CLASS may soon be over for Jaime Escalante, the math teacher celebrated in the 1988 movie “Stand and Deliver.”
According to news reports, Escalante, 79, is in poor health and unable to walk.
after all these years, his accomplishments in Los Angeles, and his
teaching philosophy, can still stand and deliver – if students are
willing to do their part.
Escalante, a Bolivian, taught at schools such as LAUSD’s
Garfield High that were low performing, and expected to be so. For the
education establishment, students with ancestry in Europe’s Iberian
Peninsula are not expected to perform well in math, let alone calculus.
Jaime Escalante was having none of it.
He was not a believer in educational fads, such as the
prevailing notion that teachers are mere “facilitators,” and that
students should be sheltered from difficult subjects, lest they not
feel good about themselves. Escalante was old school all the way. He
believed students could learn if they had the desire to do so, and if
they were willing to work hard. He emphasized discipline, hard work and
high expectations, which in his case were fulfilled.
He turned a generation of low-income students into high
achievers in math in general and calculus in particular. Jay Mathews
chronicled the achievements in “Escalante: The Best Teacher in
America.” The education establishment didn’t know what to make of it,
but the students did.
For example, Escalante instilled in student
Valdez the belief that he could accomplish anything. Sergio went on to
work as a math tutor and is now a mechanical engineer at the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory. Other students also carry with them the
confidence he instilled in the classroom, even if they never used
Presidents feted Escalante and invited him to serve on
education commissions. His story made the big screen with Edward James
Olmos in the lead role. That came five years after “A Nation at Risk”
charted educational decline in America. Little has changed since that
Presidents have attempted to show leadership through
measures such as No Child Left Behind. President Obama is now trying to
buy reform with a $4.3billion in federal money. California failed to
make the cut for the first round, but stood to gain only $700 million,
roughly 1 percent of the education budget.
The notion prevails that the problem is a lack of money, or
that too many minority students drag down the scores. Jaime Escalante’s
students were virtually all low-income Hispanics, and he did not
require a budget boost to promote achievement. For that, however, the
students had to do their part, something often forgotten in the reform
Generous budgets, solid curriculum, high standards, high
expectations, and even dedicated teachers cannot by themselves promote
achievement. The students themselves must respond with hard work and
dedication of their own. If they fail to respond, they are as open to
criticism as any politician, bureaucrat or teacher union boss.
The students of Jaime Escalante did respond with hard work
and dedication, and to this day they thank him for it. The great
teacher may be on his last legs, but according to what he recently told
reporters, his ideas have not changed.
“Determination. Plus discipline. Plus hard work. That is the path.”