Betances criticizes education system

by Shana Fruehan | 5/11/94 5:00am

Dr. Samuel Betances, a sociologist from Northeastern Illinois University, cried out against certain aspects of the U.S. educational system last night.

Betances presented the keynote address of the Voices of Diversity: Latino Perspectives Program in 105 Dartmouth Hall to about 50 students and professors.

An impassioned speaker, Betances was able to move the audience emotionally with his booming voice and forceful hand gestures. Monday night Betances sat on a panel that examined "Altruism, Bigotry and Diversity: A 21st Century Perspective."

"He has always spoken the truth from the head and from the heart," Robert Binswanger, acting chair of the education department, said in his introduction.

College President James Freedman was originally scheduled to deliver the introduction but he was unable to attend the speech.

Americans from Spanish-speaking countries "have a positive impact to make ... to teach that two languages are better than one," Betances said. "This is good for everyone, especially those who have claims to educating and universalizing the human experience."

But Betances also warned that the Latino Program should create strong relationships with other groups.

"You can't build a nation by self-segregation," he said. "For years we have fought not to be segregated, and now we do it voluntarily.

"Please respect differences ... support understandable instruction, [and] make America stronger, healthier, and freer than when we found it," he said.

Betances advocated bilingual education programs that teach English effectively. But he emphasized that learning English should not mean forgetting Spanish. Much of what he supported was based on his own experiences growing up.

Born in Harlem, N.Y., raised in Puerto Rico and educated in the New York public school system, Betances began high school "illiterate in two languages," he said. He dropped out before finishing.

His life changed when he met a Japanese-American woman who noticed his intelligence and took special interest in him, making him work so that he could attend a preparatory school. She cared about "all of me," not just the aspects that are bothersome to society, he said.

"It is not enough to be concerned that people don't put graffiti on the walls, we have to get them to put their college diplomas on the wall," he said.

Betances also discussed the issue of a homogenous "Latino people," which he said does not exist. It is a category in which people from Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain and many other culturally distinct groups are placed. He cited President Bill Clinton -- who identified the two Mexican-Americans whom he appointed to his staff as Latinos -- as an example of one of the many people who are unaware of this distinction.

He also spoke of improving gender relations, saying that "machismo must cease" and alluded to a personal relationship that helped him to change. In addition, he supported "creating a climate of respect" for gays and lesbians in the Spanish-speaking community.

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