0ld-school ideas of Jaime Escalante stand and deliver as much as always

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

calculus again.

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.”

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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