Remembering Jaime Escalante
The anniversary of the birth of Cesar Chavez is a fitting time to celebrate the life of Jaime Escalante, who died yesterday at the age of 79. In the ’80s, before the achievement gap was coined but when it was just as real, Escalante inspired students at Garfield High in Los Angeles to take — and pass the exam in — AP calculus. The spirit was infectious; within a few years, significant percentages of Latinos at the school were taking a range of AP courses. In 1987, more Garfield students took AP calculus exams than all but four high schools in America.
Tough and uncompromising, Escalanate came into conflicts with some parents and teachers over huge time commitments he demanded of his math students. In 1991, he moved to Sacramento to teacher high school. Stand and Deliver, a 1988 hit film starring James Edward Olmos, was based on Escalante’s life.
Washington Post writer Jay Mathews, who wrote a book about Escalante and covered him while at the Los Angeles Times in the ’80s, wrote a fine obituary today. His stories from the ’80s about him, very much worth reading, are here and here. An obituary in the Los Angeles Times and photos can be found here.