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Jaime Escalante: 1930—: Educator

Challenged Students To Excel

Escalante had a very unorthodox way of teaching that both frightened and inspired his students. He was not afraid to yell at students for being late or lazy, but he also gave them encouragement and taught them to believe in themselves. He told them that they could succeed at everything if they had the ganas, the desire. He decorated his classroom with inspirational sayings and sports posters. He was imaginative in his techniques to get his points across. He once brought a meat cleaver and an apple to class to teach his students fractions. He would wear funny hats, make jokes about sex, and do whatever he could think of to get his students' attention—and he was successful. He soon gained the students' respect and they nicknamed him Kemo Sabe, the man who knows, which was Tonto's name for the famous Lone Ranger.

Garfield's students began to rise to the challenge set forth by Escalante. When he introduced calculus in 1979 he had five students in the class. All five took the Advanced Placement (AP) exam for calculus and four of them passed. This standardized test gave passing students college credits. It was so difficult that only two percent of American high school students even attempted it. Escalante was inspired by this success and worked even harder to recruit more students. He held special after-school sessions and Saturday classes to prepare students for the AP test. He also tutored those who were struggling during their lunch hour or before classes began. Most importantly, he got the parents involved and convinced them to make their children attend school and do their homework. As he told the Omaha World-Herald in April of 2001, "We need the help of parents. We alone cannot do anything."

In 1982 Escalante's AP calculus program grew to 18 students, his largest class yet. To his delight, all 18 students passed the test. However, two months later 14 of the students received letters from the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, New Jersey, stating that their scores were invalid. The ETS believed the students had cheated because they had made similar mistakes on the test. The students were disheartened because they had sacrificed all of their free time to prepare for the test. Escalante was furious. He believed the scores had been challenged because they came from Hispanic students at a poor high school, and that it was difficult for the ETS to believe such students were capable of succeeding. The students were vindicated, however, when 12 of the 14 agreed to retake the test and they all passed a second time.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Trevor Edwards Biography - Accepted Wisdom from His Mother to Francisco Franco (1892–1975) BiographyJaime Escalante: 1930—: Educator Biography - Early Teaching Experience, Immigrated To The United States, Challenged Students To Excel, Became A National Hero