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Jaime Escalante, A Calculated Appreciation

March 31, 2010

Yesterday marked the death of Jaime Escalante, the Garfield High teacher whose students’ success at AP calculus would became legendary, enshrined in the film Stand and Deliver, as well as on a giant mural in MacArthur Park. While I’m generally resistant to oversimplified, feel-good reductions of historical events and personal stories, I can’t help but be a bit moved by his passing.

Appropriately enough, I first became acquainted with the legacy of Escalante in my high school calculus class; my teacher was not quite at his level of prowess and showing that movie was about the only worthwhile thing I got out of that class. The movie is actually not bad, but of course the most impressive thing about Escalante is that he performed his duties without the thought of a Hollywood deal but to improve the lives of high school kids in his community. Needless to say, there are many other equally dedicated educators around our city who will never have a movie made about their lives. Now is as good a time as any to take a moment to appreciate them.

If only the LAUSD could as well. The death of Escalante comes in the wake of an announcement by superintendent Ramon Cortines that the school year will have to be shortened by one week due to budget shortfalls. This sounds bad, but the alternative is far worse: thousands of layoffs and overcrowded, ineffective classes as a result. Now more than ever – whether it be at Garfield High, in South LA, or anywhere else in the city – we need more Escalantes to fill the gap left by our school system.

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