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Professor Manuel Hernández
Essays Collection

Address: : 2012 Ernest St. Kissimmee, Florida 34741

Manuel Hernandez was born in Sleepy Hollow, New York in 1963. He completed undergraduate studies at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus and finished a Master�s in Education from Herbert H. Lehman College (CUNY) in the Bronx in 1994. He has coordinated symposiums, produced and coordinated television interviews on the literature written by Puerto Rican and Latino/a writers from the Diaspora. He has done numerous presentations, workshops and seminars on how to integrate latino/a literature in the English classroom. In 2014, he participated in a TedxTalk (Connections) at Southern New Hampshire University. He is the author of three books, , Latino/a Literature in the English Classroom (Editorial Plaza Mayor, 2003), The Birth of a Rican (Imprenta Sifre. 2008) and Living the Kingdom with purpose (Imprenta Sifre, 2013). He is a Language Arts teacher at Osceola School District in Florida.

A Vision for the Education of Latinos in America: Rationale, Experience, Research and Vision
By Manuel Hernandez-Carmona copyright

A vision for the education of Latinos is overdue, and a blueprint to tackle the academic needs of the millions of Latino children who are registering in the public school system at a fast and furious rate is needed as soon as today. An overview of SAT score averages for college-bound seniors – sorted by race/ethnicity in the selected years 1986-87 through 2006-07 – reveal that Hispanic students are scoring below 500 in reading, math and writing. It stands to reason that if Latino teens are scoring below average in the SATs, it will be difficult for them to receive quality education in the long term. In another set of findings posted in the National Center for Education Statistics – in the category of "Percentage distribution of adults ages 25 and over, by highest level of educational attainment and race/ethnicity: 2007" – Latinos show the highest percentage in the "less than high school completion" field. This 39.7% score is at once staggering and alarming. While ideological claims of educational improvement have been precipitously proposed, the empirical reality remains indisputable: The education of Latinos continues to look bleak and disheartening. It begs the question: Who is responsible for the educational fallout of our children?
As an English as a Second Language teacher in New York City from 1988 to 1991, my classes saw many recently-arrived high school students from such Latin American countries as El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Puerto Rico – many of these immigrants with barely one, perhaps two years of residence in the United States. When I first received the course syllabi for these so-called “ESL” tenth-grade classes, I would notice Hemingway, Poe and Shakespeare among the group of “canon” writers to be read during the semester; I was, of course, enthusiastic and quite elated about beginning the semester engaged with such amazing authors and works. But after an intensive month of Romeo and Juliet, I quickly understood, with some initial disillusionment, that I had a major predicament on my hands. Try as they might, my students continued to struggle to connect with the plight of the star-crossed lovers, because their own social, cultural and personal backgrounds were so far removed from the lives of the Montagues and Capulets of Verona. Yet, my students’ hunger to learn was intense. I had to find a way to bridge the gap.
Sustained research (such as “Connecting Students to Culturally Relevant Texts”, ), and other such studies, have explored and validated the fact that cultural-based literature is pivotal in the initial stages of a student’s “learning to read”. Prior knowledge helps students construct bridges that help in their making predictions and outcomes about poems, stories, essays or dramas read in the English classroom. Reading for pleasure and identity encourages and stimulates the recently arrived to make personal, more meaningful connections. In a “learning to read” environment, pleasure and enjoyment form the initial launching point for further literary development.
Literature must make a transition from its hardcore traditionalist approach to a much more inclusive and integrated reading experience. When will the United States Department of Education understand that these kids will be motivated to stay in school when a bridge from their left-behind culture is provided to walk across smoothly and steadfastly to the newly acquired culture? It has taken the United States decades to assimilate European soccer as a sport, but we expect the recently arrived teen to become academically competent in an educational arena at a record time pace. Even city, state and nationally standardized exams should include a more varied list of authors; some of these may include such standouts in Latino/a literature as Esmeralda Santiago, Judith Ortiz-Cofer, Victor Hernandez-Cruz, Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez, Pat Mora, Sandra Maria Esteves, Junot Diaz, Martin Espada, Piri Thomas, Cristina Garcia, Tato Laviera, Nicholosa Mohr and other nationally and even internationally acclaimed authors. While the Latino/a population continues to grow in unprecedented numbers in the United States, it is essential that the proverbial book on teaching literature be rewritten to address this ever-expanding diversity.