Jaime Escalante on Reaching These Keeeeeeeds

how do i reach theese keeeds?

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.

5 Responses to “Jaime Escalante on Reaching These Keeeeeeeds”

  1. Mr. Escalante was one of my biggest influences when I became an English as a Second Language teacher. I always told my students that they had to learn English because once they did, there would be so many opportunities for them.

    I remember one of my students. He wrote me a goodbye letter before I moved back to Michigan. He said, “I’ll always remember you because you taught us how important it is to be American.”

    Man, I miss those keeeeeds.

  2. Oh, that’s an awesome story. Escalante’s support of the bill against a flawed bilingual education program is a fine example of what he professes. He opposed it, in my opinion, for all the right reasons.

    That article in Reason Magazine is a must-read. The assessment of his former employers’ post-Escalante era is unkind. It’s as shameful as the author makes it out to be.

  3. Belinda says:

    If the child has already started his or her life speaking one language, he or she needs to continue to learn and value that language. Bilingual Education is moving towards making children bilingual and biliterate. Taking a child’s first language to substitute it with English sends the wrong message. In the other side of the world, parents have to pay thousands of dollards to have their kids learn a second language. Why is America the only selfish and self-centered country who wants their kids to be monolingual? What are they so afraid of?

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