools, must be interested in preserving our culture and our personality, enriched and strengthened by all its currents and spiritual influences.
Episodes of my life as an educator
All of my professional life has been dedicated to education, though my educational preparation was as a psychologist and researcher. It is impossible here to give a detailed account of the course of some 60 years. I will leave that task for a book I am writing.
For now, I only want to relate some significant episodes in my life as an educator that have been of special importance and have contributed to education in Puerto Rico, in other Spanish American countries and in several European and Asian countries.
I begin with an episode from my origin and formation:
I was born in Orocovis, a small town in rural Puerto Rico, in one of those towns where the people treated you as if you were part of an extended family. Where the adults were authorized, in our case, to reprimand us and even punish us for some mischief that was typical of children, but unacceptable to the adults.
That feeling of family was broken in election years. The people divided into intransigent groups.
Teachers worked nine months and had a frightful time during three months of vacation without pay.
There were no cultural centers in the schools. There was the tradition of the santeros, whose carvings were discovered and valued decades later as works of art in museums and collections of renown.
The discussions among the most educated people were organized on the sidewalk and part of the street in front of the pharmacy owned by Severo Torréns. There, we drew in one or another young lad to sporadically acquire whatever information he could produce for a talk. This verse by Palés could be applied to my town: “Mercy, Lord, have mercy on my poor town where my poor people will die of nothing!”
I studied in Orocovis until the ninth grade. They promoted me from sixth grade to eighth grade and at twelve years of age I went to study tenth grade at the Bayamón High School. Because I was not used to it, I came home to Orocovis too often and my mother immediately made me return with her to Bayamón. Thanks to her tenacity, I continued studying. I lasted one year in Bayamón. I transferred to the Coamo High School, closer to my hometown, where I graduated from high school with the distinction of being valedictorian, or first in my class.
Four students from my town went on to study. Three of us had no money, but had the determination to get ahead. There were no scholarships. How we managed it is difficult to say — the hard work of parents to reduce the household expenses to pay the student bills. My father supported the family by managing one or another bakery or candy store, working to fill every need of the job. He rented the structures from owners who were, generally, political adversaries who canceled the leases when the elections came around. My father was a strong defender of his beliefs and principles, an amiable friend and joker with his children.
I enrolled in the Normal School for teachers. The San Felipe Hurricane hit and things got more difficult than they already were. I graduated in 1930 and, because I had to be 18 years old, according to the Department of Education’s regulations, to obtain a license as an urban teacher, I only got a certificate as a rural teacher. Through the help of a friend of the family, the Secretary of Education decided to change the license to an urban license, since I would reach the required age in only a few months. There was no hope of a job. Remember that the economic depression in the United States and in Puerto Rico was violent from 1920-30 and beyond. By luck, a summer program was offered at Central High in Santurce for would-be manual arts teachers. There were 37 candidates for seven spots. I was one of the lucky ones and I began my first job in the second rural unit in the Palmarejos sector of Lajas. The school district consisted of Cabo Rojo and Lajas. The superintendent was a competent person, but very political, and as typical for the time, very authoritarian. I had some differences because I was very liberal. I was sent to Vieques, where they sent police and teachers who did not fit into the political majority of the time. The superintendent of Vieques and Culebra made me, in fact but without an official appointment, the assistant superintendent of schools, in charge of my schools in the urban zone and also the rural ones on Culebra.
After one school year, I was transferred from Vieques to the Naguabo-Ceiba district as director of schools in Naguabo. I was also made assistant superintendent (without appointment) in charge of the urban schools and all the rural and urban schools in Ceiba and part of Naguabo.
All of my initial visits to the rural areas were done on foot to learn about the conditions of the rural communities, the homes where the children lived and the distances they had to cover to attend classes, many of them without breakfast or with just a little black coffee.
From Naguabo I went to New York and enrolled at the Teachers College of Columbia University. There, in 1938, I completed my Master of Arts degree with a concentration in Child and Adolescent Psychology.
Experience as an Instructor at the Polytechnic Institute
Through a fortunate recommendation from Dr. José M. Gallardo, then commissioner of education, and Dr. Juan José Osuna, dean of the Pedagogy Faculty at the University of Puerto Rico, the president of the Polytechnic Institute at the time sent me a cable saying he would meet me at the pier in New York on a specific day to get to know me. We met and he hired me as an instructor to teach Child and Adolescent Psychology.
In the Poly, there was a wonderful custom that once a month, if I remember right, in the early morning, a different professor had to present a lecture. My turn came and I wrote my talk: “The Hour of Today and Our Leaders.” I began by asking for responsibility from our leaders in proportion to their duties, given the painful situation of our economy and the prevailing misery.
Among other topics, I analyzed the Hours and Salaries Law of 1938 and its effects on the Puerto Rican industries, industries that could not pay the minimum salaries established by the statute, particularly in the needlework industry.
In 1935, a trade agreement was signed with Switzerland that applied the most favored nation clause. That reduced the tariffs on handkerchiefs and other needlework products. This left our industry at the mercy of competition from China and Japan.
By applying the Hours and Salaries Law with the same force as in the United States, no fewer than 90,000 women were put out of work, affecting families with 400,000 to 500,000 mouths to feed.
That was not all I talked about in that conference, which was intended to waken the consciences of the university students and stimulate them to study and commit themselves to improving the situation of the island. (Luis Muñoz Marín was still unknown.)
Through the effects of the aforementioned law, eleven liquor stores that had employed 438 persons dropped to 367 employees; two hat factories that gave jobs to 395 workers reduced to 268; a hairnet factory that before the Law employed 145 people cut to 8; two cigar and cigarette factories that gave jobs to 190 workers reduced their payrolls to 95; two button factories that employed 562 people closed their doors.
Similarly, we also analyzed the effects of the law and other U.S. treaties on the sugar, coconut, pineapple and coffee industries.
In the summer of 1934, the number of unemployed in Puerto Rico had reached a total of approximately 350,000 people, which affected 75 percent of the island’s population.
Because new generations are generally unaware of where we came from and what happened after the transformation of the island, I added some data that should be considered as points for reflection.
In the lecture, I touched on the population issue; unchecked procreation, with the certainty that a premature or unnecessary death resulted in a social, economic and biological loss. Unlimited procreation in the most destitute levels of the human species was part of the disaster.
I discussed the issue of corporations as a new feudal system. The old feudalism had economic dominance without economic responsibility.
The old feudalism was in itself a direct and responsible instrument of the government. The new feudalism was an extra-legal entity. It dominated the government through subterfuge, legal sleight of hand, the power of money, domination of the public information agencies, the press, the radio, cinema, the courts and even education in the elementary and secondary levels and universities and colleges. (I referred to the conditions prevailing in 1938-39.)
The issue of education was sad and complex. I only tried to point out some outstanding aspects.
Keeping in mind the dates (1938-39), I said:
1. We lack an educational philosophy.
2. We have an educational system whose only objective is to academically prepare young people to go to college.
3. The same programs and courses prepared for the urban zone are used in the rural zone.
4. The rural zone was under an academic plan that facilitated entrance into college when the huge majority of the rural children left school before reaching the fourth grade. Only a third of the children enrolled in the rural schools reached fourth grade.
5. Two of three children of school age in the rural zone were not in school (of 428,667 children between 5 and 18 years of age in the rural zone, there were 128,140 in school).
6. Illiteracy reached 31.5% by 1940, or in other words, there were 421,136 illiterate people age 10 and up. (We will comment more on this problem later.)
The last topic I discussed in the lecture to the students at the Poly was, specifically, our leaders.
I said at that time: To me, Puerto Rico too often chooses leaders who are the boldest and make the most noise in the courts, the public plazas and the party assemblies. They are not always the most capable, nor those who can most efficiently guide a people.
Governments can be democratic only when they are based on the consent of the people and consent can only be given when the people understand. If the masses are kept ignorant and their votes are bought, the government does not have the consent of the people. The government usurps that consent.
The students ran with my ideas. I received invitations from several towns in the west, from Mayagüez to Aguadilla, from Mayagüez to Ponce, to speak to civic groups, Lions clubs, Rotarians, Ladies Civic groups, religious groups, etc.
Vacation arrived and I found myself without work for the summer. I waited until the beginning of the new academic year. The president visited me in the college-owned house I occupied and offered me work for a new term, with a written contract. He said he was satisfied with my work and I had the support of the professors and the students. I turned down the offer and moved to Río Piedras that night. A few days later, I received a call from the Department of Education, naming me assistant superintendent of schools for Mayagüez. The following year, the superintendent recommended me as principal of the Mayagüez Secondary School, based on, according to him, the quality of the work I had been doing. In those years, the principals had higher professional and economic standing than the assistant superintendent.
In 1941, with the school year about to begin, I received a call from Dr. Juan José Osuna, announcing that I had finally been named an instructor at the Education Faculty at Río Piedras, with instructions to present myself immediately.
Three years had passed since I had finished my masters, a time in which Dr. Juan José Osuna, dean of the Education Faculty, had constantly presented my name, year after year, to the Board of Trustees for appointment at Río Piedras. A political recommendation was demanded that I was not inclined to request. In the middle of the first semester in 1941, having just arrived to the Río Piedras campus, I was singled out to go to the University of Texas to work on research about the teaching of English in Puerto Rico. This study led to another experiment about literacy through cinematic films.
Summary of a Literacy Experiment Through Cinematic Films
In December of 1943, a series of meetings took place between Mr. Walt Disney, the members of the Institute of Inter-American Affairs, the United States Educational Foundation, the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs and the Office of Special Advisors. The purpose of these meetings was to consider plans to:
1. Prepare a series of films aimed at teaching the mechanics of reading and writing to illiterate Spanish speakers.
2. Prepare a series of films on hygiene, health and agricultural knowledge aimed at improving living conditions in Latin America.
It was decided to combine the two programs for economic reasons and because it was believed that the practices and the information could be presented through the literacy films to make them more interesting for adults. Toward that end, four hygiene films were made: the human body, invisible enemies, tuberculosis, and malaria. The films were tested with illiterate people in the southeastern United States, in Mexico, in Honduras and in Ecuador, in purely scientific experiments. Additionally, the films, especially the ones on hygiene, were presented in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Venezuela.
The hygiene films presented simple facts and information related to health, hygiene, the microbes that cause illnesses and the relationship to malaria and tuberculosis, all from the point of view of public health. The films on literacy were based on two of the hygiene films and were conceived to teach adults to read simple sentences and used a total vocabulary of 16 words.
In both series of films, those on hygiene and those on literacy, Walt Disney animation techniques were used. We spent several weeks at the Walt Disney studios working with a group of technicians to prepare the visual and supplementary material based on the films. With a group of experts, we prepared the essays in Mexico, Honduras and Ecuador. Groups of 20 illiterate people were organized and were assigned a regular teacher and other groups of 40 illiterate people were shown the films and the additional printed visual material that reinforced the films. The teachers did not participate.
To teach illiterate adults, a teacher is probably better than a film alone. The films proved to be efficient in teaching hygiene and in teaching the principles of the lecture. For people who had never been exposed to cinematography, the movement of the films turned out to be very fast. It was recommended that a complete series of films be made, both on hygiene and reading, to broaden the scope of the experimentation.
More significant were the experiences that arose in the steps needed to install the experiments. In one of the countries we visited the president of the republic. The palace was guarded by machine guns in each door of the first and second floors. Days earlier there had been a conflict between loyalists and opponents. We entered the palace with a little fear. The president was a man of imposing stature and girth. He received us in a friendly way. We talked a while. We dared to ask him a question: Mr. President, why in the nation’s budget did you cut education and substantially increase the army? Simple, he told us. When there is unrest in the area, I have to defend myself. (There had been revolts in two neighboring countries.)
After we explained the experiment and its scope, the president asked us how many illiterate people we needed and when. We said two hundred and he assured us he would have them in a few days, in an unoccupied warehouse at a certain site. Effectively, on Sunday there were more people gathered than we needed. We did the tests and proceeded to organize the groups to begin the classes from seven to nine in the evening, in classrooms made available to us. We were accompanied throughout the process by the minister of education. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and in a supervisory visit with the minister, a timid and scared campesino approached us: “Look, sirs, we were brought here Sunday, picked up in trucks on the highway and we haven’t seen our families since, and they don’t know where we are. Could you let us go to our homes in the day if we promise to come back at night?” We were disturbed and told the minister: “If this situation is the way this good man explained it and they do not return to their homes every day after class, we will be forced to stop the experiment, because the results will be distorted. Emotionally affected people cannot learn.” The message was taken to the president and it was agreed to change the classes to six to eight and return the people to their homes immediately after the classes.
In the same country, we went to visit the general of the armed forces to gather information on illiteracy in the military. Showing the high level of illiteracy, we asked the general: Why is the number so high? Very calmly he answered, “when we need soldiers, we go to the sawmill and the less they can read, the better soldiers they are, because the educated ask questions and the illiterate, if we order them to fire, they fire without question.”
We finished the experiment and went to another country. There, they made it difficult to obtain a site appropriate for the experiment. On the outskirts of the city, we obtained appropriate facilities at a religious seminary. In the process of selecting the local illiterate people, we went among rows of adults, asking them where they worked, what they were paid, what food they were provided, etc. Without us knowing, behind us came what I would call the governor of the town. After consulting with the priest, he said: “You can not do this work here. You are communists.” We had to stop using the location. The salary paid to people by the seminary provided them little money to buy salt, a few pieces of clothing, etc., and they were assigned a little piece of land to farm that did not produce. At work, they were given a drink, a kind of pulque, to keep them on their feet, and coca leaves to chew. For asking, we were labeled communists. Fortunately, we were able to carry out the experiment in the capital.
At first, the illiterate subjects came directly from work without washing their faces or their hands. They wore poor and ragged clothing. As the work advanced, they began to come with washed faces and hands, their hair combed, though they lacked bathrooms and clean clothes. As our mission continued and we paid attention and showed concern for these people, they began to express themselves, to talk, to improve in all aspects. Someone was concerned and interested in them and treated them as human beings. When we announced we would be finishing the work the next day, several asked if they could come dressed in their best clothes. On that last day, they appeared to be different people from the ones who began the experiment. When attention and concern is paid to the deprived and they are made to feel that they count, that they are recognized and they are treated as human beings with friendliness, kindness, warmth and closeness, the reaction is one of reciprocity.
Illiteracy in Puerto Rico
I found myself in the Walt Disney studios in Los Angeles, working with a group of technicians on the materials that would accompany the presentation of the films that experimentally would try to explore the possibility of teaching illiterate people to read through cinematography when I received a cable from the chairman of the High Council of Teaching at the University of Puerto Rico, offering me the position of permanent secretary of that entity.
I responded with thanks for the distinction, but at the same time indicating that I had a commitment with the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs of the American Council of Education that could last several months. I received a response telling me they would wait for my return.
I was named permanent secretary on the first day of January, 1945. I told the High Council of Teaching that I was inclined to accept the post if it complied with the law (University of Puerto Rico Law of 1942) that charged the entity with carrying out “a study of the educational system in Puerto Rico with the goal of providing general guidance to the educational process in tune with the basic needs of the people in a democracy.”
The Council reacted positively. They asked me to present a plan of study and a budget to begin to fulfill the mission.
The Council determined that immediate attention would be given to the problem of illiteracy, the study of vocabulary, textbooks and supplementary readings for use in the public schools; a study of the relationship between the ability to read and the achievement and social and economic conditions of students in the public schools.
What was the educational situation at the time?
In 1890, 79.6 percent of the people in Puerto Rico were illiterate. That figure fell by 1.2 percent in the following ten years. By 1900, illiteracy was at 78.4 percent. From there, the trend was a reduction of illiteracy by approximately 11 percent in each following decade.
In 1920, out of a population of 1,299,809 residents, 55 percent were illiterate.
The study of illiteracy in Puerto Rico, in addition to beginning to fulfill the orders of the Council, threw light on the problem of a poorly educated population when an industrialization program was proposed.
On September 15, 1953, the Hon. Secretary of Education Mariano Villaronga named me director of the Literacy Program, work I had to do as a special task, outside of working hours, because I was already permanent secretary of the Council and director of Pedagogical Research. The designation was made on the basis that the Research Division had produced the methods, techniques and materials to address the problem. The Literacy Program was added to the Adult Education and English Programs. Those jobs were extended until March 1, 1958. This is not the time to describe all I had to do to put the programs in motion. I will give some examples of experiences that enriched understanding of the topic:
1. Most of the classrooms to be used to start the classes lacked electric lights. The course was delayed two or three months.
2. The seats, made for children, were not appropriate for adults.
3. The elementary school teachers did not have the knowledge, psychology or methodology to teach adults. We had to offer thirteen short courses of 24 hours of classes in various centers around the island in which we trained 1,800 teachers.
4. The reading materials for the participants were aimed at the interests of children. In the beginning, in the literacy groups, the readings said, “Mama, Mama, kiss me Mama.” The adults felt ridiculous.
5. We prepared cards that talked about adult interests: The School, The Workers, Health Care, Citizens in a Democracy, Healthy Entertainment.
6. We had to revise many publications by government entities — among them Agricultural Extension, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor, Health, etc. — because the target population at that time had three years of schooling (persons ages 5 to 24) or 3.7 years of schooling for people age 25 and up and the materials were written at a fourth-year high school level. Simply put, it was a waste of effort and money because the people they were aimed at did not understand them. We organized a seminar, with a group of editors and writers of those publications to examine the poor reception of their writing. Later, we reviewed the publications before they were printed. We were very successful in improving the government publications.
7. Although two thirds of the illiterate lived in the rural zone, two thirds of the classes were located in the urban zone and one third in the rural zone.
In our social and economic system, the most ignorant of our fellow citizens are the ones that create the burdens for us of high rates of criminality, delinquency and prostitution, providing them with charitable institutions, judicial services, hospitals, homes for the elderly, mental hospitals, and endless other institutions sustained by the state and paid for directly or indirectly by the taxpayers to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. It would be preferable to give them a hand in advance; to prevent instead of punish.
The program could not be limited to teaching reading and writing. It had to address strengthening family relationships, developing appropriate nutritional habits and practices, pursuing better worker-employer relations, home economics, personal care habits; getting into the cultural and historical environment was necessary to better understand our collective personality and fully develop our fellow citizens within the democratic courses of life. All of this had to be addressed through adult education. I should mention that we had several graduations from high school. We established programs from the first grades through high school. Due to the existing prejudice against dropouts, we had to invent ways to get some of our graduates into the university. They were fully rehabilitated and wanted to better themselves.
In 1953-54, we could report that illiteracy had dropped to 21 .3 percent and school retention was around 60 percent. There were still 16 percent who were illiterate in Puerto Rico, according to adjusted statistics based on population data for the year 1960. (By then, we had been able to reduce illiteracy to 16.28 percent).
Our methods, techniques and materials were cited in international works such as the Monograph on Basic Education, The Teaching of Reading and Writing by Dr. Williams S. Gray, a work prepared with the sponsorship of UNESCO.
The research studies on literacy education for adults were requested by teaching centers in Germany, Spain, Argentina, France, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala, Burma, India and 18 Asian countries whose representatives attended the Seminar on Literacy and Adult Education held in Misora, India.
International Contribution to Educational Study and Research
A seminar held in Brazil in 1950 and sponsored by UNESCO, the Organization of American States and the government of Brazil brought together professionals from all of the Latin American countries, the United States and France. There we met and benefited from the presence and talks of Jean Piaget for a period of several weeks. We were in sessions all day, every day, at the hotel we stayed in. The delegates were divided into groups to address various aspects of literacy and adult education.
It was an experience of collegiality, professionalism and exchange of ideas and experiences. Valuable reports were presented on the educational situation in each country represented. The documents that arose from our research and practices were distributed, used and discussed in the working groups. It is not possible to cover in detail the results of this meeting and the plans and projects that were formulated. I say with total humility that at the closing session of the Seminar it was announced that there had been an agreement among the sponsoring entities of the activity to select the delegate who had made the greatest contribution to the success of the event and invite him to go as an advisor to a seminar with the same purposes to be held in Misora, India. It was announced that by unanimous decision the selected delegate was the representative from Puerto Rico. Shortly thereafter, with the consent of the Higher Education Council, I went to India. Remember that the country had recently achieved independence and was divided between India and Pakistan.
At the seminar on the Education of Adults in Rural Areas for Communal Action were representatives from Afghanistan, Australia, Burma, Ceylon, Egypt, India, Indochina, Iran, Malaysia, Nepal, Holland, the Philippines, the Republic of Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Thailand, England, France and the United States.
The seminar lasted from November 2 to December 4, 1949.
The groups divided, as in Brazil, in four basic topics: 1. Literacy and adult education. 2. Health and family life in rural areas. 3. Social aspects and citizenship in adult education in rural areas. 4. Social aspects and citizenship in the education of adults in rural areas.
Given the impossibility of covering the details of the experience, as in Brazil, I will give two examples of the complexity of the problems that were faced.
Lacking reliable census data in Asian countries, it was estimated that illiteracy there was somewhere between 50 and 97%. In India alone, there were about 180 million adults, and only 17 million knew how to read and write. It was calculated that around one million teachers were needed to attend to the education of school-age children and around four million teachers to address adult illiteracy. In China, it was calculated that of 225 million adults, more than 125 million were illiterate.
I did a tabulation of the total population of the areas represented at the seminar and came up with a figure of 1.1 billion people. It was estimated that the average illiteracy rate was 75 percent in the represented countries. That led to a figure of 840 million illiterate adults.
Calculate the educational problems presented by the geographic size of these countries, the distances that would have to be covered to get teams and materials to the schools, the lack of electricity and transportation, the diversity of languages (16 official languages in India) and dialects in each country, the religious and internal ethnic problems, the indifference of governmental authorities and adults themselves, the lack of constitutional freedom, the lack of teaching materials, the uneven distribution of the population, the low level of teachers, the low priority given to education in the budgets, the opposition of feudal systems, the poor health conditions, the absence of appropriate educational centers for training teachers, the lack of methods and techniques for efficient teaching, and the poor status of women in society, and it is easy to understand the difficulty of offering working solutions. Awareness of the problems was created, and many possible avenues suggested, but the magnitude of the negligence, ignorance and lack of will, both among the governments and among the human beings most affected, was crushing.
I confess that I learned more from these experiences than the little that I could have contributed. Living these realities teaches more than the books and the lectures we hear in the academic and cultural centers.
I was an advisor on education for each and every Latin American country except Paraguay, in UNESCO, in Paris, in efforts by the United Nations Special Fund, on World Health Organization missions, for the International Labor Agency, the U.S. International Development Agency, and various governments and universities of the Spanish Americas, but I learned more than I could contribute. My vision, my understanding and strength were enriched so I could better help my country.
The United Nations Special Fund gave me another mission in Iran (Persia), and the conditions were similar to those described above. It was the time of the Shah in Iran. A country with an area of 628,000 square miles, as big as Great Britain, France and Italy combined. Agriculture was the way of life for some 2.5 million families that made up more than 70 percent of the total population of approximately 22 million. These farmers lived in some 50,000 villages, with about 250 families per village. Oil production was considerable, but a small number controlled the product. The crude life lived in the so-called third world countries was repeated here.
The human factor is the most important factor in social and economic progress of developing countries. The lack of knowledge and techniques and poor health are factors that present the greatest obstacles to increasing the living standards. If most people are illiterate, the levels of understanding, knowledge, and sensitivity make it difficult to advance.
Participation in the Study of Teaching English in Puerto Rico
In the middle of the first semester of 1941, I was sent to the University of Texas to work on research on teaching English in Puerto Rico.
At the request of Dr. George F. Zook, then the president of the American Education Council — an entity with a great national and international reputation — with the approval of Mr. Harold Ickes, then the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, and Mr. Ernest Gruening, director of the Bureau of Territories and Possessions, Dr. Robert Herndon Fife and Dr. Hershel T. Manuel made a three-week exploratory visit to Puerto Rico, in April of 1940.
The project had the backing of the authorities and Dr. Fife and Dr. Manuel recommended that the American Education Council begin an intensive study of the teaching of English on the Island. The Council’s Executive Committee approved the project and Dr. Zook named Dr. Fife and Dr. Manuel as representatives of the Modern Languages Committee of the American Education Council. Financial support for creating and administering exams was supplied by the then Director of Sciences and Education at the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs and financial aid for the project came from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
The creation of the exams and the analysis and interpretation of the results extended until November of 1941 and during a period of two years. The final report, due to the difficulties of the war and the lack of funds, was not produced until 1948.
I found myself working as a civilian in a project that was considered a war effort. If the job of creating the exams was complicated, the direction of giving the exams in Puerto Rico and in Mexico required even greater effort.
In Puerto Rico, two versions of the series of exams were given: one in English and one in Spanish. In Mexico, the series in Spanish was given and in Texas the one in English.
It is impossible to go into an explanation of the technical parts, statistics, study and interpretation of the results. I will limit myself to pointing out some conclusions from the 410-page report by Dr. Hershel T. Manuel and my 313-page doctoral thesis:
1. In the future development of teaching English in Puerto Rico, responsibility falls on Puerto Ricans. For some time, the involvement of the United States (the Union) in this issue can only cause damage. The goals should be based on what the people of Puerto Rico want.
2. English in Puerto Rico’s future.
It is obvious that Puerto Rico’s relationship with the Union will continue to exercise influence over the teaching of English, but Puerto Rico’s need for the English language is not exclusively dependent on its political status. The Island will always be at the crossroads of the Caribbean, between the millions of Spanish speakers to the south and the importance of this location will increase as the communications media put these areas into more economic and cultural contact.
3. Opportunities to teach English should exist in all of the schools.
4. Limitations on the study of English.
The ideal of acquiring English for all Puerto Ricans must be seen in a realistic way. In other words, a command of English will be an objective achieved only when practical and as long as other educational needs make it wise. It will be determined not by the need for English, but by the amount of English that can be learned with the time and energy dedicated to it, without neglecting other educational objectives.
5. Practical goals in acquiring English.
When establishing goals for teaching English, it should be considered that many students will achieve very low levels of achievement. In general, it should be expected that students will progress in English in proportion to their general ability, the opportunities they receive, their motivation and their command of the vernacular. (We have repeatedly stated that until Spanish is learned well, English will not be learned satisfactorily. Deficient teaching of Spanish makes learning English harder.)
6. Differences in goals will depend on individual differences.
No specific objective will be appropriate given the extreme differences between students in terms of mental ability, educational opportunities, the possibility of learning in a normal situation, the possible need for a language, and the balance between linguistic needs and other educational needs.
The Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico and in the United States will be evaluated with exams translated and adapted for other groups and normalized with sectors of children in other cultures, different socio-economic status and different programs, curricula and courses of study. Especially in the United States, minority groups are examined as if they were representatives of their national group of origin. Other times, conclusions are reached using norms obtained from children in other countries with exams that are translated and then applying the norms to minority groups in the United States, without taking into account principles of sampling, the occupational status of the family, educational opportunities, health factors and pertinent psychological conditions.
Remember the experiences of Puerto Rican children tested in New York and considered inferior in general abilities — in intelligence — based on results of exams adapted or translated and using norms of other cultures.
Studies by Rudolf Pintner from 1927 have pointed out the absurdity of these practices. Later, Hershel T. Manuel and Carrie E. Wright, George l. Sánchez, D. J. Soer, Helen Tomlinson, Teobaldo Casanova, and others, contributed to making clear the absurdity of the aforementioned practices. As a result, the use of oral and non-oral exams, adaptations and translations, that were not used for groups for which the exams were designed, have run into criticism based on normalization, sampling, the experience of the children, the cultural background of the subjects tested, the socio-economic status of the subjects, the wealth of associations, schooling, courses of study, the language factor, the processes and abilities that are the object of the exam, and the equivalence of the meanings of the vocabulary used.
This series of parallel exams in English and Spanish, created for students with different languages and cultures, has been a contribution to the study of modern languages (the lnter-American Tests).
Serious and objective experimentation should continue, as it has continued, to shine light on the problems that have been discussed passionately for so many decades in Puerto Rico on the basis of opinions, changes in government and political-partisan fanaticism.
Let’s look at some of the conclusions that were reached by the groups that studied the teaching of English in Puerto Rico as part of the Educational System Study, the report of which was submitted in 1961.
Spanish should be given primacy, clearly and honorably. But at the same time, it should be remembered that English has exceptional importance in Puerto Rico and will continue to have exceptional importance.
The director of the English Section of the Department of Education, Professor Belén G. Machuca, said the following:
To teach English well, not only are materials, equipment, methodology and supervision needed, but also teachers, and teachers who can model correct speaking and guide an analysis and learning of the language. We do not have many of these.
1. There is a technical-pedagogical problem in the teaching of English that should be addressed only by those who are competent and have done the necessary research.
2. Educational authorities should explain clearly to the public the policy toward English, the psychological, pedagogical and linguistic basis for its adoption and the results that will be achieved from teaching the language.
3. Teaching English does not justify poorly teaching Spanish or giving insufficient time and resources to other subjects.
4. Absolute command of the English language should not be expected from all individuals.
5. Frequent, unnecessary or unjustified changes in the way of teaching English in the schools should be avoided, as well as sudden changes in preparation.
6. Deficient teaching of Spanish affects the ability to learn English.
7. Current entities do not offer a high level of stimulation for learning either English or Spanish.
8. The responsibility for the achievements and failures in linguistic policy fall on the educational leadership of the island.
9. All children should have the opportunity to learn English, but the most intellectually gifted should be provided the means to best develop their abilities.
We added other recommendations to the Study:
10. That English should be taught without interference from political partisan motivations, for its cultural value and for its practical usefulness in the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.
11. That urgent attention be given to the improvement of teaching Spanish. The good habits acquired by students in the use of the vernacular can serve as a base for learning English.
12. That teachers confirm that students can read and write in Spanish before beginning to teach written English.
13. That the teaching of English, if it is to have a scientific basis, is not guided by a perfectionist desire that is unrealistic or impossible. Not all people learn languages with the same ease or the same achievement.
14. That the administrative organization be reviewed to readjust and coordinate the work of teaching English and Spanish.
15. When acquiring the materials that are to be studied in each grade, it should be considered the amount time that is available so that teaching is not sacrificed to reading because excessive attention is given to drills.
16. Institutions at the university level should not just review programs for preparing teachers, but also, in coordination with the Department of Education, should work toward the improvement of teachers currently teaching English.
Research Work Done on the Teaching of Spanish for the Research Division of the Higher Education Council
I should first recognize that a good part of the tasks I was assigned and many times I created were brought to culmination thanks to the working team I recruited, who with their talent and total dedication joined me in the difficult task of producing more than 66 published books and others printed in mimeograph and more than 50 written speeches. Each printed book carried the names of those who collaborated in the research. But I reiterate the extraordinary contributions of Juana A. Méndez, David Cruz López, Edwin Figueroa, Dalila Díaz Alfaro de Sosa, Ishver Bagdiwala, Joaquín Sánchez Guzmán, María Teresa Serrano de Ayala, Marta Rendón, Aida Iris Pagán de Cortés, Carmen Ruiz de Arrillaga, Alice Warren de Colón, Carmen l. Goyco de García, Evelyn Puercell de Vicéns and Haydeé Seballos, among others.
The previous studies that we had done on the education problems in Puerto Rico had shown us that as the students rose in the educational system, they had fewer books for reading. In other words, the more they should be reading, the fewer opportunities for reading they were offered: 258 books per student in the first grade, 215 in second, 184 in third, 117 in fourth, 17O in fifth and 112 in sixth.
It is common to attribute linguistic errors to the impact of English on the vernacular. That is certainly one of the causes, but we have to be objective and admit that there are and have been serious shortcomings in the teaching of the vernacular, deficient reading habits, a lack of appropriate vocabulary in both quality and quantity, limitations of expression, unharmonious constructions, Anglicisms, and others.
We hear today the same thing we have heard for decades, that “our people don’t read,” “the few who read only care about inferior topics, sensationalist affairs.” The farmers did not follow the instructions they were sent on brochures and bulletins, the jíbaro (of back then) used very little of the information sent to him by the Labor Department, the Health Department, the Agricultural Extension Service and now the time is invested in poor quality television, where ratings are more important than the mental health of the public.
We did a study of the reading books that were prepared for children. The discussion of the results of this research with the school authorities and at a joint meeting of the Education Committees of both legislative houses contributed, in part, to establishing the basis for formulating plans for better distribution and acquisition of funds aimed at meeting the needs identified in the study.
The book Problems in Reading and Language (1948) is an historical account of the teaching of reading and language in Puerto Rico. Its most significant themes are the importance of the vernacular, the language and the culture, the language and personality, the vernacular and emotion, the meaning of reading, historical points on teaching the vernacular in Puerto Rico and the methodology of teaching language in Puerto Rico (notes on its history).
The analysis of reading material used in our schools made clear the need to have objective norms for judging the quality of reading books for elementary schools. We created our own evaluation instrument: Norms for Evaluating Reading Books in the Elementary Schools, a monograph that has been reproduced by UNESCO and by the governments of Panama and Costa Rica, among other countries.
The problem of textbooks led to two other research efforts: Study of Visual Preferences and Types of Illustrations (of children in elementary school) and the monumental Inventory of Spanish Vocabulary. Many of the books used in Puerto Rico were not representative of our environment and idiosyncrasies, needs and interest. The textbooks and supplementary readings that were published were written mainly to satisfy the interests of the author, his desire to express his own preferences. This type of basic research can start artists, art teachers and writers on the road to develop, with greater confidence and guidance, the artistic sensibilities and tastes of the children.
To produce good reading texts, appropriate for elementary school, it was necessary to have vocabulary lists. This study met a longstanding need to provide a list of the twenty thousand lexical units most frequently used among the seven million words. The study was published jointly with the Organization of American States, UNESCO and the Higher Education Council. It consisted of two volumes. The first collected the ten thousand most frequent lexical units in order of rank and alphabetical order and the twenty thousand most frequently used forms of inflection, in order of rank and alphabetical order.
The second volume (which had two parts) included the frequency of the 20,542 lexical units, 62,888 forms of inflection in each of ten sources studied.
The inventory can serve to provide an “appropriate working instrument to determine the status of the language around a given period: the year 1980 or 1990 (or 2000) for example. The frequencies of words and their different inflections, obtained in the press and radio, can be compared with those of inventories done in, say, 2100, or later. The cultural anthropologist has a base for comparing the concepts, both concrete and abstract, that are the most frequently used expressions by children and adults in a given time. The psychologist, also, can reasonably make inferences about the interests and values of Puerto Ricans around 1950, let’s say (or later). The analysis of the content of vocabulary inventories can be of incalculable value for researchers of today and the future,” according to Dr. lrvin Lorge.
In addition to this general inventory, and to provide even more resources for this important aspect of the language, two supplementary inventories were published: the Inventory of Vocabulary of Magazines for Adults, in which 1,196,950 words were counted from 10 issues of 43 widely circulated magazines during the years 1949 to 1951, and the Vocabulary of Children of Pre-School Age. The uses of these inventories are explained in the respective publications.
Not everything was a technical study, however. The book Rainbow is a collection of stories and poems that, with the support and collaboration of children, was prepared under the direction of Puerto Rican writer Esther Feliciano Mendoza and was illustrated by painter Andrés Bueso. The book was sent to children as a friendly offering from a heart “full of songs and emotions” that poured into it “the sea, the heavens, the birds and the children.” There was also an anthology of poems in two tomes, Children and Wings, done in cooperation with the Costa Rican Ministry of Education.
In the difficult task of preserving and enriching the language, without losing the sense of correctness, we prepared three monographs:Written Composition in the Elementary Schools; The Spoken Language in the Elementary Schools; and Points for Teaching the Spoken and Written Language in the Elementary Schools, which offered methodological guidance to correct the mistakes of spoken and written language.
We prepared a limited compilation of some of the aspects of the language that, although common, were often the subject of doubts, errors and difficulties. This compilation of information appeared in the monograph Grammatical Notes, of which three editions were printed and has been out of print for years.
We were honored by the publication of the study Grammatical Functions in Child Speech, which the students in the Literary Methodology seminar at the University of Puerto Rico prepared during the 1958-59 school year, under the direction of distinguished professor and member of the Spanish Royal Academy don Samuel Gil y Gaya. “This study,” said Samuel Gili y Gaya, “aspires to point out landmarks in the process of learning language.” For this study, data about the language was used that had been gathered for theInventory of Spanish Vocabulary and the material that was collected for the inventory of the vocabulary of pre-school children.
The value of the study, Gili y Gaya pointed out, is “the hope that its methods can be applied and improved by other researchers” and also that he would like “to see these observations extended in both linguistic and pedagogical paths: linguistic, because an understanding of children’s speech can explain the how and why of numerous phenomenon raised by the history of languages; pedagogical because when teachers are going to intervene in the acquisition of the maternal language, we need to know in which directions we can make progress at each age with the expressive abilities of the children with the greatest chance of success.”
These studies, briefly summarized here, have helped solve educational problems in our nation and in various countries abroad.
Study of the Puerto Rico Educational System
In an introduction I wrote for the summary of the study, I noted the careful and painstaking nature with which this work was done from September 15, 1958, to August 14, 1961, the date when the final report was delivered to the Hon. Aguedo Mojica, chairman of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives Education Committee.
To complete our task, we had to prepare many of the instruments of evaluation, which were not available at the time: a methodological design, exams, research forms, evaluation sheets, forms and others. We had to find and hire professionals and technicians to expand the small group at the Council.
Most Puerto Rican technicians participated in the project, with the help of advisors from abroad such as Dr. lrving Lorge from Columbia University and Dr. H. T. Manuel from the University of Texas.
Through an arrangement with New York University, the dean of the School of Pedagogy, Walter A. Anderson, and seven department directors, prepared special reports that covered areas of administration and supervision of schools, elementary education, secondary education, social studies and citizenship, sciences and mathematics, and vocational education. These professors supervised the work of 64 post-graduate Puerto Rican students who were selected to conduct partial studies on different portions of the educational system. All of this work was done under our attention and direct supervision, with excellent cooperation from technicians at the Council Research Division.
The motivation for this step was based on our conviction, as director of the study, that those who had the most to contribute to improving and strengthening education in Puerto Rico were the teachers who worked in it, the leaders who administered it and the community that supported it. We thought it was constructive to put together a group of educational directors to understand the educational system better, to broaden the research with their views and perspectives, and help the process of examining and improving education with their contributions, so they could work with others and in the study and feel like part of the process of self-examination. Our education, although it benefited considerably from the good advice given to us by technicians and experts from abroad, could not do much if it depended mainly on this kind of guidance, which could be based on different experiences in systems whose historical development and practices did not correspond to ours. The hope of improving the system rested largely on how effective we were in choosing, forming, preparing, and improving the corps of professors.
The post-graduate students, along with assistant secretaries and division directors from the Department of Education, professors from the University of Puerto Rico, general supervisors, superintendents of schools, assistant superintendents, public and private school principals and teachers, delivered 55 reports. New York University granted 6 credits, equivalent to having taken a class at the New York University campus. Masters and doctoral theses arose from this work.
Professor Ralph B. Long, director of the English Department at the University of Puerto Rico, with the collaboration of Professor Rosemary Bennett, prepared a special report on the teaching of English in Puerto Rico.
The study of university-level institutions was led by Dr. Frank Bowles, chairman of the College Entrance Examination Board, and a group of six additional experts. All of these professors delivered special reports.
Dr. Charles A. Siepmann, director of the Department of Communications at New York University, studied educational television. Dr. Leonard Shatzkin, director of research at Doubleday and Company, delivered a report on the press and printing operations at the Department of Education and the University of Puerto Rico. Dr. Edward James King, professor of Comparative Education at King’s College, the University of London, also studied issues with the curriculum. Dr. Edgard Morphet, professor of Education at the University of California and Dr. R. L. Johns, director of the Department of Administration at the University of Florida, did a study of the organization and administration of our system.
The technical personnel of the Council Office studied various areas: school dropouts, characteristics of teachers, teachers’ opinions, salaries, curricula, supervision, double enrollment, interlocking, preschool, decentralization, and other important topics. They were an efficient link between the foreign experts and the educational system personnel.
With the goal of using the knowledge and experience of other distinguished educators of the country, we requested cooperation and advice from a group of professors at the University of Puerto Rico, the Inter-American University and the Catholic University. We asked them to visit the schools from the point of view of their respective fields of specialization. Two basic goals were behind this action. On one hand, with the experience and knowledge of teachers in their respective specializations, we added a reliable source of observation and analysis of the teaching practices, techniques and procedures. At the same time, we achieved a greater understanding among university professors of the real situation in the schools where the teachers they prepared would work.
Several professors from the University of Puerto Rico participated in various phases of the study. Dr. Rubén del Rosario, Dr. Rosa Celeste Marín, Dr. Belén Serra, Dr. Awilda Palaú, Dr. David Cruz López, Professor Joaquín Sánchez Guzmán and Professor Juan Luis Brusi.
Our task was to analyze all of the reports, reconcile the suggestions and recommendations of each one with the existing educational realities and with what was possible economically, professionally and culturally, and then, finally, produce a work covering 26 chapters which discussed major aspects of Puerto Rican education, as seen by the 200 professionals with various experiences, cultural environments, origins and professional preparation.
Here are the chapters and their content:
2. Design of methodology and study procedures.
3. General summary and recommendations.
4. Toward an educational philosophy for Puerto Rico.
5. Organization and administrative structure of the Department of Education.
6. Considerations related to financial resources of the educational system in Puerto Rico.
7. School buildings.
8. School administration.
9. The teachers.
10. Auxiliary educational services.
11. The students.
12. The curriculum in the Puerto Rican public schools.
13. Elementary schools, secondary schools, high school.
14. Textbooks and other teaching materials in the public schools.
15. Evaluation: Results of the administrative exams in some areas and levels of the school system.
16. Vocational instruction.
17. Adult education.
18. Educational radio and television.
19. Printing facilities and the press of the Department of Education and the University of Puerto Rico.
20. The private schools.
21. Institutions at the university level in Puerto Rico.
22. Other educational institutions outside the Department of Education.
23. Considerations of teaching salaries.
24. Projections of school enrollment.
25. The Puerto Rico Teachers Association.
26. The schools and the community.
It is impossible on this occasion to synthesize this study, which consisted of three volumes and 2,500 pages. The President of New York University told the Senate and House of Representatives Joint Committee on Education that it was the most complete and professional study he knew of.
As has happened with dozens of studies of education in Puerto Rico, the frequent changes of secretaries (sometimes as many as three in a period of four years), the implementation of new educational practices, the use of all the system for capricious changes, educational styles generally brought from abroad and without appropriate experimentation in our setting, have ruined sound advice and innovative and visionary ideas and practices. School authorities of the time preferred to distribute the thick volumes of the study in Latin America rather than circulate the findings and recommendations among the educators of Puerto Rico. The study contained criticisms supported by objective research, valuable recommendations from internationally famous experts and competent Puerto Rican professionals. It appeared it was more comfortable to continue the status quo, stick their heads in the sand, instead of facing the suggestions and objective criticisms. Errors of judgment of this nature have brought about the deterioration of education, which we regret. Neither the Puerto Rico Legislature, which sponsored the Study, nor the Department of Education, which should have opened it for discussion among teachers, students and the public in general, nor the teachers associations, pushed for the study, discussion and implementation of what was considered useful and constructive. We fulfilled our historic responsibility.
Some Aspects of the Work Done at the Río Piedras Campus, 1974-1978
A good part of this summary came from a report prepared to account for the first years of our work as rector. The cooperation of the Dean of Research, under the able direction of Dr. Belén Serra, mainly, and the other deans, was polished and efficient.
I was named rector of the Río Piedras campus on February 25, 1974, and held that post until May 12, 1978. I will write about this part of my professional career when I am not limited by time. For now, I will only present a summary of some aspects that I consider positive and are easily stated objectively.
Improvement of Teaching
Through the coordination of the Academic Dean, the campus Teaching Improvement Program was organized and strengthened with the goal of increasing effectiveness of the academic programs and their application, in light of modern technology.
The establishment of a new Center for the Development and Improvement of Teaching (CEDME for its Spanish acronym) was part of this renewal effort. The Center provided the means for organizing programs and televised courses and operated the FM radio station that was established on the campus through federal authorization. It has an authorized budget, antennas and equipment, and prepared programming. Legal permits had been issued for its operation. The idea was to bring together the radio station, the TV studio, the School of Communications and the Institutional Bulletin in a joint effort to train students in these disciplines. (The FM station, due to the change in university administration, was unnecessarily delayed from going on the air.)
In this effort, the campus had the effective cooperation of the Department of Education and its Radio and Television Services. A microwave system was installed on the campus that linked directly to WIPR-TV. This allowed live transmissions of activities in the University Theater, at the Museum, and in other parts of the campus. Arrangements were also made to put on the air televised Continuing Education and Extension courses, such as mathematics. Important educational materials were also prepared. Among them was the first National Atlas of Puerto Rico, prepared by the Department of Geography in the School of Social Sciences and sponsored by the Rector and the Academic Dean as part of the teaching improvement program. Similarly, basic modular courses on the humanities, Spanish, English, biology and physics were prepared. Based on these modules, televised courses were prepared that had a broad reach.
The Academic Senate frequently urged the creation of new programs, such as the bachelors in Environmental Management and Public Communications, and curricular revisions of existing programs, such as Planning, Law, Architecture and Business Administration.
During the period we are summarizing, the Río Piedras campus also obtained academic re-accreditation for its programs from the Higher Education Council of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. As part of this process, examining committees appointed by this entity and consisting of distinguished educators from the United States visited the campus in October of 1974 and May of 1977 and evaluated and approved its conditions and academic work.
Additionally, the graduate programs and Secondary Education program of the School of Pedagogy were re-accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, the Architecture School by the National Architectural Accrediting Board, and the Social Work School by the Council on Social Work Education. The Graduate School of Planning sought professional accreditation from the American Institute of Planners.
The School of Architecture cosponsored, along with the United Nations, a meeting of experts on the Use of Waste from Industry and Agriculture as Construction Materials. Professionals from Germany, Canada, the United States, Ghana, India, England and Puerto Rico participated.
Contribution to Studies, Research and Publications on the Enrichment and Dissemination of Cultural Values
Research that systematically and rigorously examines the realities that surround mankind to understand them is an essential part of university work and its educational programs, particularly at the graduate level.
Between 1974 and 1978, the Río Piedras campus intensified the promotion of research work by its professors.
The campus invested about one million dollars a year in the research work of its professors. The Office of Graduate Studies and Research (OCEGI for its Spanish acronym), for example, announced distributions from the Research Support Fund to 43 professors on the campus. In the 1975-76 school year, research funds were also granted to 37 professors. The Fund was created for the main purpose of helping young professors through modest financial awards as seed money, to allow them to prepare themselves to obtain funding from public and private foundations abroad. However, it also granted aid to experienced and prestigious professors.
The research project on immunology was selected by the sponsoring federal agency, the Research Resources Division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as one of the best research projects presented by the minority groups program. This project, one of 300 sponsored by the Research Resources Division, in part focused on an experimental vaccine to immunize against schistosomiasis. This parasite infected, at the time, about 300,000 Puerto Ricans and millions of people in Africa, China, the Philippines and Brazil. The magazine NIH Research Advances published a summary of the study in its 1977 issue. It consisted of 15 distinct projects involving the work of 16 researchers and 60 students who were trained at the Río Piedras campus, the Medical Sciences campus, the Veterans Hospital and the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at the University of Puerto Rico. It had external funding of $11 million during the period 1973-1978.
In the Chemistry Department of the School of Natural Sciences, another research project with international relevance and impact was developed.
More than 20 professionals worked alongside the distinguished professor that directed the project. Doing research work were 7 doctoral students, 11 masters students, 10 post-doctoral associates and numerous undergraduates. This research effort led to the publication of 75 scientific articles in international journals and the presentation of more than 100 scientific lectures at conferences and seminars in about 40 countries on four continents.
Meanwhile, the Center for Historical Research was playing a significant role in terms of Puerto Rico history. Particular attention was paid to locating and gathering historical documentation about Puerto Rico from foreign archives in the form of short films, microfiche and photocopies. A direct result of this work was putting more than 4,000 documents on microfilm to provide a solid base for understanding the course of the history of the Puerto Rican people. A complement to this work was the publication of new sources that revealed previously unknown aspects of Puerto Rican history, such as the documentary series Documents from the Puerto Rico Royal Treasury, Volumes I and II, Dispatches from the U.S. Consuls in Puerto Rico (1825- 1968), and the Abolitionist Process in Puerto Rico: Documents for its Study, Volumes I and ll.
Exhibitions and Theatrical Presentations
Students and professors of the Drama Department of the School of Humanities participated as invitees in the First Theater Festival of the Spain’s Golden Age, which was held at the Chamizal National Memorial Theatre, located in El Paso, Texas. The work presented, “Los melindres de Belisa,” by Lope de Vega, won all the prizes awarded at the festival in categories of best direction, best work, best staging, best leading actor and actress.
Service to Students
I was named rector to lead a campus of protests, of economic austerity, surrounded on all sides by chain link fences, and in general affected by unrest and disagreement.
Thanks to the excellent work done by professor and social worker Juanita Carrillo, as Dean of Students, and through the wisdom and professional guidance provided by psychiatrist Ramón Cuevas Natal, who replaced Professor Carrillo, the student climate improved notably. It is the only period in which not a single student was assaulted and nor were there any regrettable accidents. Fruitful and comprehensive dialogue was felt. The positive work of the university security, under the direction of Ramón Rivera Grau, helped the dialogue process. Also contributing to understanding was the Office of Legal Aid led by Jaime Rodríguez Lacoeur.
In financial terms, the student body in general needed effective and rapid aid. Toward that end, financial aid resources to students were considerably expanded during the years 1974-76. In 1974-75, 10,933 students attended at a cost of $7,890,297; in 1975-76, the figure rose to 13,005 students, with an investment of $12,464,747.12. The maximum assignment of $830 per student in 1974-75 was increased to $1,050 in 1975-76. The administrative efficiency of the Dean of Administration, Dr. Rupeño Vázquez Cruz, was a big factor in the care, routing and protection of the campus’ finances.
Innovations and Improvements in the Physical Plant
Teaching achievements, which are fundamental priorities in all universities, must be developed within the framework of appropriate physical facilities. Keeping a campus of the size and complexity of Río Piedras in appropriate condition requires reforms, additions and constant maintenance.
In the period analyzed, the campus physical plant benefited from the completion of three new buildings for the Natural Sciences and Pedagogy schools and the Sports Complex.
Other buildings, such as the Masonic Home and the one occupied by the Higher Education Council, were remodeled to house, in the former case, the Extension Division and Continuing Education and, in the second case, the School of Public Communication. The Monserrate building was remodeled to house the new Center for the Development and Improvement of Teaching (CEDME for its Spanish acronym), which included the studios of the FM radio station whose construction at the University was authorized by the Federal Communications Commission. A television studio was also built in the basement of the Theater that allowed the production of courses and educational programs and the live broadcast of activities in the Theater and on the campus.
On campus, constant work was done to remodel, maintain and improve the appearance of existing structures and the beautification of open spaces.
The campus was given ornamental fences with the corresponding access gates and the care and maintenance of the trees and green areas was attended to. All of these tasks were overseen by the excellent work of engineer Jorge Rivera Fuentes.
Plans for the Development of the Campus
The University of Puerto Rico Law, approved on January 20, 1966, gave the Higher Education Council the duty of “approving an integrated development plan for the University and reviewing it annually.”
Toward that goal, a Campus Development Plan was published for 1976-81 that considered, first of all, the means for achieving institutional order.
The Development Plan put a priority on adopting a development policy for the University of Puerto Rico that set the functions the different units in the University system should fulfill in the island’s higher education.
The policy would be subject to periodic and recurring revision as the circumstances of Puerto Rican society, higher education and the University of Puerto Rico evolved. The first phase of the plan was to end June 30, 1977. To make it viable, in December of 1975, the Río Piedras campus sent to the Higher Education Council a report on considerations of the possibilities of developing the campus, which was updated and complemented with the new report contained in the Development Plan for 1976-81.
Until now, this has been a not too brief review of especially significant episodes of my life as an educator.
I request your kindness in closing this speech by dedicating it to my wife, Gloria Ponsa Feliú, who patiently put up with my frequent absences, was caring and kind to my children and attentive and respectful of my colleagues, and, with efficiency, attended and attends to the professional commitments I had and have to fulfill. She was and continues to be my careful and exacting secretary. What I have taken in terms of time from our children, Ismael, a musician, and Gloria, a pediatric orthodontist, she has made up for.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH
I would not feel satisfied to recognize the work that a group of education professionals did under our direction and not recognize the educational work of a growing number of Puerto Ricans in Latin America and in countries in the Middle East, in India, Thailand, Austria, Morocco and Yugoslavia, among others:
I want to dedicate a few paragraphs to the educational and cultural work done by Puerto Ricans in various countries. A few, the minority, were recommended by us to international organizations and the majority made their way by working with great efficiency and without due recognition in their own country. Some have disappeared from the scene. Others continue life, possibly reviewing their experiences and their services and contributions in foreign countries.
Puerto Rico was not only used as a demonstration site for other developing countries, but also a place where various international agencies recruited and still recruit many of our experts and technicians to help with the task of raising the standard of living in other regions and to accelerate the process of educational, cultural and economic development, processes that contribute to greater dignity for men and women. As always, the good examples inspire new generations. I will limit myself to mentioning the worthy work done by some of our compatriots in countries near and far.
On a trip to Bolivia, I met Miss Paquita Laguna, a dietician and specialist in home improvement, working among Indian nurses in difficult conditions of poor hygiene and nutrition. She was deep in the folds of the Andes, an arid, desolate, cold region without the facilities to provide the comforts of life. I felt proud, but humbled, before the magnitude of the work that this fellow compatriot of ours was doing in that region. Miss Laguna felt great pleasure in seeing how the group of forsaken people progressed in improving their personal hygiene, in strengthening their bodies, in the cleanliness and orderliness of their homes, and, above all, in the creation of an awareness among the ruling classes that more attention should be paid to the overlooked population and quickly incorporate these human beings into the rest of the Bolivian population.
In equally inhospitable regions of Paraguay worked Puerto Rican agronomist Pedro Tirado Sulsona, in charge of soil conservation. Also working there was Miss Rosa Castellón, specialist in industrial work and home economics.
In the Institute of Inter-American Affairs served Mrs. Dolores Morales, in Costa Rica, in Guatemala, in Ecuador, in Bolivia and wherever her involvement in the improvement of people’s lives was requested.
In Costa Rica was a group of Puerto Ricans who honored us with their sense of responsibility, their hard work and their technical competence: Dr. Julio O. Morales, chief of the Department of Rural Welfare and Economy at the Tropical Institute of Turrialba. The influence of Dr. Morales’ work was felt not only in Costa Rica, but also in practically all of Latin America because of his studies on agricultural economy and sociology. Working with Dr. Morales were Angelina Martínez, Sarah Rodríguez Chacón, Fernando del Río, Luis Gregory, María Flores de Schicker, María Teresa Blanco and Rafaela Espino.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil, Mr. ángel Núñez served as a consultant in the International Labor Office. In El Salvador, Dr. Jaime Guiscafré Arrillaga directed the U.S. agricultural mission. Dr. Guiscafré Arrillaga not only carried out the work of maintaining and improving the relations between the United States and El Salvador, but also contributed effectively to promoting development and improvement of Salvadoran agriculture. Col. Ramón A. Nadal, as military attaché in the U.S. embassy in El Salvador, contributed his technical advice. Well known was the excellent work in public administration done in El Salvador by the competent public servant Ramón Torres Braschi. A logical consequence of this service was the growing number of public officials the government of El Salvador sent for training, both in our governmental offices as well as at the School of Public Administration at the University of Puerto Rico.
I mention the valuable contributions of Lorenzo García Hernández, Nicolás Méndez, Gregorio Méndez, Rafael Muller in the field of vocational agriculture in Venezuela and other countries. Don Antonio Figueroa advised and assisted with the development of a School of Vocational Education in Guatemala. More than 40 Puerto Rican agronomists and agriculture experts cooperated with the agricultural development, especially cane, in the fertile Cauca Valley in Colombia.
It should be mentioned the worthy work done by Dr. Enrique A. Laguerre at the Latin America Center for Basic Education, which was established, under the auspices of the OAS, UNESCO and the government of Mexico, in Patzcuaro, in Michoacán state, in Mexico. Laguerre was assistant director of the Center, in charge of the Reading Materials Promotion Division and the development of films and audiovisual media that aided adult education. Recall that this Center housed professors from eight Latin American countries in each group and the influence it had on them was felt not only in the Americas, but in other underdeveloped areas around the world. The establishment of six additional centers was planned following this example and benefiting from the experiences, practices and techniques accumulated in Patzcuaro. Also working there was Professor Margarita Ramírez of San Germán.
Professor Catalina (Cató) Lube provided effective social services in Peru, facing precarious living conditions at the risk to her health. Professor George Greco of the United States, whom we consider Puerto Rican, did excellent work in Peru, Panama and Washington.
In that era, the government of Venezuela hired Professor José Martínez Almodóvar as an advisor on Educational Affairs. Social worker Fanny Quintero Alfaro also worked there, hired by the Office of Social Services, on tasks of distribution of housing and improving home life.
Worth special mention is the contribution of Lamia Azize Maguad to the service of humanity: thirty years, 15 in Austria, Morrocco, Yugoslavia, Algeria, and 15 years in India. She worked in finding documents on abandoned children, in the international refugee organization and later in Catholic Services. She worked in similar tasks in all the Central American countries. In total, some 38 years of dedication to humanitarian work.
It should be noted that almost all of the international agencies we have dealt with in more than 20 years had distinguished Puerto Ricans among their personnel: Samuel Molinari, Dr. Pablo Roca, Luz Nazario, Otilia Jiménez, and others. Dr. Rodolfo Rivera served as cultural attaché in the embassies of Uruguay, Guatemala and Spain; UNESCO contracted the services of Professor Adrián Cruz González for Costa Rica and other countries in the Middle East.
Known throughout all of the Americas and Europe were the international and professional contributions of Dr. Arturo Morales Carrión, of Dr. Rafael Picó in planning, of Teodoro Moscoso as an ambassador and director of the Alliance for Progress.
Our consuls and ambassadors have been intellectuals, professors, technicians in a variety of areas of knowledge.
The results of our efforts can be seen in the judgment expressed by Dr. P. Arellano Montalvo, a journalist and director of the Ecuador Literacy Campaign, who came to Puerto Rico for a period of three months. After eight months of study in eleven countries in the Americas, he wrote: “I want to tell you sincerely that at the end of my tour I have come to the conclusion that nowhere in Latin America are there better institutions for basic and vocational education than those in Puerto Rico. These truths I have widely stated at the Latin America Center for Basic Education in Patzcuaro, at a conference of teachers and students, and in the discussions of the Inter-American Cultural Council at a recent meeting in Mexico, where I attended as a delegate of my government.”
In the University of Puerto Rico, we had students from El Salvador, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Colombia, Santo Domingo, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua. The students came with scholarships from their own governments, from the Point 4 Office, from the U.S. State Department, from the Institute of Inter-American Affairs, from the United Nations and from the Buenos Aires Convention.
I always said that those who visited us would gain something by seeing the efforts we made in the search for solutions. At least they would not make some of the mistakes we made trying to resolve them. I emphasized the idea that we should learn from those who came to us, just as they could learn from us, and we should invite criticism and suggestions and assimilate them with all of creation.
The missionary work of this group of Puerto Ricans came well before the work that was later assigned to the Peace Corps.
Thank you for the opportunity to examine some of my experiences in the interests of serving our nation more constructively.
Author: Ismael Rodríguez Bou
Published: May 08, 2015.
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