Sometime back around 1990, I was privileged to get to spend some time with Jaime Escalante (d. 2010), the Bolivian-born high school math teacher whose compelling story was made into a feature film, Stand and Deliver, which featured Edward James Olmos playing Escalante.
Escalante had become nationally famous in the 1980s when 18 of his hispanic students from a low-income east Los Angeles neighborhood scored highly on the AP calculus test in 1982. (The next year, 30 more of his students scored high on the AP test.) It was initially thought that these students must have cheated, because this never happens.
No—it really did happen, because Escalante was a gifted math teacher. His view was that every student could master calculus if they were willing to put in the work. That was the key point: He knew that you can’t master calculus in just 50 minutes a day watching a teacher at the blackboard. He motivated his students to come in after school and on Saturdays for extra hands-on work with him. And “hands-on” it was: he’d spend as much time one-on-one with with students as they needed to get beyond a hurdle. And then do it again the next day.
He was unfailingly supportive of every student, especially if they were struggling with the subject. He was never harsh with students, but neither would he accept excuses. Enrollment in his math classes at Garfield High School, and the number of his students taking the AP test quickly grew to over 500.
You know what happened next: jealous and resentful fellow teachers hounded him out of Garfield High. I met him when he was teaching at Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento, shortly before he retired. After listening to him for 30 minutes it was readily apparent why his students were as devoted to him as he was to them.
I’m so old I can remember Jesse Jackson challenging black kids in the 1970s by asking, “What could you accomplish if you spent as much time and worked as hard at math as you do at basketball”? No black “leader” will dare say such a thing today. Instead, they will be told they are victims of white supremacy, because math itself is white supremacy.
To be sure, Escalante is a rare teacher. He was absolutely riveting in person. And while that kind of genius can’t be easily acquired, it can be studied and emulated as an example of human excellence and effective pedagogy. I suspect the number of education schools that teach a case study about Escalante (or Marva Collins, who I also met once) is precisely zero.
Instead of Escalante’s challenge, students at the University of Illinois they will get this:
Just a hunch: I doubt even woke Hollywood will ever make a feature film of Prof. Gutierrez’s stunning successes teaching “mathematx” victimology.
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