Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Today a Great Teacher Died

Some of the most under-appreciated under-paid people are our teachers - our teachers throughout our adolescence - through middle school and especially high school. Today I just wanted to honor a man who was an amazing teacher - but one whom I have never had or met.

Jaime Escalante - an ordinary man who had a passion for teaching yes, but even more of a passion for his students, "turned the failing calculus program at Garfield High School in east Los Angeles into one of the top in the nation."
The story goes that he taught long consistent years at Garfield High fighting for change and wanting the students to learn math. He passionately taught and delved into the lives of his students, who he believed could be taught and could succeed in life even though everything in the world was telling them they could not. Through his amazing persistence and love - by being someone who actually cared - his teaching kicked off and soon Garfield High - the lowest of lowly high schools had an AP Calculus program though no one still thought much could be done. Pretty soon students were passing the Calculus AP tests and every year the number went up. In 1982, 18 of his students passed the AP Tests but the Education Testing Service found it fishy and so 12 of the students had to retake the test in individual rooms to show they can pass it again. They did. This man would tutor his students late into the night and drop them off to their parents in his mini-van - he was committed. He turned this no name school into one of the top in the nation for Calculus. He turned students who had no care or thought of succeeding in life into students who felt there could be a future for them other than the streets.
There was a GREAT movie about this 1982 class called - STAND AND DELIVER. It is a must watch.

We need more teachers like this. And for all the teachers in my life that have so brilliantly spurred me on and taught me - thank you.

CNN Article about his death here
Another article here


johncadengo said...

Here is a good article on the subject.

Some comments from slashdot:


While Escalante became a celebrity because of the hit movie about his efforts, jealousy from other teachers ... as well as red tape from teacher's unions and the public school bureaucracy, resulted in Escalante and his hand-picked teachers leaving Garfield. Since his departure, Garfield has never replicated Escalante's success with math students, and Reason Magazine reported on the shameful way in which others tore down what Escalante and his teachers worked so hard to build.


Open Enrollment. Escalante did not approve of programs for the gifted, academic tracking, or even qualifying examinations. If students wanted to take his classes, he let them.

His open-door policy bore fruit. Students who would never have been selected for honors classes or programs for the gifted chose to enroll in Escalante's math enrichment classes and succeeded there.

it hints perhaps that the drive to try is far more important than natural ability.


The flip side, is that the students that didn't want to be there, weren't. I remember many kids in High School that disrupted class because they didn't want to be there.


One would think so. But if you read the fine article from Reason magazine, you'll see why that will never happen - at least not the public schools. In fact, the school he transformed worked very hard to undo all of his good works. Quite successfully too. Apparently, all evidence of math and calculus prowess and teacher competence have been eradicated at Garfield since he was pushed out.


It's no wonder he got lots of resistance against his peers, administration and teachers union. Public schools are not about education, its about creating dumbed down automatons who are easily controlled.

"I don't want a nation of thinkers, I want a nation of workers." [] - John D. Rockefeller


People tend to live up to other people's expectations. Teachers don't expect Black and Hispanic students to do well. Yes, ultimately people are responsible for their own success or failure, but it doesn't help when you've got teachers telling young kids "It doesn't matter if you do your homework or not -- we'll promote you anyway"

johncadengo said...

And from wikipedia:

By 1990, he had lost the math department chairmanship. At this point Escalante's math enrichment program had grown to 400+ students. His class sizes had increased to over 50 students in some cases. This was far beyond the 35 student limit set by the teachers' union, which in turn increased criticism of Escalante's work. In 1991, the number of Garfield students taking advanced placement examinations in math and other subjects jumped to 570. That same year, citing faculty politics and petty jealousies, Escalante and Jimenez left Garfield. He immediately found new employment in Sacramento, California's school system... The math program's decline at Garfield became immediately apparent following the departure of Escalante and other teachers associated with its inception and development. In just a few years, the number of A.P. calculus students at Garfield who passed their exams dropped by more than 80 percent.

Jesse Torres said...

I attended the memorial service this morning at Garfield High School. Photos from the event can be found at

It was a very nice but brief event that attracted major media attention. Perhaps the loss of this tremendous teaching legend will inspire the next generation of Jaime Escalantes to arrive in East Los Angeles.

Jesse Torres
President and CEO
Pan American Bank
East Los Angeles, CA 90063
"California's Oldest Latino-Owned Bank"

Jason T. Lee said...

I read about him about a month or two ago in the LA times.