Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Stand and deliver

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. ...

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 [Stand and Deliver], which turned the balding, middle-aged Bolivian immigrant into the most famous teacher in America. ...

Escalante was hospitalized twice in the months leading up to the AP exam. He had a heart attack while teaching night school but ignored doctors' orders to rest and was back at Garfield the next day.

Then he disappeared one weekend to have his gallbladder removed. As Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews recounted in his 1988 book, "Escalante: The Best Teacher in America," the hard-driving teacher turned the health problem into another weapon in his bag of tricks. "You burros give me a heart attack," he repeatedly told his students when he returned. "But I come back! I'm still the champ."

The guilt-making mantra was effective. One student said, "If Kimo [Escalante's nickname] can do it, we can do it. If he wants to teach us that bad, we can learn." ...
--Elaine Woo, LA Times, on devotion to teaching

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