The Puerto Ricans
To the Editor:
In his review of the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups [Books in Review, January], Thomas Sowell displays a strange sense of proportion. The Encyclopedia contains 135 entries written by 125 authors, but 25 percent of his review is devoted to the criticism of my one entry on the Puerto Ricans. My entry consists of eighteen columns; his criticism is centered on four sentences. If the readers of COMMENTARY were expecting an adequate review of the Encyclopedia, they have been treated to a very unbalanced assessment.
The article, he complains, is an exercise in “advocacy” rather than professional scholarship; or, as he puts it in his own professional and scholarly style, “the smuggling of one man’s opaque conclusions into a factual discussion”; a manifestation of “the self-indulgence of Father Fitzpatrick.” One of his problems is my statement that Puerto Ricans manifest a strong interest in bilingual education as a corrective to the learning problems of their children. If the readers of the year 2025 wish to have an accurate, scholarly description of the Puerto Ricans of 1980, they will be sadly misinformed if they do not understand the relationship of bilingual-ism to the Puerto Rican community as presented in the Encyclopedia article. It is the daily outcry of the Puerto Rican community, not a policy statement of Father Fitzpatrick, that access to upward mobility is blocked because of failures in the educational system; and the most important government report in twenty-five years about the Puerto Rican experience provides abundant documentation that much of this is the result of discrimination. According to Mr. Sowell this is not material suitable for an encyclopedia article which seeks to describe the factual realities of Puerto Rican life in 1980. If the readers of the next century wish to know why there were many more Puerto Ricans in the City University in 1980 than in 1970, Mr. Sowell claims it would be unscholarly for an encyclopedia article to inform them that the key factor in the change was the open-admissions policy of the 1970′s. What he calls an opaque conclusion of mine is, rather, a factual and thoroughly substantiated explanation of one of the major events in the educational experience of Puerto Ricans.
Mr. Sowell says he is waiting for the second edition of the Encyclopedia, presumably to correct the inadequacies of the first. What is really needed is a second edition of his review to correct the inadequacies of the first.
Joseph P. Fitzpatrick, S.J.
Bronx, New York
Thomas Sowell writes:
I think my review was clear enough, and the readers of COMMENTARY intelligent enough, that it is unnecessary to reply to Father Fitzpatrick’s obfuscation.