RIP – Jaime Escalante

©LA Times/UCLA LibraryUPDATE: Jaime Escalante passed away from cancer on March 30, 2010.
This article is a repost from July 2009.

HiddenLA’s HOT Angeleno of the Day: JAIME ESCALANTE!!!

Our HOT Angeleno feature was created to prove a point and counter the perception that we’re all shallow dimwits here. Knowing this, normally this is about the time I’d make silly jokes about whether or not the accomplished person being profiled has rock-hard abs – just to be a smart ass. Today I’ll refrain from the silliness out of respect for the subject, though. Jaime Escalante was born in Chochabamba, Bolivia, where he began teaching physics and mathematics. In 1964 he decided to find a new life for himself in America, although he spoke no english and had no valid American teaching credentials. He began to go to night school at Pasadena City and CSULA, and in 1974 was hired to teach basic math at Garfield High in East LA. His students were disrespectful, unprepared and uninterested. He considered giving up teaching, but over time his incredible educational and motivational skills as a teacher ended up turning around a low-priority public high school as he single-handedly built a calculus program rivaled by only a few well-funded private academies. His teaching style and students’ accomplishments were the focus of the 1988 movie Stand And Deliver.

So THAT’S why he’s our Hot Angeleno today. But unfortunately, the story of Jaime Escalante didn’t play out as happily as the movie, which is why I won’t joke about his abs. It just doesn’t feel respectful, and he deserves to be honored. Bureaucracy and office politics aside, for our own sakes we need to embrace our passionate and caring educators and leaders instead of underpay them, knock them down and drive them away.

*To see a great video of Jaime discussing his love for teaching, scroll down after the jump.*

The attention and success Jaime experienced thanks to his classes and the movie, turned on him. His classes became overcrowded, his peers became resentful and jealous, bureaucracy took over and he was eventually pushed out of Garfield High (apparently in a “don’t let the door hit you on your way out” fashion). Apparently, within a few years after he left, the school experienced a sevenfold drop in the number of A.P. calculus students passing their exams. In the 90s, the calculus passing rate dropped into the single digits. I read somewhere that 17 Garfield students took the AB calculus exam in Spring 2001 and seven passed, which is still less than one-third the number passing during the glory years of Escalante’s reign of teaching. Clearly, Mr. Escalante was doing something wonderful to inspire the children he taught, and it’s tragic that there are people who drove him away from our city.

Here at HiddenLA, Jaime’s still a HOT Angeleno to us. We’re sorry you had such a hard time, Mr. E. It’s truly our loss.

Jaime Escalante is now retired and living in his native Bolivia, teaching part time at a local university.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply