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Subject Of 'Stand And Deliver' Dies

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Subject Of 'Stand And Deliver' Dies

Remembrances

Subject Of 'Stand And Deliver' Dies

Subject Of 'Stand And Deliver' Dies

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Jaime Escalante, the math teacher who was the subject of the film stand and Deliver, has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 79.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Jaime Escalante may not have become a household name after Hollywood captured his remarkable story in the 1988 film Stand And Deliver, but the Bolivian-born math teacher possessed an enduring gift. He could inspire, cajole, even taunt young, troubled kids from some of the barrios in Los Angeles to see themselves not as they were but as they could be.

Escalante died today after a long battle with cancer. He was 79. NPRs Claudio Sanchez has this appreciation.

Mr. JAIME ESCALANTE (High School Teacher): It was not just to teach mathematic, it was to teach this (unintelligible) ability.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ: Thats Jaime Escalante, the last time I interviewed him several years ago, in Washington, D.C., where he was giving a speech as part of a national campaign called No Excuses. For 20 years, the Bolivian-born Escalante taught calculus and advanced math at Garfield High School in one of East L.A.s most notorious barrios, a place where poor, hardened street kids were not supposed to master mathematics certainly not algebra, trigonometry, calculus.

But Escalante believed that a teacher should never, ever let a student give up. So I asked him, what kept you from giving up?

Mr. ESCALANTE: You have to love the subject you teach and love the kids and make them see that they have a chance, opportunity in this country to become whatever they want to.

SANCHEZ: And to make it, Escalante often said, you need ganas, Spanish for desire and drive. Ganas was Escalantes battle cry, not just in motivating his students but every time he chided apathetic administrators and teachers. The movie Stand And Deliver captures the tension perfectly in this scene when Escalante, played by Edward James Olmos, makes an announcement at a faculty meeting.

(Soundbite of Stand And Deliver)

Mr. EDWWARD JAMES OLMOS (actor): (as Jaime Escalante) I want to teach calculus next year.

Unidentified male (actor): Boy, thats a joke.

Unidentified female (actor): Thats ridiculous. Our kids cant handle calculus. We dont even have the books.

SANCHEZ: Escalante would later say that Stand And Deliver was 90 percent truth, 10 percent drama. His biggest complaint was that the movie left the idea that his students, most of whom were struggling with multiplication tables, mastered calculus overnight.

Fact is, Escalantes kids slept, ate and lived mathematics. They arrived an hour before school and stayed two, three hours after school. Escalante drilled them on Saturdays and made summer school mandatory. Some parents hate it and they let Escalante know it.

(Soundbite of Stand And Deliver)

Unidentified male (actor): Bring us a couple of beers, please.

SANCHEZ: In this scene, Escalante shows up at a family restaurant owned by the parents of one of his brightest students, Anna. Her father had pulled her out of Escalantes calculus class so that she could work more hours at the restaurant. Escalante tries to change his mind.

(Soundbite of Stand And Deliver)

Mr. OLMOS: (as Jaime Escalante) Anna can be the first one in your family to graduate from high school, go to college.

Unidentified male (actor): Thank you for your concern. Her mother works here, her sisters, her brothers. This is a family business. Shes needed.

SANCHEZ: But she could be a doctor instead of wasting her life waiting tables, Escalante insists. Annas father is insulted.

(Soundbite of Stand And Deliver)

Unidentified male (actor): I started washing dishes for a nickel an hour, now I own this place. Did I waste my life?

SANCHEZ: He kicks Escalante out of the restaurant but the math teachers message sinks in and Anna returns to her calculus class. Escalantes remarkable success at Garfield High got lots of attention, not all of it good. In 1982, all 18 of Escalantes advanced math students passed the calculus AP, or advanced placement, test a really tough college-level exam. The test maker, though, accused the students of cheating. Escalante accused the test maker of racism. The students retook the test and passed again with pretty high scores. It brought the story to the attention of Hollywood and catapulted Escalante onto the public stage after Stand And Deliver came out in 1988.

By 1991, 600 Garfield students were taking advanced placement exams, not just in math but in other subjects unheard of at the time. That year, though, Escalante resigned in part because he was tired of the run-ins with fellow teachers who viewed him as a primadonna.

Years later, it pained Escalante to hear parents complain that Garfields math curriculum had been dumbed down. Still, the last time we spoke, he only wanted to talk about the fond memories he had of Garfield High. How do you want people to remember you, I asked him.

Mr. ESCALANTE: The only thing I could say, remembered as a teacher, picturing that potential everywhere.

SANCHEZ: You cant be a good teacher unless you see the potential in every student, he said. He believed this to his core. Thats why Jaime Escalante was a great teacher.

Claudio Sanchez, NPR New.

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