Friday, November 20, 2009

PR Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock's Remarks at TESOL National Convention

November 20th, 2009
Ponce, PR

Good morning to all,

First of all thank you for inviting me to address you today, and thank you for being here. On a personal note, this convention is very close to my heart as my late mother, Nivea Hernández de McClintock, envisioned the need for a TESOL chapter in PR and along with others, acted to make this vision a reality, some forty years ago.

I still remember when she served as host to TESOL’s national convention when the event was held at the Caribe Hilton shortly after the then new tower was inaugurated. In her honor, my brother Steve, my sister Elaine and I have provided 9 scholarships to help TESOL teachers, and seven TESOL college students attend this convention and I’ve assured your President Miguel Camacho that we want our help to become an annual tradition.

English is not only the official business language of the world, has replaced French as the language of diplomacy, but it is also the language of the future as it is the tool with which most cyber platforms are designed and conceived. In spite of the fact that most websites available through the Internet have translated versions, some better than others if I may add, it is undisputed that social, economic, and news related sites are oriented to those who are capable of reading and writing in English. English is a fundamental tool for those who wish to pursue any kind of commercial endeavor using the substantial benefits of today’s state of the art technology. If you think about it, most common names and jargon used in today’s economy stems from the English language: e-mail, v-card, attachment, contact list, just to name a few.

And yes, in spite of those who would like to have it otherwise, English is one of Puerto Rico’s two official languages.

For many years, way too many, we have been immersed in sterile political disputes as to what extent the English language, its teaching, dissemination, is or ceases to be, part of our culture and of our reality as a nation, territory, people, commonwealth, nation-island, judicially incorporated state. Unfortunately, we don’t even agree on the semantics we use to define what we are or aspire to be. And what is really pitiful is that those who end up paying the price are those who cannot and must not be affected by philosophical or ideological rhetoric: OUR YOUTH. Denying hundreds of our kids a high quality bilingual education due to ideological political warfare is unethical, inconsiderate and flat out wrong.

The government should immediately grasp all federal and state opportunities available to improve TESOL education in Puerto Rico and in order to do so, it is absolutely imperative that we take advantage of federal programs that facilitate this objective. For instance, in 2005 a golden opportunity was lost in regards to the “Reading First Program”, a federal education program mandated under the No Child Left Behind Act and administered by the federal Department of Education. Having been the only jurisdiction that had yet to receive money from the $1 billion-a-year initiative, PR did not receive some $60 million from the first two years of the six-year grant, after failing to spend the money allocated in fiscal 2003, and declining another payment for fiscal 2004.

What was the reason behind this? Puerto Rico government officials “disagreed” with the instructional model outlined in the approved plan and the methods for teaching reading in English. Politics at its best, Public service at its worst.

The program would have required that schools funded by Reading First use "scientifically-based" reading instruction. Now, I’m not here to point fingers, but I will say this… this CANNOT and WILL NOT happen again. Equipping our youth with essential educational tools is imperative for their professional development and success which at the same time benefits our island. In the era of globalization in which we live in, speaking and writing fluently in the English language is the key to success and propels future young Puerto Rican leaders abroad. Our administration has begun to work tirelessly to make sure those tools are available to each and every student in Puerto Rico, regardless of political affiliations. Our students deserve no less…. I know that parents share this view. When my son Kevin turned 5 nine years ago, my wife Marie and I applied to enroll him in Cidra’s Bilingual School. 96 applicants for 20 slots.

A year later, when my daughter Stephanie was ready for kindergarten at the same public bilingual school, there were over 120 applicants for 20 slots. I’m sure that among those applicants’ parents you’d be able to find statehooders, populares and indepependentistas with separate ideological views but who agreed on one thing- their kids were entitled to a bilingual education.

So, as you celebrate the 40th anniversary of your promising organization, may I paraphrase John F. Kennedy’s favorite poet, Robert Frost, in saying that TESOL still has promises to keep and miles to go before you sleep and miles to go before you sleep. Thank You.


Anonymous said...

I've only been to Pueto Rico once.
I didn't like it. Too many Puerto Ricans.

Phillip Arroyo said...

Greetings TSC,

Your words are truely unfortunate and reflective of the scarce and fairly ignorant number of citizens that are unwilling to accept the diversity of our nation. While individuals like you continue to bicker and plant hate, an overwhelming majority of our nation remains focused on the tasks at hand to ultimately achieve complete economic recuperation. I invite you to join us.

Best regards,

Phillip Arroyo (editor)