By Bill Henk — On Tuesday, March 30th, the individual some called the greatest teacher in America could “stand and deliver” no more. Jaime Escalante lost his battle with bladder cancer, but not before making an indelible impression on the educational landscape in our country. He was 79.
Thanks to our Lori Fredrich, I have two articles about him to share with you here, and there’s several more links within them. The first is an obituary of his life and teaching career and the second notes the tribute paid to him at the high school where he made history.
So I won’t say much more than Jaime Escalante became famous for helping Hispanic students demonstrate their mastery of complex math concepts — so well, in fact, that they passed the very challenging Advanced Placement Calculus examination. The first year this milestone achievement occurred, the scores were challenged as cheating, but a retest proved the scores were valid. Ironically, these events set the stage for Garfield High School in Los Angles becoming renowned for its AP programs. The story was so compelling that it was made into the movie “Stand and Deliver.”
Although he was an enormously charismatic and effective educator and public figure, his strong personality and his opposition to bilingual education created conflict for Jaime. Eventually he returned to his native Bolivia, although he remained a frequent visitor to the U. S. until his death.
I strongly encourage to read the articles, but let me leave you with some quotes about Mr. Escalante first. My hope is that, like me, you’ll appreciate a teacher whose greatest lesson involved schooling the nation that children of color can indeed accomplish great academic success.
Like all great teachers, he changed lives. “ (Edward James Olmos, the actor who portrayed Escalante in the film “Stand and Deliver”)
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.” (Gaston Caperton, former West Virginia governor and president of the College Board)
If he wants to teach us that bad, we can learn.” (A Garfield student commenteding about Escalante’s immediate return from a heart attack to continue instructing).
He was a great visionary who saw in his students their potential for greatness and used his gift as an educator to help them realize they could soar academically.” (Garfield school board member, Yolie Flores)
The students whose lives he changed remain the true testament to his life’s work. Throughout his career Jaime opened the doors of success and higher education for his students one by one and proved that where a person came from did not have to determine how far they could go.” (President Barack Obama)
And in case you were wondering about the meaning of the phrase ”Stand and Deliver, ” it represented Jaime Escalante’s way of telling his students that rising from poverty meant relying on their natural intelligence and capabilities.