Educator and Political Activist Jose Ferrer Canales

The teaching profession abounds with talented and dedicated educators who have devoted their entire lives to their practice. Such is certainly the case with Jose Ferrer Canales, a high school Spanish teacher from Puerto Rico who was also an accomplished journalist, essayist, and political activist.

Jose was born in Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 18, 1913, into an impoverished, working-class family. As a youngster, he attended Pedro G. Boyco Elementary School, and as a teenager, he graduated from Central Superior High School. Because of his family’s poverty, Jose worked to help support his family, even though he was still in school.

After his high school graduation, Jose enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico, completing the requirements for his bachelor’s degree in 1937. In 1944, he earned his MA in Arts. Jose accepted his first teaching position at a high school in Humacao, where he taught Spanish from 1937 to 1943. Once he earned his master’s degree, Jose was awarded a grant to continue his studies in Spanish and Latin American literature at Columbia University in New York City. While in New York, Jose taught Spanish at Hunter College.

In 1946, the veteran educator returned to his home island where he accepted a position in the Department of Humanities at the University of Puerto Rico. There he became actively involved in the island’s pro-independence movement. In 1949, when he was fired from the university because of his political activities, he relocated to the United States, where he taught at universities in Louisiana, Texas, and Washington, DC. After some years, Jose moved to Mexico, where he attended the National Autonomous University of Mexico, earning his PhD in Letters in 1952. In 1963, Jose was able to once again return to his home island and his position at the University of Puerto Rico. He pursued contributions to the field of education and the publication of numerous essays and journal articles until his retirement in 1983.

Because of his lengthy and distinguished career, Jose earned several prestigious honors. He was given the Journalist Prize from the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture in 1990. He was honored with the Prize of Honor from the Puerto Rican Athenaeum in 1994. He was also named the Humanist of the Year by the Puerto Rican Humanities Foundation in 1997.

This chalkboard champion passed away of natural causes on July 20, 2005, in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico. He was 91 years old. He is interred at Villa Palmaeras Cemetery in Puerto Rico.