José-Enrique Figueroa. Reflections of a Hispanic Teacher: Resistance to class and racial oppression in the classroom. ISBN: 978-1-888205-56-5. $24.95

 

This book offers a much-needed progressive-critical perspective of American education based on the experiences of a Hispanic teacher dealing with real issues in the classroom. Reflecting on twenty-one years of teaching in the trenches of the South Bronx and in the City of Yonkers, his background and upbringing as a Puerto Rican immigrant, and his family's struggle to ensure he was well educated, he now sees a failed education system laying blame in all the wrong places.

Intertwining real world teaching experience with pedagogic theories, vivid childhood stories of his grandfather, real life trials and tribulations of students in the classroom, and the values and dreams Hispanic writers pour into their poetry and prose, the author shows the complexity of the social order, its influence on education, and the reasons for perceived educational failures.

Exploring pedagogic theories, we see that prevailing reform theories, such as inclusion, fail to recognize education in the context of the social order. Children need to be taught individually; their intellectual, emotional, and behavioral needs cannot fit into a one-size-fits-all model. But how can we satisfy individual needs in a non-negative context? Systems, such as MicroSociety, that contextualize schools in an economics-based environment recognize a false social order, trap children in a system that in reality is littered with racism and classism, promote consumerism and same-ism, and stymie creative expression.

Blaming the teachers for failures in a system that punishes already failing schools instead of encouraging them (No Child Left Behind) and injecting profit concepts into schools by way of the Charter system commodifies education. Education already works for the wealthy. Would it not be better to look at the equality gap as the reason for failure? Why not look as such reasons as bad building maintenance, few opportunities, poor nutrition, and a lack of high-quality early education?

With engaging stories about wonderful characters both in the schoolroom and out, the book shows that blaming a lack of middle-class values or apathetic work ethic in poor families is a misnomer; indeed, these children are growing up in hard-working families that value respect for others and education and personal pride. Trying to instill middle-class values and a democratic system that teaches them to be workers begs the question: For whom does this democracy work?

By including excerpts of Hispanic poetry and prose and stories and paintings from children in the classroom, we see how children can blossom when given encouragement. We see how the "democratic" process fails them and their resultant need to find their inner voice and true selves.

In essence, by pulling together personal memories, students' stories, experience, and research, the author shows how prevailing ideological rhetoric seeks solutions to the education system's problems within the confines of that system, thus lacking a critical view of the real source of the problem. Until the root of inequality and injustice change, the educational system cannot be reformed. Who better to offer actionable insights than teachers with years of knowledge and experience acquired in the trenches who can frame the discussion in their own terms?


Dr. Figueroa’s book, Reflections of a Hispanic Teacher, comes at the right moment. It is an insightful progressive representation of some of my own experiences. As a retired New York City Teacher, and reflecting on my own experiences, I can only say . . . right on target! Aida Matos, Retired elementary school teacher.

Dr. Figueroa’s reflections are full of truths and sincerity. Agree or disagree with his perspective, I consider a required reading for all those concerned with the education of our children. Juan Carlos Ramos, Elementary school teacher.


José-Enrique Figueroa, an educator and a sociologist, was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. In the 1960s, almost fourteen years old, he migrated with his family to New York City.
He holds a Master of Science in School Administration and Supervision, a Master of Philosophy, and a Ph.D. in Sociology. His doctorate dissertation is an ethnographic study of Puerto Rican spiritism: Cultural Dynamic of Puerto Rican Spiritism: Class, Nationality, and Religion in a Brooklyn Ghetto, C.U.N.Y.1981.

Funded by the Ford Foundation, he researched the informal economy of a Puerto Rican neighborhood and published: Survival on the Margin: A Documentary Study of the Underground Economy in a Puerto Rican Ghetto, New York: Vantage Press, 1989.
Figueroa also did ethnographic research on labor and youth. A report to the U.S. Department of Labor: These are our Children (1982), co-author with Dr. William Kornblum. As an assistant professor at various colleges of the City University of New York and Boricua College he has  taught sociology courses, Puerto Rican and ethnic studies, and bilingual teaching theory courses. From 1990 to 2011, he placed all his efforts in the education of poor working class Hispanic children in the South Bronx and in the City of Yonkers. Presently, Figueroa lives with his wife and son in New York City.