Jaime Escalante Dead at 79
Jaime Escalanta, the inner city Los Angeles school teacher made internationally famous by the movie “Stand and Deliver,” has died of cancer aged 79.
Elaine Woo has a long tribute to him in the LAT:
Jaime Escalante, the charismatic former East Los Angeles high school teacher who taught the nation that inner-city students could master subjects as demanding as calculus, died Tuesday. He was 79.
The subject of the 1988 film “Stand and Deliver,” Escalante died at his son’s home in Roseville, Calif., said actor Edward James Olmos, who portrayed the teacher in the film. Escalante had bladder cancer.
“Jaime didn’t just teach math. Like all great teachers, he changed lives,” Olmos said earlier this month when he organized an appeal for funds to help pay Escalante’s mounting medical bills.
Escalante gained national prominence in the aftermath of a 1982 scandal surrounding 14 of his Garfield High School students who passed the Advanced Placement calculus exam only to be accused later of cheating. The story of their eventual triumph — and of Escalante’s battle to raise standards at a struggling campus of working-class, largely Mexican American students — became the subject of the movie, which turned the balding, middle-aged Bolivian immigrant into the most famous teacher in America.
Escalante was a maverick who did not get along with many of his public school colleagues, but he mesmerized students with his entertaining style and deep understanding of math. Educators came from around the country to observe him at Garfield, which built one of the largest and most successful Advanced Placement programs in the nation.
“Jaime Escalante has left a deep and enduring legacy in the struggle for academic equity in American education,” said Gaston Caperton, former West Virginia governor and president of the College Board, which sponsors the Scholastic Assessment Test and the Advanced Placement exams. “His passionate belief [was] that all students, when properly prepared and motivated, can succeed at academically demanding course work, no matter what their racial, social or economic background. Because of him, educators everywhere have been forced to revise long-held notions of who can succeed.”
Of course, it’s only true if you have a teacher like Escalante, who’s not only unusually talented but willing to work hours off the clock and able to convince students to do the same. Indeed, as Joanne Jacobs notes, Garfield’s calculus program collapsed entirely after Escalante’s departure.
Ironically, Escalante’s career at Garfield High didn’t last long after the movie brought him to fame.
Escalante’s rise came during an era decried by experts as one of alarming mediocrity in the nation’s schools. He pushed for tougher standards and accountability for students and educators, often irritating colleagues and parents along the way with his brusque manner and uncompromising stands.
He was called a traitor for his opposition to bilingual education. He said the hate mail he received for championing Proposition 227, the successful 1998 ballot measure to dismantle bilingual programs in California, was a factor in his decision to retire that year after leaving Garfield and teaching at Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento for seven years.
He moved back to Bolivia, where he propelled himself into a classroom again, apparently intent on fulfilling a vow to die doing what he knew best — teach. But he returned frequently to the United States to speak to education groups and continued to ally himself with conservative politics. He considered becoming an education advisor to President George W. Bush, and in 2003 signed on as an education consultant for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial campaign in California.
Much, much more in Woo’s feature and a July 2002 Reason peace by Jerry Jesness titled, “Stand and Deliver Revisited: The untold story behind the famous rise — and shameful fall — of Jaime Escalante, America’s master math teacher.” And, no, the shame was not Escalante’s.
A life well lived but, alas, like that of other extraordinary achievers, not easily emulated. We can and should expect more of our teachers. But expecting them to all be Jaime Escalante is unreasonableness squared.