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Kids and Education II (For Suki)

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  #29 (permalink)  
Old 17th May 2007, 20:50
Stanley Stanley is offline
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Originally Posted by JaneMas View Post
I can't see 1938 as the best year PR has to offer in terms of education. I would assume the 50s,60s and early 70s was a great time. Maybe it's how she remembers "her" school days.


My mother is staying home with me during her annual spring visit from PR so I asked her several more questions.

During those days education was awful in that high school (HS) was not available in many smaller towns. Most towns had 1-8th grade school, but HS was not available. If you were from a town with no HS there was a need to commute to a town with a HS.

During those days most poor folks that lived in a town without a HS did not seek anymore education. The ones that were able to commute to another town were generally from upper class families that valued education. So I agree the school system was worse because it was not available for MANY kids in the island. I guess my parents were lucky to live in towns with a HS.

Everything was taught in English by PR teachers, but there was plenty of Spanish in between. This is pretty much the way private schools operate nowadays in the island. The reason for this is that Puerto Ricans that value education want to be fully bilingual. No different than most educated Europeans, Arabs, and Asians (who always seem to know English).

In summary some high schools had a large number of education minded students and this drove the quality of education. Similar to a public school that is located in a wealthy part of town. My mom also remembers that the discipline was very tight.

Perhaps we can ask Suki’s mom about her high school days in PR.


San Germán was a very neat city to live in the late 19th century and early 20th century and as you know at one point was the second most important city besides San Juan. The citizens were better educated than the average PR person and they had a great love for the arts. They even put on their own Zarzuelas in the local theater.

Despite being poor my mom grew up in the center of the town because they owned a home (with a latrine in the backyard and no running water). I only spent my very early childhood there and then we moved to the capital as the jobs became more difficult to obtain in the smaller towns.

Google San Germán 19th century for more info. My family is still active in the "San Germeños Ausentes" club.

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Old 17th May 2007, 22:16
Suki Suki is offline
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Let me see, my mom's early years were in Naranjito where she went to some kind of elementary school. It was basic in the early 1940's. She enjoyed picking oranges and grapefruit and eating a snack of saltine crackers with butter.

My mother then went to school in New York City in some bad ghetto schools and where all the kids in those days in the late 1940's who did not speak fluent English were sent. IT was special education....at the time the teachers thought that if you could not speak English you were some kind of mentally challenged person. The special education classrooms were filled with kids of immigrant families. My mother mentioned that the teacher to determine if you could leave the special ed room gave you a test, you had to say----"Fuzzy wuzzy was a bear, fuzzy wuzzy had no hair...fuzzy wuzzy wasn't fuzzy was he?" And if you could do that without a detectable accent you could leave the classroom for maybe a low track mainstream class. Some teacher told her all Puerto Ricans were dummies anyway and weren't going to do much in NYC but wash dishes and that the taxpayers of the city were wasting their monies on kids like her. Yep, she sure had an eye-opening experience there.

Then in middle school she finally got some teachers that noticed she liked reading on her own and tried encouraging her a little. Stanley my mother did not graduate from a high school in Puerto Rico. She fought for her education all of her life basically on her own. She was very bright and persistent. All by herself. She graduated from James Monroe High School in White Plains New York in the late 1950's and passed the Regents Exams for College Entrance. She originally wanted to be a nurse and was initially accepted in Fordham University's School of Nursing. But, the director of the Nursing School was a real racist. A bad one. Mom was a very conscientious student and studied very hard. But she got F's on every exam. One day she traded tests with an Irish girl and the Irish girl got an F, and mom got an "A"---the girls had traded names to find out if the teacher was being discriminatory and ofcourse the Nursing Professor was caught red-handed. When confronted she finally confessed and said to both the Irish friend of Mami's and Mami, "All the Puerto Ricans are going to do is mess up this nursing program. I don't want any Puerto Ricans in my nursing school. I will fail you Ms. S-----. No matter what you do, you won't pass. I am the director and teach all the core courses. Why don't you study art or something? Something different? You don't belong here."

Mami thought hard about what to do. She took some courses at Hunter College. Then she met my father got married and moved back to Puerto Rico. All during college my mother read, wrote and spoke Spanish. She worked in Spanish all the time. She always saw value in keeping the Spanish very polished. And she did. She went to the University of Puerto Rico and worked very hard. She worked full time and went to the UPR in Rio Piedras full time with two little daughters and a husband working and studying at La Interamericana. I remember being in the care of my beloved maternal grandmother during my parents hectic work and study days in Puerto Rico. Both graduated more or less at the same time. My father would take an astounding 21 or 24 credit hours per semester. And work full time. He graduated cum laude in Hispanic Studies. My mother graduated Summa Cum Laude in General Studies. Mami went on to study and get a Master's in education from California in San Diego. And then a doctorate in Multicultural Education from a private university in San Francisco. She then went back to the University of Puerto Rico and did some graduate studies in Social Psychology. My father graduated with a Master's in Linguistics and another Master's in Education. He always kept his painting and artistic pursuits until he could no longer write. He died of Parkinson's and Diabetes on February 10th, 1999.

My mother still works for major organizations and chairs two committees on Education issues. She is as dedicated as they come. She worked for years on Native American language preservation all over the world. And preserving curriculum that is relevant for Native populations and worked with Paulo Freire closely from Brazil on his "Pedagogy of the Oppressed." Freire did seminal work on how to educate poor people in the third world especially adults and dropouts. He is incredible. And Mami and he had quite a great time working together. The man is charming.

PLEASE READ THIS INFORMATION ON PAULO FREIRE...the people on the left listed I know most all of them. I grew up knowing most of them. For example Dr. Blanca Facundo still misses my mother's cooking. LOL. She never will be happy with someone else's. Lol

Paulo Freire

I think if one works and struggles and is true to one's goals in life.....one finds ones MISSION. Jane, I enjoyed your memories of your early childhood. All children are little seeds waiting to be watered.

The tradition of calling someone "Miss" or "Missy" or "Mister" comes from the Roosevelt years and trying to anglicize the Puerto Ricans and make them good citizens. The problem is that the teachers who taught were mostly Spanish speaking. Very few stateside teachers initially trained to go to Puerto Rico would last ( most went back to the mainland, if you want to see the kind of poverty experienced in Puerto Rico at the time go and see Jack Delano's photographs online). So even though everything was taught initially in English---since the entire island did not use it except in school and most Puerto Ricans did not have a high school in their hometowns...it just did not stick. Plus, many Puerto Ricans spoke Spanish at home, with their extended family and in the general community. And that made English not the primary language. IT is about demographics at times as well.

I loved both of your stories. Thank you.....so much!
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Old 18th May 2007, 07:49
L_F_Miranda L_F_Miranda is offline
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It is awfully interesting how experiences mold the personality of people. I have a feeling that Stanley, Jane and I are within a similar age group, and Suki is not too far behind. Nonetheless our parents experiences have molded our personalities and how we percieve the world.

We see the world through a filter, the filter of our parents. That is where we all differ.

As I was reading Suki's narration of her mother's NYC school experience in the 40's, I was surprised. I attended these same schools a decade later and they never seemed to be the horror show she presented. Schools in highly liberal, Jewish cities like NY were very workable at that time, and not just for whites. This was not the deep South. Most students, regardless of ethnicity learned how to read, write and function.

The Puerto Rican ghetto schools began to disintegrate about the mid to late50's, totally collapsing in the 60's and 70's. The reason I question Suki's mother's perception of NYC schools as a horror for Puerto Ricans is that Puerto Ricans weren't any significant number until after 1948. The hard core Lumpens started arriving about 1952. Before that hardly anyone knew what a Puerto Rican was. You could say Mexican, Spanish Cuban etc. and they clumped us all in the same boat. We all ate strange spicy food and danced rumba.

Now-a-days people make some distinctions. The real dummies still can't tell the difference, much like most can't tell the difference between a Korean, a Chinese and a Japanese.

My parents decided to pull us out of NYC city and head back to Puerto Rico in the 50's as the situation began to deteriorate. My uncles, who had lived in the city since the 30's, fled too. It was either, stay living in neighborhoods that were in rapid decomposition, populated by a class of people my family would never have socialized with, or be absorbed by the arriving hordes which threatened to swallow their kids. My parents chose to leave, and thank God they did!

When you look at it from another angle, these people were being kicked out of the island by the Muñoz government. They were given incentives to migrate, thus alleviating the pressure of poverty on a new reforming colonial social experiment. THEY WERE BEING DUMPED IN NYC!

In the meantime as thousands of the Lumpen were leaving "El Fanguito" and "Sal si puedes", Puerto Rico began experiencing poverty relief, slum clearance and the so called miracle of "Operation Boot Strap."

In a way this system of Lumpen clearance could have worked if not for the total collapse of the non-skilled industrial economy of NYC in the 60's. Puerto Ricans were then left in a boat without a paddle, and going back wasn't an option, specially for women. This new society had liberated them from a Highly Macho culture. In the end, Puerto Ricans were left to fend on their own, thus creating a separate culture of the American ghetto experience, one which still haunts us today.

This is where many of us differ. We just can't seen to come to an understanding. Island Puerto Ricans don't suffer from the anger that stateside Puerto Ricans do. This is where there is a short circuit in our conversations.
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Old 18th May 2007, 08:44
Suki Suki is offline
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Miranda you might have a point. What I think though, is that you have a perception of NYC public schools that is not shared by many I knew that spoke to me about being Puerto Rican at the time. Yes, there were Jewish educators in some of these public schools. And some hated teaching a bunch of rural blacks from the South and rural Puerto Ricans. Some where commies and dedicated. The Jewish community is not a monolith. There are a lot of different perspectives.

Do I really have to go and upload photos of my father's junior high school class? He went to school with a lot of Black kids and Jewish teachers. Some of those teachers were good and others extremely discriminatory and knew they could get away with it, because the ghetto dwellers did not have control of the upper echelons of NYC public school administration in those times. Education is about politics as well.

Your parents fled the lumpens. Paulo Freire decided to do something about urban poverty in Latin America and the people without opportunities. Some flee from the issue and others stick it out. That is the way of the world.

Puerto Ricans did not have 'anger' precisely for the same reason there is not a social revolution in Mexican society either. The 'escape valve' has been El Norte Miranda. If Puerto Rico had to deal with all that constant and non-stop poverty and lack of opportunities for the majority for years without some kind of release, then that is when 'revolutionary' conditions happen. Mexico sends the unskilled, uneducated and mainly poor or the discontented to the USA. So did Puerto Rico through all those cheap labor exploitation industries that went to the island looking for some profits. Asi es la cosa.

I don't know how you think you can speak for many? You were in some Norweigian American scene in NYC if I can recall? Maybe if you went to some candela school and could not get away from the lumpens and had to survive in the blackboard jungle for a while----you would have a different perspective. Many Puerto Ricans were sold a bill of goods on what life in NYC would be like for them. If some of them would have known what it would really be like, maybe they could have made a better decision and STAY in Puerto Rico! But then again, they will always have fellow Puerto Ricans who should know better than to be discriminatory and class conscious.....but they are not. They keep on being the way the white people are with a lot of minorities---except it is not about being Puerto Rican. It is about being Puerto Rican from the right socioeconomic class. And that my friend Miranda----is the heart of the problem right there.
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Old 18th May 2007, 10:55
JaneMas JaneMas is offline
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Stanley thanks for the wonderful story about your mother. I do have one question. It seems you believe that teaching in English is the best way to go in terms of educating anyone. Does one specific language determine how well you learn, or is it the curriculum and the teacher no matter which language the subject is taught in? If I had a choice I would prefer to be taught in Spanish considering all the wonderful people I have met here who in my book are highly intelligent. Why? Because of what Suki described in ref to her mother's experience.

Suki, I too had similar experiences with, not a teacher, but a counselor in JHS. First let me begin with my elementary years. I never attended kindergarten, I was place in 1st grade with a Jewish teacher. In NYC schools classes were listed as 1-1 for the smartest and 1-7 or 1-8 for the dumbest. She was a lovely lady who taught 1-6. She noticed in me my desire to learn and placed me in 2-1. In 2-1 my teacher was a black woman who we thought was the meanest teacher in the world. All of us had to have our head with arms folded on the table when we were done taking a test until the last person finished. All of us witness the teachers anger when any of us tried to joke a little, and payed the consequences by sitting in the corner. None of us ever played in the school yard. She never took us out to play. One day she was absent and a substitute teacher who I remember was with child decided the class should go out and play. We GASPED, and told her we were forbidden to play. She thought that was crazy and said it was her class for the day and took us to the yard. When our teacher, Mrs. Walker, returned the next day, we felt we commited a crime and disclosed our sin to to her. Mrs. Walker went off! She told everyone, "stay here" ran to the principals office and complained. Rumor was she wanted to beat up the teacher! Kids! She came back and told us, "Children, you have a lot of catching up to. If you want to become somebody you must read and learn everything there is to learn. You can play anytime after school, at home and in the weekends, but in school there is only time to learn. I want all of you to become somebody and not just anyone's seamstress, cook, cleaning lady, or delivery man." Years later I understood what she meant that day. I went on to 3-2. In 3-2 the white teacher gave a test and I was the first one who finished. I was so proud when I got my paper back I was excited and told her "I got 100%!" she said, "Really?" Glance at the paper she gave me and said, "I don't believe you got 100%, really?" That was the day I learned I had to prove myself not with just evidence, but with obstacles such as individuals like her.

I went on to 4-1, 5-2, 6-1 and then JHS where I got lost in the times, which is where Suki's story about her mother made me recall a situation during my school years. In JHS I noticed the counselor's office was always occupied by white students everytime I passed by. One day I stopped in to find out what was happening inside and took a seat. The counselor was informing the white student on all options on how to go to college, what to do, what is required, and asked her what she would like to become. When the girl left I sat in the same chair, and the counselor asked me what I wanted. I told him I wanted the same thing the girl wanted! He stuttered and offered a list of summer jobs in the city. That was it. I expected more, I wanted to demand he give me the same information he gave that girl, but he didn't. He simply told me he will call me into his office in the future, but he never did. I wished I had the guts to fight for more, but I didn't know I had that right. The man was setting up every white student for college by calling them into his office and providing a plan for them. NYC schools during the 70s was at times violent in many black and pr communities. It is true if you have the drive you can find your way, but not everyone who has the wheel of a car can do it alone; some people need a co-pilot until you are taught how to avoid the obstacles.

Miranda although it's true Boricuas arrived by the thousands during the 40s, 50s and 60s, each decade was different. You said so yourself that you arrived a decade later after Suki's mom whose experience must somewhat differ than yours. Boricua's have been coming to NYC since the 1880s, and yes, also true they didn't make a big presence but it was enough to make a dent in one community since it is known for ethnic groups to cluster. I use to think Boricua's arrived after Operation Bootstrap until I met many who were born here in the 1920s and 30s who can attest there was a visible community. Mexicans are arriving in PA every month. Although they are not in the thousands people are noticing. I must added I do not see the world through my mother's filter. Unfortunately she had very little to offer, and I had a large curiosity in addition to my own perception. But I did take in her stories of PR and her early years here with interest and sorted out what it was and what it was for her.
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Last edited by JaneMas; 18th May 2007 at 12:19.
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Old 18th May 2007, 11:07
Stanley Stanley is offline
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Suki:

Had no idea your mother was in NYC as a child. I thought she left after going to UPR. As Miranda said our parents shape us------there is no doubt.

I must also say that your mother became educated in a highly hostile environment and that is not easy to do. She is very remarkable and probably had a powerful intrinsic drive to learn. Where does that desire come from? Maybe that is the magic pill kids need to get an education. In any event I can see where you get it. Is it in the genes? Is it in the household?

I can now clearly see why my mother is penepé. First of all she never lived in the USA. As a native Puerto Rican that never lived abroad she never had to experience racism or all the other defects of the American system. All she knew about America were these Presbyterian ministers that came to San Germán and gave her a scholarship as well as plenty of work for her dad.

My mom has been to the USA countless of times as a visitor and she only sees the pretty side of things. Gringos tend to be very polite and nice to her when she comes over so she never has anything bad to say about them.

You must also know that my father and mother were never liberal arts type people. My mom studied math and science and my dad was a chemist before becoming a lawyer. I was exactly like them and only concentrated in science and math. I think we tend to have a worldview that may seem simplistic. I know for a fact my mom was never interested in politics. As an old woman she sees Roselló as the good guy because the economy was better when he was in power. However, she also understands that the colony is a pathway to nowhere and cannot understand how anyone can be PPD. OTOH, she has a lot of respect for independentistas.


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Last edited by Stanley; 18th May 2007 at 11:46.
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Old 18th May 2007, 17:12
L_F_Miranda L_F_Miranda is offline
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Suki,

When your mother went to school most of the teachers in NY may have been Irish. They are not known as the most liberal educators. Jewish teachers started arriving in droves in the 50's and by the mid 60's were burned out. Their Parent's liberalism and socialism was far and gone. In fact today, Jewish teachers may be the most racist of the lot but they are all being displaced by minorities, from P.R., Latin America, the West Indies, African Americans and East Indians from Guyana.

Not much has changed in the NYC school system since the 1970's, only the color of the teachers. Most of these new minority teachers are intolerant and very class conscious, much like the ones they are displacing. The Hispanics in particular are the worst, maybe because I expect more from them. Many start out as bilingual teachers because of poor English speaking skills. In addition, that's the track that gave them free tuition in college.

Most of these minority teachers are very conservative and line up with the Jews and the Union, which secure them their jobs. Many of the Hispanic bilingual teachers come from Latin America, Cuba, some from the island, others from Nuyorican backgrounds. They all seem to have come to the States with an attitude against NYC kids. I think they have this attitude as they de-board the plane at Kennedy.

They quickly fall into line with the mis education around them. Heaven forbid if they placed their own kids in these schools or in bilingual classes. These schools are for "La cafrería and the bilingual track is for those "others." Listening to them talk in the teacher rooms is shameful.

Nonetheless you see them "dándose gople de pecho", about their Puerto Ricaness or Hispanic-ness. They fly their flags and get upset when Jewish teachers scold them for speaking Spanish in the teacher's lounge. "This is America , speak English" is a common complaint of the Anglo/Jewish teachers. Nevertheless those from P.R are still "Estadistas a clavo pasao", go figure.

What I think has been driving them into the arms of racist anglo/Jews is the attitude of the kids they have to teach. Most schools are zoo's, some would require combat pay, in fact Iraq might be less stressful, LOL. That's why these schools are being left to professional Nuyoricans, resigned immigrants and Afro's.

This new breed of teachers also refer their kids right and left to special education because they say, "they can't learn." MMMMMMMMM sounds just what the Irish and Jewish teachers did, doesn't it?

Whites fled these schools first, now Minority professionals are opting not to have their kids there either. Does anyone blame them?

Maybe Suki might say they are all racists or that they should be forced to keep their kids there for community purposes. However, most people don't experiment with their children to please community activists. My parents didn't, why should they? Life is too short for that B.S.

By the way, I only went to a lilly white public Norweigin school until 3rd grade. By that time my parents were already thinking of returning to P.R. My folks temporarily moved to the Bronx for several years to save money to establish a business on the island. I happend to love the Bronx because, in comparison to my early grades, classes with unruly Puerto Ricans were a riot. There was no order and kids misbehaved right and left. I'll never forget this Art Teacher, a Miss Miller, we made her suffer. She cried everyday until we made her a drop out, and that was 1955! LOL

It was then that my parents yanked us out and away we went to Puerto Rico where I had to burn my eyebrows trying to keep up in school. My parents cracked the whip, telling me I had to copy my cousins and friends. All were going to college and my folks wouldn't expect anything else.

About Paulo Freire, great reading but all theory, a bit passé, circa 1960-70's. Nonetheless I don't see any big changes in Brazil because of his ideas, do you? Schools there are just as horrible as in NY or San Juan.

I don't know if there is an answer to all of this. One thing I do know, I would never experiment with my children for the sake of questionable identity or some unproven theory that, who ever invented it, doesn't put their own kids to serve as guinea pigs.
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