Title: Interview with Armando Enriques
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00006979/00001
 Material Information
Title: Interview with Armando Enriques
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Funding: This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00006979
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
Holding Location: This interview is part of the 'Miscellaneous' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: MISC 8

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Full Text


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and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of

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Interviewee: Armando Enriques
Interviewer: Stefanie Wilkinson
Location: Gatana, New York

W: My name is Stefanie Wilkinson and I am in Gatana, New York talking with

Armando Enriques, Head of the English Department here at John J. High

School. Mr. Enriques, could you just tell me a little bit about your

background, such as your place of birth, how you were brought up and how

you were educated. Just so I can understand where you are coming from.

E: I was born in what, ah, sociology courses later informed me was a

Spanish ghetto in Tampa, Florida. And I was encouraged to pursue my

education by my parents who were people who did not get a good education

beyond their elementary school years. And on a work scholarship I attended

Urskin College in due west South Carolina, where a very committed faculty

got me very interested in books and the world of ideas and in dedicating

my life to some type of public service. In my senior year at Urskin the

Academic Dean entered my name in an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship competition.

This Fellowship was to be offered... (interruption) This particular

Fellowship was offered to about twenty graduates from Liberal Arts Colleges

in the South and we were sent to George Peabody College for Teachers to

earn our Masters in, in my case English, and with a Minor in education at

the Masters level. This experience at Peabody and in the joining Vanderbilt

University sort of changed the whole direction of my life in many significant


W: For example?

E: For example, while I was there I was part of four seminar groups, each

lasting for a quarter. And I was at Peabody for four quarters. And the

leaders of those seminar groups happened to be some of the top people in

public education at the time who had come to Peabody for the special

programs. People like Harold Benjamin of sabre tooth curriculum fame.

That was one of his books. Willard G J a who had just achieved some

notoriety in Pasadena. Nicolas Hobbs who was involved, ah, with the

Page 2

E: ...non-directive technique of psychology and Felix Robb who happened

to be the Academic Dean of George Peabody College for Teachers. And

these four men were responsible for guiding the twenty of us the year

that we were there. After this experience I was all fired-up, ready

to go into college teaching. At the time I had no interest in going into

public school education at the time. But, it was time for me to try my

hand at the Army since my deferment had ended. But fate intervened and

I began to, I went in for my physical and I was turned down because of

partial blindness in one eye. And here I was with a Masters degree and

with the possibility of blindness looming over me and I decided that I

would get whatever job came along because I had to put aside all of my

graduate work for at least that year. Since already the deadlines had

passed. So, I happened to get a chance to teach in the hills: of West

Virginia. In a small town called Fort Ashley, Wdst Virginia and it was

there that I not only started my/ teaching career in public schools, but

I also met my wife who came there also that year as a replacement. And

I taught that year kkN1952 to 1953.

W: So, why did you decide to enter the field of English? What prompted you

to pursue English?

E: I think probably, ah, I was inspired by some very fine English teachers.

Teachers who, ah- one particularly in high school who I had in my senior

year-who made writing and reading exciting things for me. And I felt when

I went to college that this would be an area that I would want to pursue.

Also, in college there were a number of English teachers who inspired me to

try tormodel myself after them. One particular man in my junior and senior

year, a college professor Edward F seemed to be the kind of

person, the kind of teacher that I wanted to be.

W: So, would that also be the reason why you decided to become a teacher?

Page 3

E: Probably I became, decided to become a teacher because I felt, ah, it was

something that combined my interest in reading and writing with my interest

in working with people. I felt that those two personal interest could be

met in a, in a job that required that I be involved with those two activities.
W: Why high school as opposed to college ;,le

E: I felt that high school would give me an opportunity to work with ideas,

ah, work with students at a critical point in their lives. I felt that

perhaps elementary school would be more concerned with building skills and

perhaps would not give me the kind of intellectual feedback that I felt I

probably would get, ah, in secondary school.

W: You mentioned earlier that there were some teachers who inspired you or

prompted you to enter the field of English. In what respect have they

molded the teacher that you are today? Are there certain things that you

see yourself doing or trying to do because they did it in the past?

E: Probably the things that I enjoyed, ah, the most about those teachers

that probably did have an effect on me were things like teachers who did

not talk down to their students. Teachers who were interested in me as

a person and not just as a student. Teachers who, ah, did not set them-

selves up as being, ah, absolute authorities of any issue. Teachers who

enjoyed teaching and made that obvious in the way they went about it.

W: This would be your ideal picture of a teacher?

E: That would be, in a sense, the ideal that I aspire to try to reach in

my classes. Ah, to enjoy the experience of teaching and enjoy the sharing

of my humanity with those students that come in contact with me in my


W: Along with that idea, since you chose to become an educator you must have

had some other specific goals or ideas regarding education in itself.

Could you share a few more with me?

E: By that you mean what kind of goals?

Page 4

W: 1/ /M What should education be? What should it be as a profession?

As a, as a leader of youth?

E: Well, I really went into it without too many preconceived notions about

what I wanted to accomplish in teaching other than perhaps gaining some

personal satisfactions from the process of teaching. My feeling, I think,

from the very beginning about teaching has been mostly along this particular

line. My main job as a teacher, I think, has always been to try to help

students recognize that they have special worth and value as students and

more importantly as people. And my teaching has had that particular

thrust-of trying to help students discover through what they read, through

what they write what that special value is that they have. And then

perhaps helping them in some way to channel and express that special

worth that they have discovered in themselves as a result of the teacher

and the learning.

W: What particular difficulties do you think as __ _V__ you find?

What makes teaching English different from teaching any other field of


E: Probably the most difficult thing is that English is something that is

required of all students for all four years. And that of course makes it

difficult to teach a class where some of the students are ino class

because they sincerely want to be in the class and others are there by

virtue of the fact that it is a requirement. I do not think this exists

to quite the same degree in all the other disciplines. Also, I think the

thing that makes it difficult is that an English teacher does not have

much time to call his own while he is in the process of teaching. It is

constantly an avalanche of papers andAgrading process of compositions

are like so that he not only has to work hard at the job, but he has to

work equally hard off the job at home. And this sometimes stands in the

way of his own personal fulfillment in terms of his own independent

Page 5

E: ...reading and his own independent writing and those things that he may

want to do as person apart from his job as a teacher.

W: How do you cope with that? T..\ .C 4,'

E: Well, fortunately in public education you have some time off in the

summer which you can arrange if you are able to, financially, where you

have saved some time for yourself. Where you read the things that you

want to read and the things you have to read. Where you perhaps arrange

your location to take advantage of opportunities that might come up during O 'r

or during the year that will enable you to grow as a person and as a

teacher. But, it is not easy and, ah, more often than not you find your-

self even using those vacation times and catching up with the things you

have not been able to do while you were teaching.

W: You mentioned grading. An important part of teaching is testing. How do

you grade your tests so that they are adequate measures of students'


E: Well, as the years have passed I have changed my attitudes about grading.

There was a time in my early career when I felt that I knew how to make

a test that would be a definitive instrument in evaluating. But now I

have come to the belief that, ah, that type of grading or that type of

evaluation which tries to reduce the students' learning to a grade or a

number is not of much value to you as a teacher or as a student. So that

I find that whatever evaluations I do now are evaluations that are based

on helping the student assess what he or she is learning and helping me

assess how well I am teaching and giving the students an opportunity to

use the test as a way of crystallizing their thinking of what it is that

is being learned. Rather than some kind of guessing game between the

teacher and the student. And I have found that in those classes where I

have de-emphasized testing that I have had the best results with learning.

Page 6

W: -1 7i' C rt dC 4 32t- and I remember not having tests and yet I

remember enjoying them the most. Especially when it came to writing

because Le rl 4o ce Q ,) and I put everything I had into it and

enjoyed it. ,,

E: Well, this is what I feel. I think we have done a great disservice in

making the grade more important than the learning and whenever that happens

I think we have got things confused. The value Xf Wez C,^ce,

W: And I think most students would agree with you! (Laughter) I do not

know if they would understand the principle involved. Over the years,

have Coa r,,Ce S 4 any unusual situations because of your role as an

educator. Specifically, what kind of feedback have you gotten from

students,or professors, or other persons as you have changed your role

as an educator.

E: You mean what has happened to some of my students?

W: Yes, what kind of experiences have you found yourself in because of your

role as a teacher?

E: Well, ah, here in this particular town--a small town where I have worked

now for thirty years--I have had an opportunity to see my students grow

and become intrical parts of the community. Perhaps the most interesting

experience that I had withthat was one day I was going home and I came to

an intersection, ah, where one of the lights had gone off and I was having

a quandry about when I should make my left turn at this rather busy

intersection. And as I sat there, I heard my name being called as though

it were coming from somewhere up in the blue--saying, "Mr. Enriques!"--

and I looked and wondered where this voice was coming that was calling my

name. And it turned out to be a former student of mine whose had, what

was it-- a police car and is a policeman now. And he was guiding me through

his intercom system about when to make the left turn to guide me safely

through the intersection. So no matter where I am. Even where in places

Page 7

E: ...where I think I have total anonymity, I have heard my name being called--

through the smoke or the traffic or wherever--of someone who maybe I taught

fifteen or twenty years before.

W: Has any student given you a sort of critique of how fcj1s vJ/ Jyou are- -

teacher and have you because of that have you ever changed your teaching

style V C. tvr&J)g Ic L^vA- .^.-

E: Probably the kinds of things that I do in my classes have been affirmed

by, ah, some of the successes that some people have had who have happened

to have been in my class. And if I have seen them become successful and they

have told me in letters or in personal conversations that it'was something

that I did that perhaps turned them around to become interested in whatever

they were interested in. That I have taken as a way of affirming what I

am doing. But I make it a practice at the end of every course to ask students

to tell me as honestly as they can what was something about the course
that they liked and also to suggest to me things which I might be able to

improve my teaching. And many of them have come up with suggestions that

I have been able to take into, ah, into consideration as I have planned

the teaching of that course the next year in a different way. I think, ah,

if you listen to your students, you will probably learn more about teaching

than if you listen to your supervisors. I can say that since I am a super-


W: (Laughter) The teaching environment influences your role as an educator.

Why did you choose to teach in ?ro&sor- school district? And why

did you stay here for the last thirty years?

E: That has been a question I have asked myself many times. Like, like the

man who came to dinner I do not really think I meant to stay thirty years.

I, ah, I started here because I felt that this was a school that gave me

a great deal of freedom to grow as an educator. When I came to this school

district in 1953, the graduating class had forty students. This year we

Page 8

E: ...are graduating about three hundred students. That is a considerable

amount of growth in thirty years, but what I have enjoyed most about this

school is that it provided me with all those thinks that, ideally, teachers

should have to enjoy their work. One, a lovely campus setting where you

did not feel cramped or where you did not feel that you were just part of

a business. The setting has been beautiful. The students have been

special. I have had students that have graduated from the school that have

gone on to become writers, to become college teachers, even one Rhodes

Scholar who now happens to be a professor at Harvard who is having a book

published this spring in the Atlantic Monthly. I have had students who

have gone on to become professional writers, doctors, teachers, and it has

been a marvelous way of vicariously going to some of the top schools in the

country. It has been a way of, of doing those things which economic

circumstances and other factors kept me from doing in my own personal


W: How do you feel about the school today?

E: I find that, ah, the biggest problem that I see with the school today is

that there are many forces outside that are acting upon the students. That

perhaps are keeping some of the students from functioning at their highest

level. I am concerned about the family and the home situations that many

students have to deal with in our society today. I, I am concerned about

the fact that students are not as happy during the time that they are

students. I felt that when I first came here in the, in the early 1950s,

that students were much happier being students. Today, there are pressures

that are being put upon many students to become adults long before they

are really ready to become adults. And they are having difficulty handling

that and that of course has an impact on how they function in school. I do

not find students as hhppy as they used to be.

W: What do you hope you can do about this?

Page 9

E: Well, there are two things you can do about. You can sit around and

bemoan the fact that, ah, the world is not as happy a place as it used to

be. That we are having economic problems and social problems and problems

with drugs and problems with disrupted homes and sort of curse the darkness.

Or, you can, ah, light candles.

W: I thinki:there is a poem in there somewhere. (Laughter)

E: And I spend much of my day trying to light candles when I see that candles

are in order and that it might be helpful. And that usually takes the place

of, ah, having a student coming to my office or sit under a tree somewhere

out on the campus and just talk and share our common humanity with each other.

And, ah, I do not really know. I have no way of assessing how useful that

is or how helpful that is. In the long run I really do not busy my time

worrying about how useful it is. I try to do the best that I can and hope

that it is useful

W: Where do you see this school ten years from now?

E: Ten years from now I see, ah, a situation where economics is going to begin

to have an impact on an education and I think probably some of the luxuries

that we have enjoyed, i particularly this school district, are going to

become, ah, are going to be decreased to at least some degree. I do not

think that we are going to be able to enjoy some of the luxuries that we

used to have in terms of field trips and smaller classes and, ah, some of

things that, ah, I think have made thiSschool special. I hope that that

is not an accurate prediction and maybe things will change so that it might

be possible to n c- Cn (- but I think, ah, there, there

needs to be a change in the education in the next decade, or certainly

by the turn of the system. Not just the system here in this school, which

I think in a sense is atypical, but as I view public education, as I discuss

it with teachers that I meet at national conferences and the like, I find

that we are trying to perpetuate an educational system that is, in a sense,

Page 10

E: ...no longer adequate to meet the changing times.

W: Do you think the government should take a larger role in this or a lesser

role? -77;- .Q / /.cC \,rrv- \Cy r&\c .,0?

E: Well, I think that the government is going to have to realize that, ah,

public education is, has to achieve a high level priority in its heirarchy

or priorities. I think right now it is being given 4ocq attention

in the fact that in the last few years there seems to be going, ah, back-

wards in terms of government support. And I am concerned that we still

have in this country functional illiterates that are coming out of public

schools. I am concerned that in a country that has probably the highest

standards of living in the world that such a thing could take place.

W: You think that is not the students'fault.then? Or the teachers fault?

E: Well, it may be a combination of both. Ah, I do not think we can blame

it all on the students. Ah, I think it may be that, ah, we are trying

to educate them for the 1950s instead of the year 2000. And the 1950s

are gone. And I think we are going to have to ask ourselves a few main

questions. We are going to have to ask ourselves what is our reason for

being? I am talking about secondary public education or just public

education in general. What are we here for? We are going to have to

ask ourselves should education be the same for everybody? Or should there

be ,a greater differentiation of ways in which we educate our citizens?

W: Such as like they have in Germany? Where you have to pass a test when

you are fourteen to enter the real high school or else you get more vocational

"-fA Is that the change you are talking about?

E: Well, that could possibly be one direction that we would go. I, I think

it is very important that there be some common strands in the educational

process that, ah, is necessary to maintain, to avoid a class society--which

would be imcompatible with our democracy. I, I am not in favor of an elitist

kind of school system that would necessarily say that one type of education

Page 11

E: ...is better than another type. I am interested in developing a system

of education where the systems might be different, but not necessarily

that one would be better than the other.

W: Then what is your ideal educational system?

E: My ideal educational system would be a system that would enable each student

to achieve his full potential as a human being.

W: Do you think that is possible?

E: I think it is more possible than is being achieved now. If we were willing

to devote the amount of effort, the amount of time, and the amount of money

that it would take to achieve that goal--realizing that you are not going

to achieve it totally.

W: O.K., I thought of two last questions regarding your personal goals. At

this date, what would you see as being your greatest personal accomplishment

in teaching or whatever?

E: I think probably my greatest personal accomplishment has been that I have

been able to stay in the same place and teach for thirty years. Essentially

teach the same discipline for thirty years and have survived the 1960s,

with all its turbulence; the apathy of the 1970s without being burned out

as a teacher. Just the ability to survive those three decades and still

gain satisfaction from what I am doing has been probably the, ah, the

greatest accomplishment that I can name.

W: What do you:hope to achieve in the future? What are your personal goals

as a teacher and as a person c, ^ ,er :i? \\ ?

E: Well, I am contemplating now some changes in my life, perhaps, in the next

decade or so. I probably will remain at the job that I am now in for

probably the next two to five years. After that, I would like to bring

some of the experience that I have gained from teaching in this very fine

school district to other levels. I would like to, ah, bring some of what

I have learned from working in secondary schools to the college level. I

Page 12

E: ...would like to maybe work with maybe, beginning teachers and try to, ah,

help them to discover those things in themselves that will enable them to

be good teachers. I also, ah, feel that the heavy demand of paper work and

so forth as a teacher has kept me from writing at least one good book.

W: (Laughter) The great American novel.

E: Well, not so much a novel as perhaps a book dealing with the whole art of

teaching. Because I consider teaching a art, rather than a skill. And I

do not think there is very much written about that. So, I would like to do

that. This summer I have this opportunity to meet with fifteen teachers,

from all over the United States, and ostensibly we are going to be getting

together at Saint John's College for a month to discuss Plato's Republic.

And he, of course, has many things to say about education in that work.

But I hope that probably the greater value of that experience will be to

exchange ideas with fifteen educators representing six different disciplines

and with an age differential of about thirty years. And perhaps out of that

interaction in living together for a month, I might get some ideas about

the state of education in the United States from a broader prospective from

just being in the same small school for the last thirty years.

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