Education is needed on both sides if the educational and social problems of the Puerto Ricans are to be solved. The American community must take the time to understand the culture of the Puerto Rican, and the Puerto Rican must learn to cope with American culture.
If the main task of a teacher is to provide the opportunity to learn, then it is imperative that teachers understand the plight of the Puerto Rican student in our public school system.
Puerto Rico has been part of the United States since the end of the nineteenth century and Puerto Ricans are born American citizens. Yet when they migrate to mainland America they encounter a foreign society. A society which demands that they give up their language and their culture.
Language differences complicate the education of Puerto Ricans in American schools. More than 70 percent of Puerto Ricans growing up in the continental United States grow up in homes where Spanish is the only language spoken. (Kinder and Hammerstein 1976: p.234)
When a Puerto Rican child is being scolded at home, he is told to look down and never directly at the adult scolding him. When this child is being reprimanded by an American teacher, he looks away. The teacher, raised in a different culture, sees this as an insult, when actually the teacher is being paid a compliment by the child.
Like other groups from a rural peasant background, Puerto Ricans have very little tradition of classroom schooling. Puerto Rican males identified manhood with short-term daring rather than long-term accumulation of knowledge.
Of all Hispanic young people in the U.S., only 40 percent complete high school (compared with 67 percent of all whites and 46 percent of blacks). In New York City, Puerto Rican children made up 24 percent of the school population, but only 15 percent of them will graduate from high school. (Ehrlichman 1982: p. 6)
I think that Pifer sums up the problem best with his quotation, “What is needed now, is a determined effort by all concerned to improve bilingual education programs in the schools through more sympathetic administrator and community support, more and better trained teachers, and a sustained, sophisticated, and well-financed research effort to find out where these programs are succeeding and where they are failing and why.” (Pifer 1980: p 5)
This mission becomes more important when we consider that the non-English-speaking population in the U.S. is expected to increase from 30 million in 1980 to about 39.5 million in the year 2000. (Phi Delta Kappan 1983: p. 567)