NEW YORK – When El Salvador was amid an educational crisis in the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson led a charge prompting the United States to pour almost $11 million into developing instructional television or “tele-teachers” in the third-world nation. Despite the initiative’s generosity, Fordham Professor Hector Lindo-Fuentes, Ph.D., recalls how it sparked a series of political and social brushfires in his native El Salvador, showing how good will can often have negative repercussions. “The main problems would come from success,” said Lindo-Fuentes during a lecture titled “The Miracle of Educational Television in El Salvador: The Perils of American Aid,” which was delivered during Fordham’s Faculty Day celebration on Feb. 7.
“Students’ aspirations were going up and the system was not ready to find a place in universities or in the job market for so many success cases coming from schools.” Lindo-Fuentes, a professor of history and director of Latin American and Latino Studies, noted how the program was instituted in junior high schools and required synergy between both virtual teachers and live teachers. However, despite successes in student achievement and curriculum standardization, he noted several far-reaching sociopolitical problems associated with the transition. Many critics interpreted the El Salvadoran government’s educational television plan as being part of an overall imperialist agenda, while others saw education being reduced to a mere instrument of economic development, Lindo-Fuentes said. In addition, teachers were having noticeable difficulty adapting to the changing landscape. Many were not familiar with the new curriculum being presented by the tele-teachers and others were finding it hard to compete with their virtual counterparts. They also had more students in the classroom.
After the government abolished the tuition fee for entering junior high, enrollment grew 35 percent, while the number of teachers stayed the same. The clash between teachers and government officials eventually led to a two-month teacher strike in 1971. Subsequently, as members of the teachers union became more and more actively opposed to the government, teachers were faced with many physical and psychological modes of intimidation. Such unrest plunged the educational system into further disrepair, eventually leading to the virtual extinction of educational television by the early 1980s. “Foreign aid of the ‘good kind’ empowered an authoritarian government to impose reform from above,” said Lindo-Fuentes to the crowd of more than 200 in the McGinley Center’s Rose Hill Commons. “It also gave new forms for the state to show its authoritarian colors and new opportunities for the counterinsurgency apparatus to work.
The problem was not that the reform made the middle classes hungry for more, it was that it was implemented in a way that clearly alienated the biggest group of civil servants.” After the lecture, the faculty gathered for dinner and the distribution of the distinguished teaching awards. Nancy A. Bush, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, presented the humanities award to Anne Hoffman, Ph.D., professor of English; the social science award to Clara Rodriguez, Ph.D., professor of sociology; the science award to James Ciaccio, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry; and the graduate teaching award to Maryann Kowaleski, Ph.D., professor of history and medieval studies. The 2003 Faculty Day celebration was historic on two counts: It marked the first time the College at Lincoln Center organized the festivities, and it was the first time faculty members from Marymount College attended the annual event.