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.

Alice Bag: The Punk Rock rebel who became an elementary school bilingual teacher

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Throughout American history, there are numerous examples of exceptional educators who also exhibit talents in artistic endeavors. One such educator is Alice Bag, an elementary school bilingual education teacher who has also made a name for herself on the punk rock scene, author, and up-and-coming painter.

Alice Bag was born Alicia Armendariz on November 7, 1958, in the barrio of East Los Angeles. Her parents were impoverished immigrants from Mexico. As a youngster, Alice had few friends in school, and was often the target of bullies. She experienced the hardship of starting school without knowing how to speak English. This experience led her to become passionate about education, and especially about bilingual programs.

When just eight years old, Alice began her professional singing career. She recorded theme songs for cartoons in both English and Spanish. As an adult, she became the co-founder and lead singer of The Bags, one of the first girls punk rock groups to emerge from the Los Angeles area. The band, which was formed in the mid-70’s, was most active during the years 1977-1981, during which time they released their best-known singles, “Survive” and “Babylonian Gorgon.”

“Rock ‘n’ roll stands for rebellion,” Alice once explained. “and if you’re feeling disenfranchised, it gives you a voice.” Alice had much to rebel against. An abusive father, for one thing; a Chicano culture that favored males, for another; and on top of that, racial discrimination against the Latino community. Music gave her the opportunity to channel that rebellion. For her pioneering work as a Latina punk rock performer, Alice has been featured in the Penelope Spheeris documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, and a traveling Smithsonian exhibition entitled “American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music.”

After the break-up of The Bags, Alice studied how to bake pastries with a French patissier, studied painting at a community college, started a daily blog and website devoted to the history of the LA punk scene, and authored two books. In 2011, Alice published her memoir, Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage: A Chicana Punk Story, which describes her childhood of domestic violence. The coming-of-age volume launched a reading and performance tour across the United States, and is also taught in university courses in the departments of literature, gender studies, and Chicano studies. Her second book, Pipe Bomb for the Soul, was released in 2015.

After Alice earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from California State University at Los Angeles, she began teaching in inner-city schools in LA using the name Alice Velazquez, her married name. Now aged 57, she has retired after twenty years in the classroom. Alice says her years as a teacher has brought a sense of clarity to the lyrics of her current songs. “I was quick to get in arguments and often get in fights,” she remembers of her pre-teaching years. “Working with children, I found that I couldn’t ever be angry at a child. If there was a problem communicating or reaching the child, I felt like it was my responsibility to figure out how to communicate what I was trying to say,” she explains. “I think I became a more effective communicator. I learned how to clarify my thoughts,” she concludes.

Alice Bag currently lives in San Diego with her husband and three children.

Spanish Teacher Jose Ferrer Canales: A Puerto Rican Chalkboard Champion

canales 2The 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.

Educator Eulalia Bourne: She’s Part of the Colorful History of the West

EulaliaBourne2[1]American history is full of colorful individuals who made significant contributions to the settlement and development of the West. One such individual is teacher Eulalia Bourne. This remarkable educator, whose career spanned more than four decades, taught elementary school in rural areas, mining camps, and Indian reservations throughout Arizona during some of our country’s most challenging periods: World War I, the Depression, and World War II. This women’s libber was ahead of her time, becoming one of the very few women in her day to own and run her own cattle ranch.

Eulalia thought outside the box in many ways. Every year on the first day of school she would wear a new dress, usually blue to complement her eye color. Every day after that, she wore jeans, Western-style shirts, cowboy boots, and Stetson hats to class. She was once fired for dancing the one-step, a new jazz dance, at a birthday party some of her students attended, because the clerk of the board considered the dance indecent! She even learned to speak Spanish fluently and, when confronted with non-English-speaking students, taught her classes in Spanish, even though it was against the law to do so.

Eulalia is probably best known for producing a little classroom newspaper entitled Little Cowpunchers which featured student writings, drawings, and news stories about classroom events. Today, these little newspapers are recognized as important historical documents of Southern Arizona ranching communities from 1932 to 1943. Additionally, Eulalia published three critically-acclaimed books about her teaching and ranching experiences: Ranch Schoolteacher, Nine Months is a Year at Baboquivari School, and Woman in Levi’s. These volumes, although now out of print, can sometimes be purchased at used book stores and sometimes can be found at online sites featuring royalty-free works. The read is well-worth the search, particularly for those interested in Arizona history.

You can read about Eulalia’s intriguing life in a book entitled Skirting Traditions, published by  Arizona Press Women. You can also find a chapter about her in my first book, Chalkboard Champions.

Teacher Dolores Huerta: The Champion of the Migrant Farmworker

thLike many people who have heard of farm labor leader and civil rights advocate Cesar Chavez, I have also heard of his right-hand woman, Dolores Huerta, vice president of the United Farm Workers Union. But did you know that she was also an elementary school teacher?

Raised in Stockton, California, Dolores graduated in 1955 with an AA and her teaching credentials from the College of the Pacific. After graduation, she accepted a teaching position in a rural Stockton elementary school. She had been teaching for only a short time when she realized she wanted to devote her talent and energy to migrant farm workers and their families. “I couldn’t stand seeing farm worker children come to class hungry and in need of shoes,” she once explained. “I thought I could do more by organizing their parents than by trying to teach their hungry children.” After one year, she resigned from her teaching position, determined to launch a campaign that would fight the numerous economic injustices faced by migrant agricultural workers.

Joining forces with the legendary labor leader Cesar Chavez, Dolores organized a large-scale strike against the commercial grape growers of the San Joaquin Valley, an effort which raised national awareness of the abysmal treatment of America’s agricultural workers, and she negotiated the contracts which led to their improved working conditions. The rest, as they say, is history.

Although there are several fairly good juvenile biographies of this extraordinary woman, there is no definitive adult biography about her. The closest thing to it is A Dolores Huerta Reader edited by Mario T. Garcia. This book includes an informative biographical introduction by the editor, articles and book excerpts written about Dolores, her own writings and transcripts of her speeches, and a recent interview with Mario Garcia. You can find A Dolores Huerta Reader on amazon.com I have also included a chapter about this remarkable teacher in my second book, Chalkboard Heroes: Twelve courageous Teachers and their Deeds of Valor.