Teacher Jaime Escalante received the Presidential Medal for Excellence in Education in 1988. He gained notoriety when portrayed by Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver, the story of a tough, dedicated math teacher in Los Angeles. It’s a classic.
The moral of the story? When taught properly and when all parties are dedicated, anyone can succeed.
And, of course, the final score is one for the ages: Escalante et al.: 1; ETS: 0.
Take a look at a few bios of Escalante’s former students. They defied crass, ill-founded expectations and, with Escalante’s masterful guidance re: math and that other important discipline- life – they’ve done quite well.
The rise of Escalante’s math program in a LAUSD school is the stuff of education legend. Its collapse, however, is largely unknown. As Reason Magazine pointed out in its in-depth history of the program, it’s a shame.
I didn’t mind that South Park parodied Escalante a few weeks ago. Eric Cartman became Mr. Cartmenez, a capable instructor who guided his underperforming students in the ways of cheating. Infused with topical references to the New England Patriots cheating scandal, it was a lighthearted parody that poked a little fun without undermining the important work that Escalante is known for.
The Sacramento Bee posted today an interview with Mr. Escalante [hat tip: Intercepts]. Unfortunately for us, he now teaches in Bolivia, but he was back in the states to receive a Latino Spirit Award from the California Latino Legislative Caucus.
If there’s one thing you read today, make sure it’s this interview. Sound, common sense wisdom from funding to calling moms.
Q: If you were a young man, would you choose to become a teacher again?
A: Absolutely. That’s the only thing I can do. Believe me, I had fun, especially when I used to deal with gang members or kids who weren’t motivated.
Before class and after class, I’d talk to them, to make them believe they could do it. I used to tell them, “Remember this: No one is better than you.”
Q: How do you feel about the term “hero”? Do you feel like a hero?
A: Not really. I’m just an honest man. An honorable man who did the assignment and the homework, because California gave me the chance.
Q: Do you have any regrets supporting Proposition 227 (the 1998 ballot measure that virtually ended bilingual education in public schools)?
A: I was in favor of monolingual language, and it was controversial in those days, because people thought I was going in the wrong direction. No. The tremendous success I had at Garfield High School was because I emphasized (English). I used to say, “Unfortunately, the test comes in one language, and you have to master that language.”
Q: Do you support the concept of a high school exit examination?
A: Yeah, I would say so, because when kids graduate … I assume that in four years, they’ll learn something. … What they have to do on the test is to emphasize their basic knowledge.
Q: Some say public education isn’t getting enough money. Others say money is not spent wisely. What do you think?
A: Money is not the problem. … We have to know how to spend it. We put too much money (in programs) that don’t achieve results. We waste a lot.
Q: What should California do about its dropout rate?
A: Schools alone cannot educate, they need the help of parents. … At Garfield High School, a high percentage of dropouts were kids who didn’t want to come to school. So I made them sign a contract.
And before that, I got in communication with their mom – mom is the one who calls the shots. I said, “Mom, … this is what we’re going to do, and you’re going to help me out. … I need you to control him. I’ll be calling you.”
Q: Advice to teenagers?
A: Set your goals and go for it. You’re going to have to go to college to be something. Otherwise, you’re going to be pumping gas all the time – and today, there’s no gas.