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Jaime Escalante: RIP – The Art of Imparting Ganas

March 31st, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Jaime-Escalante


The best thing I can think to do to honor the remarkable Jaime Escalante
—and the other excellent teachers like him who give everything to the task of helping, cajoling, nagging, luring, wrestling, enchanting kids into the joy of learning—is to urge you to read Esmeralda Bermudez’ stellar article about Mr. Stand and Deliver in the last months and weeks of his life.

Here’s the opening:

There was a time in East Los Angeles when el maestro’s gruff voice bounced off his classroom walls. He roamed the aisles, he juggled oranges, he dressed in costumes, he punched the air; he called you names, he called your mom, he kicked you out, he lured you in; he danced, he boxed, he screamed, he whispered. He would do anything to get your attention.

“Ganas,” he would say. “That’s all you need. The desire to learn.”

Nearly three decades later, Jaime Escalante finds himself far from Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, the place that made him internationally famous for turning a generation of low-income students into calculus whizzes. Twenty-two years have passed since his classroom exploits were captured in the film “Stand and Deliver.

He is 79 and hunched in a wheelchair at a cancer treatment center in Reno. It is cold outside, and the snow-capped mountains that crown the city where his son brought him three weeks ago on a bed in the back of an old van remind him of his native Bolivia.

He can’t walk. He struggles to eat. Stomach acids have burned his vocal cords, reducing his voice to a whisper. The doctors who diagnosed his bladder cancer told him recently he has weeks — at best a few months — to live.

But don’t let the frail man fool you. The teacher is not done teaching. Behind his large square glasses, that intense, mischievous look that once persuaded students to believe in themselves still lives in his eyes. He smiles at nurses, flashes a thumbs up.

When asked about his former students – the engineers, lawyers, surgeons, administrators and teachers now spread across the country — he wastes no time. He steals a nearby pen and slowly, in capital letters that have now grown faint, begins to write in Spanish:

THEY UNDERSTOOD THE SIGNIFICANCE OF GANAS, THE GIANT STEP TO SUCCESS. I HAD MANY OPPORTUNITIES IN THIS COUNTRY, BUT THE BEST I FOUND IN EAST L.A. I AM PROUDEST OF MY BRILLIANT STUDENTS.

Here’s the rest.

And here is the LA Times obit.

Posted in Education, Obits | 40 Comments »

40 Responses

  1. RobThomas Says:

    This man was told time and time again that many of his students “weren’t meant for academia”. A lot of successful, former students of his are glad he ignored it.

  2. WTF Says:

    Sad commentary about his “legacy” at Garfield High.

    *********************************

    http://articles.latimes.com/2010/mar/07/local/la-me-escalante7-2010mar07

    Escalante’s name still means something nationally. His image is captured on murals in East Los Angeles and Westlake. But inside the old high school where he did his greatest work, there is hardly a trace of the former teacher. His name is rarely mentioned. There is no scholarship, no plaque, no poster. And though some of his former students are now teachers there, two of them math instructors, few were eager to talk about him.

    The school is one of the lowest-performing in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

  3. Celeste Fremon Says:

    No kidding. It is eloquently sad. Heartbreaking.

  4. RobThomas Says:

    The only real sources of information I have on him are a few newspaper articles through the years, and the movie Stand and Deliver. If that movie is even remotely true, then it’s obvious some of the brass at Garfield didn’t like him. The most interesting character in that film was the teacher who was pessimistic all the way through, and thought that the students actually had cheated. I don’t know if she was based on a real person at that school, or maybe even several, but according to the writer of that film, she certainly represents the aspect of society that likes to think of themselves as “being realistic”, “calling it as I see it”, “if it quacks like a duck”, etc. The film Stand and Deliver is a true lesson for everyone, of all political ideologies. It has a way of debunking all of ideologies, which is really what art should do in the first place.

  5. Answering The Question Says:

    Perhaps the reason the brass had a problem with Escalante was due to his telling his students not to consider themselves as victims. Jaime Escalante taught his students they did not have a predetermined destinty. He taught them that if they applied themselves and got an education their potential was limitless. He told them racism could not be a factor if they decided not to let it be. This was not popular then among Chicano academians then, and it is not popular now. Perhaps that’s why his name is rarely spoken and there are no scholarships.

  6. Celeste Fremon Says:

    WTF, one thing I’ve noticed in a lot of LAUSD’s big, comprehensive high schools and middle schools is that the gifted teacher who does things a bit differently, is marginalized by administration—despite the fact they’re getting real results with kids by doing precisely what you have pointed out that Escalante did. I’ve seen it happen multiple times. Certainly this isn’t always true. But it’s true in too many cases.

    However, I think your conclusion that this was some kind of ethnically based PC issue, is very far from the truth. The problem is, in part, bureaucratic. In a bureaucracy, one is not supposed to rock the boat, even if one rocks it in the best possible way. Also, it is a sad fact of human nature that those who are not the gifted and inspired teachers, who have grown comfortable with the status quo, see the innovator as a threat.

    Obviously, that unfortunate reaction is not limited to the teaching profession.

  7. RobThomas Says:

    Answering the Question, but as much as Escalante taught them not to see themselves as victims of racism, they became victims of it anyway, when they were accused of cheating. The story of Garfield during Escalante’s time is a lesson for both sides of the political spectrum. Those with the victim mentality, who blame an oppressor for all of their problems, as you’ve pointed out, yet also those who confuse their own racist views with “realism”, or “life experience”, and have convinced themselves that most lower income minorities are essentially wasted lives not worthy of the welfare and education that is afforded to wealthier white people.

  8. Answering The Question Says:

    I didn’t say one word about “Those with the victim mentality, who blame an oppressor for all of their problems”

    I simply said he told them racism could not be a factor if they decided not to let it be.
    Two ways to look at it when they were accused of cheating.

    Outlook #1. “This is racism and I refuse to take the test again. I shouldn’t have to take the test again if the white kids from Beverly Hills don’t have to take it again”.
    With such an outlook, they could have been given failing grades. That WOULD have been racism.

    Outlook #2. “So you think I cheated eh? Guess what, I know the material because I studied my ass off and learned it inside and out. I don’t care how many times I have to take it. Bring it on, I know the material. I’ll prove you wrong”.

    Those that took the test again and passed it were not failed. Hence, just like Jaime taught them, they DID NOT allow racism to become a factor. They didn’t allow themselves to fail because of the doubters who made it tougher for them. They simply continued excelling.

  9. RobThomas Says:

    ATQ, was it Escalante’s idea to have them retake the test? I’m not sure if it was his or the authorities involved. Have you read the book? I’ve only seen the movie. Escalante has said that the movie is 90% accurate, with only a little dramatic effect. I wonder if the scene where he actually threatens those two agents is based on reality. If the movie is accurate, it seems to me that Escalante disputed the blatant racism in the accusations heavily before agreeing to a retest.

  10. Answering The Question Says:

    Of course he’s going to be upset about it. Who wouldn’t?There’s no need for us to quibble on this Rob. What we do KNOW is that Jaime DID have them take the test again. He didn’t get ahold of any civil rights groups, take it to court or any other avenue. He knew his students would pass it because he knew they excelled in the classroom and KNEW the material. He didn’t risk putting their fate in the hands of a judge or public opinion.
    If they KNEW would succeed on the second test, which he KNEW they would, you simply have them take the test again. Which he did. Now, after the second test, if they try to pull some bullshit, that’s a different issue. Is it possible that the racists were simply trying to get them to quit because they were making it tougher for them? Think about it.
    He, nor they, allowed racism to get in their way.

  11. Answering The Question Says:

    Imagine if Carl Brashear had quit because racists made it tougher on him. Imagine if Caesar Chavez had quit. Booker T. Washington. Jackie Robinson.
    A lot can be learned from these people. There are always two ways to go when life gets tough. Life can be tough for a lot of different reasons. Racism being one of them. If you’re looking for a reason to quit, you’ll find one. If you’re looking for a reason to succeed, you’ll find one.
    Those who look for reasons to succeed do.
    The man who believes he can and the man who believes he can’t are both right!!!!!

  12. Answering The Question Says:

    Here’s the problem for far too many people IMHO.
    They fail to realize that the only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.
    And if you insist on it being fair, you’ve doomed yourself to failure. Life isn’t fair. Ask 100 people if they’ve ever been treated unfairly, and 100 will answer yes.
    Find a reason to succeed. Find the will to win. Find a work ethic. If those three characteristics are embedded in a person, odds are they will succeed: On the other hand, if a person thinks: “The odds are stacked against me (for whatever reason). It’s too tough”. That person has NO chance. They will most likely quit when the going gets tough. It almost always does.

  13. RobThomas Says:

    ATQ, actually, I’m uncertain that Escalante didn’t try to take some kind of legal action before agreeing to retake the test. Do you know for sure that he didn’t? The movie made it seem as if there was a great deal of appeal before there was a mutual agreement to retake the test.

  14. Answering The Question Says:

    From Wikipedia

    In 1982, Escalante came into the national spotlight when 18 of his students passed the Advanced Placement calculus exam. The Educational Testing Service found these scores to be suspicious, because all of the students made the exact same math error on problem #6, and also used the same unusual variable names. Fourteen of those who passed were asked to take the exam again. Twelve of the 14 agreed to retake the test and did well enough to have their scores reinstated.

    You think Wiki would leave it out if legal action was pursued? You think the movie would leave it out? Check and see if you can find a lawyer who represented Escalante or one of his students. You won’t because no legal action was pursued. If you are asking me to prove something didn’t happen, we both know that’s impossible.
    We could go where the evidence takes us and somebody could turn around and say:
    “Yeah well, he’s passed. He could have consulted with a lawyer that’s also passed and we wouldn’t know, so you can’t prove he didn’t pursue legal action”.
    Here’s what we do know. There’s no record of any legal action being brought by Escalante or any of his students, and no mention of it in the movie or any account of his life.
    That’s what we know. I’ll roll with that.

  15. RobThomas Says:

    The evidence also takes us to Escalante certainly feeling victimized by a racist system, and being combative against that system. On the same wikipedia page you used as a source, it also sets straight the fictional aspects of the movie, and nowhere in there is Escalante’s complaints of racism and his confrontation with the authorities who investigated his class. As far as we know, these events, or events similar to them, happened. Amidst the allegations of cheating, Escalante did not just turn to his class and say, “let’s show them! Let’s take the test again!”. Would it be fair to say that you’ve attempted to frame Escalante’s response to the allegations as such (of course while willing to concede that he was “pissed”)? If you’re not trying to argue that, what is your point? That he merely declined to take legal action? If so, point taken. But it’s clear to me that Escalante viewed racism as a threat to his students. And in my view, that didn’t make him some kind of whiner. After all, he was right.

  16. RobThomas Says:

    ATQ, this is another statement of yours that I feel requires some type of background:

    “He (Escalante) told them (his students) racism could not be a factor if they decided not to let it be. This was not popular then among Chicano academians then, and it is not popular now.”

    I’ve always understood it that Chicano academics believed that racism couldn’t stop them, either. I think a more accurate way of making your point would be to say that Escalante had a different solution. His solution was to excel in what a white educational system was teaching, where as the solution amongst Chicano academic groups was, and still is, to change the curriculum to one that would further emphasize America’s racist history, shed more light on contributions made to civilization by native American tribes that would eventually become Mexicans, and shed more light on the contributions both Mexican Americans and Mexicans make to modern day society. You’re framing of Chicano activists as being whiners who’ve given up on achievement because they feel oppressed is inaccurate.

  17. Sure Fire Says:

    So in the future Rob the racist history now being written by Hispanic street and prison gangs that flow over to other portions of their community should be included as well I take it.

  18. WTF Says:

    I wonder if we should add these stories to the History books?

    http://narco-wars.blogspot.com/

    http://todosobrenarcotraficoenmexico.blogspot.com/

  19. Celeste Fremon Says:

    FYI, Garfield announced yesterday afternoon that they were going to do a whole celebration of Jaime Escalante’s life.

    Belated. But better to have snapped awake late than never to have awakened.

  20. RobThomas Says:

    Sure Fire, I’m not aware of any “racist history” written by Latino gangs, nor of any Chicano student organizations adopting any of it.

    WTF, I think the position of most Chicano student organizations or activists in general would be that stories of Mexican drug lords already are well publicized, and that more positive stories about Mexicans and Mexican-Americans should be spotlighted.

    Celeste, kudos to Garfield for honoring Mr. Escalante. Long overdue.

  21. WTF Says:

    I seem to remember some Chicano Study types, posting comments about “savage” americans. It is well known U.S. history that lynching was part of history. I wonder why they don’t spotlight more positive stories about America today, the America which attracts so many immigrants, especially those who which to escape their own beloved Mexico?

    But instead they seem to have a hatred for this country and refer to the U.S. as AmeriKKKa.

    If you ask many immigrant latinos who are in 50-70 age bracket, and prospered when times were actually difficult, they appreciate the opportunities this country has given them. But the todays chicano studies college student is a whining fool, who seemms unhappy with the opportunities at his feet.

    I can provide many links to the comments by these whining fools if anyone needs proof.

  22. RobThomas Says:

    WTF, if I talked to Latinos between the 50-70 bracket? Got any more substantial data than walking around and asking older Latinos on the street? How about the voting records of Latinos in that age bracket? Bet you it’s overwhelmingly Democrat. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that they share the views of campus Chicano activists, but if they truly believed that America was a great country and that they should support it no matter what, the Republican party would be a more likely choice for them, would it not? Tells me their views are closer to those of Chicano activists than they are to yours. But I await your empirical date you might have that would suggest older Latinos think in the way you describe them.

    As far as opportunities being at the feet of Chicano activists, you might want to reexamine the current unemployment numbers.

  23. Sure Fire Says:

    If it quacks like a duck, no matter it’s color it’s still duck.

  24. RobThomas Says:

    SF, if you’re going to resort to name calling, it’s not even worth it. If there’s some point in there that you haven’t made already and that I haven’t responded to already, try again with a better attitude. There’s a lot of people I have to answer to in this life, and this might be a blow to your ego, but until you pull me over with some probable cause, you’re not one of them. So the holier than thou, authoritative tone just doesn’t resonate with me. Till next time.

  25. WTF Says:

    “Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that they share the views of campus Chicano activists, but if they truly believed that America was a great country and that they should support it no matter what, the Republican party would be a more likely choice for them, would it not?”

    **************************

    Where is your proof of this, who said everyone voting Democrat shares the views of whining cry-baby Chicano
    Studies pendejos? Where is your data? Do all Democrats think Drug Cartels are more compassionate than Republicans, as you stated?

    I live among the +50 latino immigrants, (all my relatives) many of who proudly served in the military, I don’t need to provide you anything, even my abuelita lughs at your comments.

    Where is your proof that LAPD ar Nazi’s or that Father Boyle has done more to stop gangs than all of law enforcement? You continually prove what a nut-case you are, get a clue.

    Do you need to me to provide the links to Chicano Studies students and teachers who refer to America as AmeriKKKa?

    http://laeastside.com/2010/03/the-savage/

    As George Lopez says, You Member?

    Even Jaime Escalante pushed his students to take persoanl responsibilty for their own lives. Also interesting that Jaime Eascalante was against ESL (Emglish as Second Language) classes, R.T. do you need a link to this as well (lol).

  26. Sure Fire Says:

    When you constantly resort to acting like you have no knowledge of events, or answer with words not based on anything a poster actually said, your posts look idiotic and you have nothing to complain about. You do it all the time.

    Rob Thomas, the guy who knows all about gangs, the Eastside, prisons, law enforcement and the like when confronted with questions that refute his claims or puts him and his views on the hotseat turns into Helen Keller.

    You’re an absolute fraud Robbie.

  27. RobThomas Says:

    I recall a few months back we discussed the fraud issue, credibility, etc. And I’ll repeat what I told you then. How do we really even know that you have any expertise? I don’t know your identity. Yet you say you’re a cop, and therefore an expert on all of the things you accused me of purporting to have expertise in, in which I never did. The difference between me and you is that I’ve never claimed to be an expert. You, on the other hand, have. So until you back up your claims of being an expert, and give specific, provable examples that demonstrate your expertise, you can be anybody. Anyone can go online and say they’re a cop, Sure Fire. I’m not impressed. Not with your unestablished claims of expertise, nor your almost always exaggerated takes on the things you claim to be an expert in.

  28. Sure Fire Says:

    You go to that same rap whenever you lie about what I’ve posted Rob or can’t handle a question posed to you. It’s not going to work, you’re posturing.

    With all your recent comments on problems with this site, what I’d like to see is a real time chat set up. Than you, Reg, Randy and Don could fire away all the cop questions you want at me. Not that you need that reassurance Rob, but I would have no problem doing that.

    I’ve said some of the types of assignments I’ve worked but claiming my agency now, or earlier in my career, isn’t going to happen. Unlike you, I would guess, I’m subject to certain rules, regulations, policy and procedure that limits my ability to say too much because it simply wouldn’t be smart of me to do it. I don’t trust people on the net, do you?

    You know I’m law enforcement Rob, you’re just looking for an out because you sometimes can’t just argue on point or merit so you have to throw garbage into the mix. In my opinion it leaves you looking weak, course I’m only another poster and it’s only an opinion.

  29. bud Says:

    RT said : How about the voting records of Latinos in that age bracket? Bet you it’s overwhelmingly Democrat. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that they share the views of campus Chicano activists, but if they truly believed that America was a great country and that they should support it no matter what, the Republican party would be a more likely choice for them, would it not?

    So what does that mean, in your opinion Rob? Democrates = UnAmerican. Republicans = Proud Americans?

    I’ve always kinda been on the fence when it comes to politics. I’m not a supporter of either party, but more a supporter of whom I feel can do the best job. But I am proud to be American so I guess if I follow your theory I shoud become a Rupublican right?

  30. RobThomas Says:

    Sure Fire, your accusations mean absolutely nothing to me. Nothing. They hold no weight. They’re ineffective.

    As far as your identity, you can establish that right now. You’re the one purports to be an expert, based on claims of being in law enforcement. Yet you have never demonstrated in any way that you truly are a cop. How can we tell? Because you say so? That doesn’t fly on the web. Until you demonstrate in some way that you truly are a cop, you’re just somebody saying you’re one. And, your exaggerated accounts of the issues discussed here are accounts that anyone could give, a cop, or some guy who sits in his living room drinking light beer and cussing at the t.v. As far as I know, you can be either of the two.

  31. RobThomas Says:

    Bud, that is not what I meant. My point was that voters with the “America is always right” mentality tend to vote Republican. If older Latinos were as patriotic as WTF was purporting them to be, you’d think Republicans would do better in that demographic, would you not, considering the Republican party’s campaign strategy, pretty much since the ’60s, of wrapping themselves in the American flag?

  32. RobThomas Says:

    If you’re referring to questions you asked in the same comment where you were using personal insults, you’re correct. I didn’t duck those questions, I flat out ignored them, because of your rudeness. I refuse to reward your childish behavior. But you’re welcome to try to ask them again in a more respectful manner, where then I will reply.

  33. Sure Fire Says:

    You, the guy who called the entire LAPD Nazis wants respect? Think about it. You ignored them because you had no answer.

  34. RobThomas Says:

    If you want the guy who called the entire LAPD Nazis to answer your question, yes, Sure Fire, you’re going to have to show him some respect. You’re the one with the question. You’re the one who wants to know my point of view on Los Angeles’s current interracial gang problem. Yet, your question was riddled with personal insults, and therefore I can not respond to it. By responding, I would be rewarding the very behavior that the owner of this blog has warned us time and time again to refrain from.

  35. Sure Fire Says:

    What I posted in #17 you answered in #20 didn’t you? The answer showed you to be either a liar, an idiot or a fraud which I mentioned in post #26. When you started the name calling allegation in post #24 you were talking about what post of mine? There was no name calling prior to that, not by me anyway. My post #23 wasn’t about you, it was about idiot activist types of all races.

    Bottom line is your entire pout here, started in post #24, is based on a lie. To me it appears besides being a cop hater you’re ok with the genocide of blacks by Hispanic gang members or you would have answered like a man and made your case rather than post the lie you did in #24 to avoid being shown for what you truly are.

    Nice try, but your pouting about imaginary name calling just doesn’t hold water. Your m.o. never changes.

  36. Sure Fire Says:

    Having showed your true and contemptible colors, again Rob, shows to me that any opinion you have on anything should be looked at very closely by others. I won’t ask for them, your duplicity is getting old. I like people who can tell the truth no matter how wrong I think they are, not people who try to snow others as a matter of course.

  37. RobThomas Says:

    Sure Fire, I’ll answer any question you have if you just ask with a slight hint of class. Why in the world should I answer a question of yours when you’re calling me an “idiot” while asking the question? To answer that question would be to reward your childish behavior, and I’m not going to do it.

    You’re accusation of me being a cop hater is baseless. I hate some cops, but not all. Not even most. Cops may view all cops as being one, but it just so happens I don’t. I hold each individual cop responsible for their own behavior. And, I think violating the civil rights of citizens just to get results is unacceptable. To be more clear, I hate the behavior of some cops, not the cops themselves. Your use of the word “hate” to describe my criticism of some police is actually “pouting” on your part.

    I welcome any and all to “look at me closely”, as long as my privacy isn’t being violated.

    As far as your claims of liking people who tell the truth no matter how wrong you think they are, I haven’t seen it. Not once, not ever.

  38. Sure Fire Says:

    You hate the entire LAPD and have said the entire department are Nazis. Throw all your babble you want into the mix, the fact is that statement alone makes you a cop hater. How could you call the entire department Nazis and not hate them? I’ve dealt with Nazi types and they are scum and worthy of hate, you don’t agree with that?

    Typical liberal hogwash, trying to explain your way out of what you’ve said. No matter hich way you look at it you said I called you names before it ever happened and have compared the LAPD to Nazis more than once and talk about “class”?

    You’re laughable.

  39. RobThomas Says:

    Well, the entire LAPD still isn’t all cops, Sure Fire. And, like I said, I really don’t hate them. Love the sinner, hate the sin, right? This is Easter.

    You can label me a cop hater all you want to. I think you’re a people hater, which is far worse.

  40. Ricardo J. Colin Says:

    Rock On Jaime!!! Teach them Angels Trig/Calculus! Viva La Raza De Oro!

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