Commencement at the University of Puerto Rico

This is a time of crisis in the institution of the school, a crisis which may mark the end of the “age of schooling” in the Western world. I speak of the “age of schooling” in the sense in which we are accustomed to speak of the “feudal age” or of the “Christian era.” The “age of schooling” began about two hundred years ago. Gradually the idea grew that schooling was a necessary means of becoming a useful member of society. It is the task of this generation to bury that myth.

Your own situation is paradoxical. At the end and as a result of your studies, you are enabled to see that the education your children deserve, and will demand, requires a revolution in the school system of which you are a product.

The graduation rite that we solemnly celebrate today confirms the prerogatives which Puerto Rican society, by means of a costly system of subsidized public schools, confers upon the sons and daughters of its most privileged citizens. You are a part of the most privileged ten percent of your generation, part of that minuscule group which has completed university studies. Public investment in each of you is fifteen times the educational investment in the average member of the poorest ten percent of the population, who drops out of school before completing the fifth grade.

The certificate you receive today attests to the legitimacy of your competence. It is not available to the self-educated, to those who have acquired competence by means not officially recognized in Puerto Rico. The programs of the University of Puerto Rico are all duly accredited by the “Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.”

The degree which the University today confers upon you implies that over the last sixteen years or more your elders have obliged you to submit yourselves, voluntarily or involuntarily, to the discipline of this complex scholastic rite. You have in fact been daily attendants, five days a week, nine months a year, within the sacred precinct of the school and have continued such attendance year after year, usually without interruption. Governmental and industrial employees and the professional associations have good reasons to believe that you will not subvert the order to which you have faithfully submitted in the course of completing your “rites of initiation.”

Much of your youth has been spent within the custody of the school. It is expected that you will now go forth to work, to guarantee to future generations the privileges conferred upon you.

Puerto Rico is the only society in the Western hemisphere to devote 30 percent of its governmental budget to education. It is one of six places in the world which devote between six and seven percent of national income to education. The schools of Puerto Rico cost more and provide more employment than any other public sector. In no other social activity is so large a proportion of the total population of Puerto Rico involved.

A huge number…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.