Thursday, April 1, 2010

Jaime Escalante

There's a Maundy Thursday sort of story in this.

Jaime Escalante, Inspiration for a Movie is the headline, which is rather disappointing, though true.  This is the teacher whose calculus classes were the inspiration for Stand and Deliver.  I do love a good Inspiring Teacher movie, and this was a good one.

But wouldn't it have been lovely if the headline had been Inspiration for Hundreds of Students?  Maybe I wouldn't have read it then, I don't know.  But surely that's the more important thing.

Here's the Maundy Thursday part for me:

Beginning with five calculus students in 1978, Mr. Escalante developed a program that eventually attracted hundreds of students keen to go on to college. In 1988, 443 students took the College Board’s advanced placement test; 266 passed.
Success, acclaim and the celebrity status that came with “Stand and Deliver” brought strife. Mr. Escalante butted heads with the school’s administration and fellow teachers, some jealous of his fame, others worried that he was creating his own fief. The teacher’s union demanded that his oversubscribed calculus classes be brought down in size. 
To me this is so sad.  Obviously I don't know what exactly went on and maybe Escalante was difficult to work with, but it sounds like a case where "Your success is making us look bad."  And who suffers for that?  The "hundreds of students keen to go on to college."  How wonderful it would have been if instead they could have found a way to make more students more successful, rather than place limits on students and teachers.

Of course, some people thought Jesus was difficult to work with too.  Some were jealous of his fame, others worried that he was creating his own kingdom.  And then there's Jesus, washing people's feet.  Silly him, focusing on the institution of loving and serving one another rather than loving and serving the institution itself.

Does the Maundy Thursday-ness of this stand out to you?  Or is it just me?  Or is it just because it's Holy Week and everything takes on that patina?

1 comment:

CSchumacher said...

Thanks for this column, Laura! I have long been in awe of what Jaime Escalante (born in Bolivia, by the way) accomplished. In February, I met a successful, amazing woman mathematician who came through his program and was able to hear how far she had come because she---and others---had someone who wouldn't give up on them.

May all teachers everywhere take a page out of Mr. Escalante's book.