Jaime Escalante, the iconic math teacher from Bolivia, who taught math for years at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles died today after battling cancer. In recent weeks, Jaime Escalante was in the news because his family was having difficulty paying for his medical care, as his insurance did not cover the full cost of his treatments, and people in the East Los Angeles community stepped up to hold fundraisers to help bridge the gap.
Escalante’s message that resonates with me is a basic one: if an educator raises the bar and has high expectations of his students and provides a support system for success, then the students will rise to meet those expectations. And Mr. Escalante did just that motivating and encouraging his students, demanding that they practice their math exercises after school, and going the extra mile for the kids in his class by even providing supplemental tutoring without extra pay. It is teachers like Escalante, who believe in their students and then demand the best from them, who produce successful college students and young adults. While schools may lack Mr. Escalantes, parents can demand the same expectations that he did and create ‘no excuse’ environments, and I think that this is something the Latino community as a whole needs to start doing regardless of what kind of school one’s child attends because we cannot wait around for school reform or for the establishment to do it for us.
I highly recommend, in addition to watching Stand and Deliver if you haven’t already, that people read this story originally published in December of 1982 in the Washington Post about Jaime Escalante and the success that he produced.
In other education news, President Obama signed important student loan legislation today, which should be beneficial to students in our communities. Essentially, there will be an increase in the Pell Grants, which are similar to vouchers for higher education, changes in student loan payments that help ease the burden on students who borrowed to educate themselves, and extra assistance for community colleges and minority serving institutions. Many Latino students begin their higher education journey at the already burdened community colleges, so it will be interesting to see if the infusion of funds produces more positive results. Additionally, I know that many of my Latino peers did have to borrow to attend college and graduate school, so any lessening of student loan payments will be most helpful, especially in this economy.
Dr. Jill Biden, the Vice President’s wife, appeared in the following video explaining the new changes. I think that she’s a credible source on this subject given her 20+ years as an educator in both the K-12 system and community college system. Check it out, and let us know what you think:
Edited to Add: DonPalabraz has an interesting blog post citing Escalante’s opposition to bilingual education, which is worth a read. And the Los Angeles Times discusses Escalante’s conservative leanings in his obituary, as he considered becoming an education advisor to President George W. Bush and was an educational consultant for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign.