|Page 2 of 2 <|
Jaime Escalante dies, inspired 1988 film 'Stand and Deliver'
His wife, Fabiola, arranged for the family to move to California, to which two of her brothers had already immigrated. Mr. Escalante went along with his wife's plan, but he was frustrated to discover upon arriving that his Bolivian credentials would not get him a job in any U.S. school.
He spent 10 years learning English and repeating his undergraduate education and teacher training, mostly at night and during the summers, before he was accepted as a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Shortly after Mr. Escalante arrived at Garfield in 1974, its administrators were fired because the chaotic campus -- riven by gang disputes -- was on the verge of losing its accreditation. Few people noticed the balding teacher with the thick accent teaching basic math to the school's lowest-achieving students. But the new principal saw how well-decorated his classroom was, with sports posters and motivating slogans. Mr. Escalante was given more challenging classes, leading to his experiment in AP Calculus for barrio children.
Once Mr. Escalante became a national celebrity, rubbing shoulders with Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron on his own PBS series on careers for students who applied themselves in school, he faced resentment from other Garfield teachers. He was quick to tell Principal Henry Gradillas about colleagues selling real estate in the teachers lounge or calling in sick to get a head start on their weekend. He was painfully blunt about the flaws in the teaching methods of other teachers in the math department, which he chaired.
Much of Mr. Escalante's success with students stemmed from his ability to persuade them to work on lessons in his classroom after school each day, and to attend Saturday and summer classes to prepare for calculus. He rejected the usual markers of academic excellence and insisted that regardless of a student's GPA, he would let her take the AP course if she promised to work hard.
On one occasion, a student he did not know wandered into his after-school classroom, crowded with people doing their homework. She said she was in the gifted class and needed help with a problem. His voice full of delight, Mr. Escalante motioned to a boy in the room and said, "Let me have a student who is not gifted show you how to do that."
Lured to a Sacramento school by an ambitious superintendent in 1991, Mr. Escalante ended his career quietly, making sure that his students passed the AP test without trying to revolutionize the school. In retirement, he divided his time between California and Bolivia, where he complained that several schools were named after him but had given him no money for the rights.
He is survived by his wife, two sons and six grandchildren.
Mathews, an education columnist who writes the Class Struggle blog for washingtonpost.com, covered Mr. Escalante as Los Angeles bureau chief for The Post and wrote the 1988 book "Escalante: The Best Teacher in America."