'Stand and Deliver' teacher dies of cancer
March 31, 2010 8:00 AM   Subscribe

'Stand and Deliver' teacher dies of cancer. Jaime Escalante, the math teacher portrayed in the 1988 film "Stand and Deliver," died Tuesday after a battle with cancer, according to the actor who played him. ... "Stand and Deliver" told the inspirational story of how Escalante turned the failing calculus program at Garfield High School in east Los Angeles into one of the top in the nation. (previously)
posted by sentient (55 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sad. Seems like eons ago, but I remember watching the film in calculus class during those sort of filler days before summer break.
posted by sentient at 8:03 AM on March 31, 2010

Sad. I loved this movie. I saw it once when I was sick and it was very good.

posted by anniecat at 8:04 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:08 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:08 AM on March 31, 2010 [6 favorites]

posted by jquinby at 8:10 AM on March 31, 2010

Only today my wife, who is studying to become a high school science teacher, asked me to get Stand and Deliver for her. We need more Escalantes.

posted by kandinski at 8:11 AM on March 31, 2010

Among numerous such pupils was Erika Camacho. Before she took his algebra class, her only goal was to be a cashier. Now, as a Ph.D. and a math professor at Arizona State University, she was eager to give back to her former teacher. "You owe him to do good because he's put so much of himself to make sure that you succeed that it's only fair to give back what he has given to you," Camacho said.

Ganas replaces the word in America "gifted." I cannot accept "gifted." You're going to measure IQ – and I say no. Any student, any [person] to me is gifted. They have something they can do, and I – especially the students – I hold them accountable for what they do. And that's where I make the transformation to motivate them to go for mathematics. You become "gifted" from practicing. Practice assures success. I give you a simple equation and you do it and do it over and over and you store that information."
posted by anniecat at 8:12 AM on March 31, 2010 [19 favorites]

posted by joedan at 8:14 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by chillmost at 8:14 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:17 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by Axle at 8:19 AM on March 31, 2010


My High School Pre-Calc teacher played this many times during sub days...
posted by JoeXIII007 at 8:23 AM on March 31, 2010

I'll admit, I hated the movie, but reading Escalante's biography brought tears to my eyes (especially the part anniecat quotes). I love math. And whenever I meet someone and tell them what I do, nine times out of ten, they make a face and say "I always hated math. I can't do it." For some reason, it's fashionable to say that in a way that saying, "I've always hated words. I can't read" is not. Anyway, kudos to this teacher for not taking the low road. For improving math education by teaching to the middle and the top, and not pandering to the bottom.
posted by bluefly at 8:23 AM on March 31, 2010 [8 favorites]

posted by sallybrown at 8:23 AM on March 31, 2010

Aha! Is this who Eric Cartman was portraying in an episode of South Park? I tried to look it up on Wikipedia but can't remember the name of the episode (it wasn't too long ago).

Anyway, I never heard of the man apart from that but


respect to him, we need more like him.
posted by meosl at 8:26 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by Iridic at 8:27 AM on March 31, 2010

We watched Stand and Deliver at least 5 different times in in various classes from elementary to high school. I should find a copy and watch it again.


(The curve over time of Escalante's awesomeness has discontinuities reaching to positive infinity, so the integral is not well defined. And EJO will always be Escalante to me.)
posted by kmz at 8:30 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by cashman at 8:33 AM on March 31, 2010

Loved this film.

posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:34 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by contessa at 8:37 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by Smart Dalek at 8:38 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by lukemeister at 8:51 AM on March 31, 2010

Jaime Escalante's story is incredible in many ways. Stand and Deliver is a great movie, but what sticks with me most is the story told in this article, about what happened after the cameras quit rolling. Real life doesn't wrap up as neatly as a Hollywood production; one brilliant person can show us the way, but it takes continuous hard work and commitment from everybody to make real and lasting changes. I leave this


for Escalante, but not, I hope, for his dream.
posted by sigmagalator at 8:53 AM on March 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

And had I noticed the previously link, I would have seen that covered already. Well, my sentiments remain the same.
posted by sigmagalator at 8:55 AM on March 31, 2010

What sigmagalator said. From what I've heard, Garfield high school reverted to its old ways after Escalante left; I mean, wth?@
posted by Melismata at 8:56 AM on March 31, 2010

Apparently he was a really inspiring public speaker as well
posted by Think_Long at 9:03 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by jonp72 at 9:05 AM on March 31, 2010

"Are you the finger man?"
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:07 AM on March 31, 2010

Hard to be of a certain age and from Southern California and not have heard of this man and/or the film based on him.

May he rest in peace.
posted by blucevalo at 9:08 AM on March 31, 2010

I was stereotypically awful at math in high school; by the time I got back around to "take statistics or you won't graduate" last year, though, I'd finally figured out ganas, locked my ass to the desk four hours a night, and aced it. I'd like to think early exposure to Jaime Escalante finally sunk in and did me some good.

posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:09 AM on March 31, 2010

I met Mr. Escalante several years ago when I helped put together a community college lecture he gave. He was just an incredibly nice, funny, and all-around awesome guy. There's a picture out there somewhere of him giving me a hug. He gave a lot of hugs that day.

I wasn't too wild about the movie, but I loved and very much respected the man. I hate that his life ended in such a crappy way. I hope that I'm not stepping on anyone's toes when I say that cancer sucks.

posted by Dojie at 9:10 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

what's cal-coo-lus?
posted by jmccw at 9:21 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by aerotive at 9:25 AM on March 31, 2010

I really don't see any reason why everybody can't learn calculus before they graduate high school. The concepts really aren't much more difficult than regular algebra.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:36 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by cereselle at 9:44 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by tzikeh at 9:45 AM on March 31, 2010

May I recommend also the LA Times obituary on Escalante? (Have to plug the work of an old friend and school classmate.)
posted by Creosote at 9:51 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Math was a nightmare for me in elementary school. Among other things, I had a hell of a time learning my multiplication tables. I was frequently singled out for falling behind and not doing well enough, and was generally miserable and sullen and uncooperative and 'hated' math to the point of wanting to avoid school altogether even though I did really well in most of my other classes. And then I remember watching Stand and Deliver around fifth grade, maybe, with something like awe. Those kids were bad at math, but they worked really hard, and then they were really, really good at it! Sure, they were in high school and so smarter and cooler and better, and it was a different kind of math than what I was doing, but it worked for them. And thier teacher! He cared about them and wanted them to succeed!

And so "a negative times a negative equals a positive" became my mantra, of sorts. I asked my mom for flash cards and she asked my teacher to scale back the singling-out, and I had study sessions with a friend who made the homework a little more bearable. Math class in middle school wasn't so bad, and I was even in accelerated classes in high school... though I didn't manage to pass the AP Calc exam. In college I had to take numerous math classes for my major, but then I turned those classes into a minor and then, eventually, another major. I'm still not great at math, but I've come to love the orderliness of it, the beauty. I can't work numbers quickly in my head like most others can, but I'm willing to stop and take the time to work things out.

When I read last night of Mr. Escalante's passing, my jaw dropped and I was stunned. I felt like I'd lost something... more than just the man who was an inspiration for a movie.

Thank you, Mr. Escalante.
posted by alynnk at 9:54 AM on March 31, 2010 [7 favorites]

From an IMDB review:
Despite the success portrayed in the movie, 1987 was the high water mark for the Garfield High School AP Calculus program. In 1987, the principal who had supported Escalante with his AP program went on sabbatical and was replaced by an administrator with a different academic focus. The teachers' union complained about Escalante's class sizes and teaching assignments, and petty rivalries and jealousies abounded, eventually forcing Escalante and his partner teacher out of the school. Unable to find support for his unorthodox methods, in 2001, Escalante moved back to his native Bolivia, where he teaches calculus at a local university.

As much as I love this movie, every time I watch it, I become depressed all over again. It's been over 25 years since Escalante began the AP Calculus program at Garfield High, and one would think that the educational system would learn from him--not only from his example as a teacher, but also the factors that forced him to leave the school, but ultimately the country.

It's not just Garfield High School, and it's not just advanced mathematics. I hear the same words that the naysayer teachers and administrators spoke in the movie spoken on a daily and weekly basis on the public high school campus where I teach. I see the same objections and doubts and obstacles thrown up by the administration and teachers' union in the movie thrown up by administrations and unions today. I work every day with the same underprivileged yet eager to be educated students as Escalante had, students who just need someone to challenge them and believe in them. And I see my students battle against the same low expectations and prejudices as the students in the movie faced.

Which leaves me with the question--what has really changed in 25 years? If this is such an outstanding, motivational movie, why has it not produced a systemic change? Why are underprivileged yet bright students routinely passed over and allowed to fail? Why are creative, energetic, passionate teachers forced out of their schools and even their professions by school systems unwilling to embrace unorthodox methods, even if those methods are proved to promote student success? Escalante poured everything he had into his job. Teaching was his life, his passion--not only a vocation, but an avocation. He was willing to sacrifice his personal relationships and his own health for the sake of the students in which he believed... For what? Nothing has changed. 25+ years later, nothing has changed.

Yes, he made a difference in the lives of those students, and of students for more years than just those portrayed in the movie, but once he left, the program essentially left with him. Despite all of his passion and sacrifice, he effected no systemic change.

And it's that knowledge that, to me, makes this such a depressing film.

Kari Marie
posted by shii at 10:04 AM on March 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

Was sad to hear of Jaime Escalante's death today. Just the other day I watched another brilliant movie about a teacher who inspires inner city kids to do their best, To Sir With Love, and wept buckets with gratitude that there are loving, patient, smart teachers who do care and who do make the effort to be real teachers to the kids they spend their lives with.

I felt badly that after his loving and profoundly inspiring efforts as a teacher, Jaime Escalante didn't have enough money to pay for his cancer treatment and there needed to be fund raising efforts to help him survive. I was pleased to hear that Edward James Olmos' fundraising helped Escalante at the end of his life. A lovely memorial is on his website.

My condolences to Jaime Escalante's wife, Fabiola; his sons, Fernando and Jaime Jr., six grandchildren and all the students who remember him with affection.
posted by nickyskye at 10:05 AM on March 31, 2010

This appeared on March 7th in the LA Times: From his sickbed, Garfield High legend is still delivering.
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:


When the news broke that Escalante was dying of bladder cancer and that his treatments had depleted his savings, his former students banded together with Edward James Olmos to raise funds for him.
Now, even though he hasn't asked for it, Escalante is getting his old students' help.

Actor Edward James Olmos, who received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Escalante in the 1988 hit movie Stand and Deliver, is spearheading an effort to support Escalante and his family in what looks to be the teacher's final days.

"Yes, he's dying," Olmos says. "We all will, eventually. But what we want is to die in comfort and dignity, with our loved ones around us. After all that Kimo has done for us, it's the least we can do."

Back at Garfield, more people stream onto the school's lawn to sign a big banner that will be sent to Escalante. He is staying with his son, Jaime Jr., in Sacramento, Calif., so he can commute to Reno, Nev., for medical treatment.

As a Bolivian band plays in homage to Escalante's birth country, some people write checks or contribute cash. And drivers and passers-by stuff money into buckets shaken by two Garfield mascots — 6-foot felt bulldogs.

At the end of the day, the former students have raised almost $17,000, a sign that Escalante's kids and the community he made so proud were ready to stand and deliver for him.
Erika Camacho is one of many former students of the legendary Jaime Escalante who have gone on to find success, in great part, no doubt, because of his influence.

Today, Camacho is an assistant professor of mathematics in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University’s West campus, and was recently named an “emerging scholar” by Diverse magazine. She is at the top of her game, yet she admits that when she was a teenager entering Escalante’s algebra class, her only plan was to become a cashier. That goal changed when Escalante revealed her keen mathematics aptitude and encouraged her to pursue it to its fullest.

As she recently told CBS News, Camacho felt she owed it to Escalante to succeed because he gave so much of himself as a teacher that she had to pay it back.
For Kimo:

posted by zarq at 10:06 AM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


God, this chokes me up.

I struggled with math in high school, thanks in part to some moving around in elementary school that meant I missed some foundational stuff (like adding and subtracting fractions - I can do it, now, but it's a struggle and it's not in the least intuitive). But in high school I was incredibly fortunate to have a math teacher and a chemistry teacher who really believed that any student was capable of the work. They were patient. They gave so much time to me and other kids like me. Chemistry was so, so difficult for me, even though I liked it! But because of Mr. Cohen I studied and worked and asked questions and when I took the chemistry subject test I scored something like 200 points above what I'd scored on practice tests.

Thank you, Mr Escalante, and all the teachers like you I had over the years.

posted by rtha at 10:26 AM on March 31, 2010

Escalante poured everything he had into his job. Teaching was his life, his passion--not only a vocation, but an avocation. He was willing to sacrifice his personal relationships and his own health for the sake of the students in which he believed... For what? Nothing has changed. 25+ years later, nothing has changed.

But it has, just on a micro, rather than a macro level. He changed the lives of so many of his students. Gave them hope and encouraged their innate desire to excel and do something with their lives. And many of those whom he helped, helped others. Like Ms. Camacho.

Then too, there's Olmos' performance in Stand and Deliver, which may have inspired countless others.
posted by zarq at 10:32 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by msittig at 10:37 AM on March 31, 2010

nickyskye, Thank you, thank you so much for posting Mr. Olmos' memorial to Mr. Escalante. :)
posted by zarq at 10:40 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:53 AM on March 31, 2010

posted by Kimberly at 11:29 AM on March 31, 2010

The impact a teacher has is exponential. He taught those students. Those students went on to college. They had children who will likely do the same. Some of the students became teachers who then taught other students.

Just in the comments above there are several people who were inspired to work at math because of him.

His legacy is the students, students of students, children of students, and all of their students and children, plus all the others that he and those he taught inspired.
posted by Xoc at 11:38 AM on March 31, 2010

it's a struggle and it's not in the least intuitive

In Mr. Escalante's honor, I'd like to address this, because it is a common misconception reinforced by terms like "gifted" and stories inteh press about savants. Mr. Escalante worked his life to prove that there is no such thing as gifted.

Nothing of value in human experience is intuituve. Nothing is intuitive. Nothing is intuitive. All that comes natural to the human animal is eating, shitting and killing. Babies don't keven know how to sleep peacefully through the night. As any parent will attest, they have to learn how to sleep.

We are a creature of noise, madness chaos. All the places in the world where people live together and the inhabitants are uneducated and idle, regardless of culture, race, or time, all of them share a common characteristic - they are noisy.

By contrast, there are two places where people congregate in large numbers but that are nonetheless quiet: churches and libraries. I believe this is so because this where people get on with the work of engaging the unknown.

Understanding is a function of work. And the first point on that function is (0,0).

Specifically, there is nothing in math that is intuitive beyond the addition of natural numbers less than 10. Subtraction is not intuitive. The concept of zero is not intuitive. The postulates of Euclid are not intuitive. If they were, Euclid wouldn't get credit for them. Fractions? Forget it. And don't get me started on calculus.

The kind of math you do up through pre-calc is basically computation. To master computation takes work. Not a little work, not 15 minutes a day, it takes a lot of work. Over and over and over again, like running suicide drills in sports practice. Like endless scales in piano practice. School math up to pre-calc (and excluding geometry) is practice for the real interesting math that comes next. If you are willing to put in the practice, what you start to learn in calculus class is like composition. The system and patterns that not only produce order, but define it. I write a little integral and I get a little shape. You take a derivative and you can tell anyone anything about that shape at any point on that shape.

But unlike computation, no amount of work on the calculus can prepare you for all it is capable of, just like no amount of practicing Bach can prepare you for Beethoven. Calculus and beyond is the manipulation of possible configurations of all possible worlds, and that's not something you can drill with flashcards.

What that kind of math demands is simply this: all of you. You put the integration and differentiation in your head (and later the divs and curls, the PDE and linear algebra), and you let it take you over. You become a monk studying scripture. The understanding of what these symbols are has to seep into every part of you, until you experience the calculus with synaesthesia. Someone writes something on a board and it just sounds like a certain function. You hear a sound and you know what the sound looks like.

To understand math, you have to recreate it. Maxwell's equations are easy to memorize, but when you derive them, mathematically, you hear it come together, like different parts of the orchestra coming arriving in their own time and along their own path to the common theme. You hear to come together.

Then you stare for hours at what you just did. The sun goes down outside and you don't see it, because all you see is how the starting point of your derivation so obviously contained the brilliant insight at the end, that how did anyone not see it? The world you know, the same world as you apprehended as an infant all wood and metal and separate pieces, starts to look a little thin and you start to see the fields and flows that have always been there, and you wondered why you ignored them, and what else you are ignoring them.

This is why it doesn't matter what you are studying, fluid dynamics, electromagnetism, topology, physics, aerodynamics. You are listening to the different music that the universe plays to you, but even though it isn't expected, you know how to listen, how to hear it. You know what to expect before you hear it. You look at planetary charts and you expect the mathematical model to be something like Bach - some periodicity, synchronicity, some counterpoint within the unity.

You look at the data coming of an atom smasher, and you don't expect to hear Bach, or Mozart. Maybe Stravinsky. Probably more like Xenakis. Dissonance and randomness in an unstoppable force. An energy. Charlie Parker. Ornette Coleman. A force that has its own internal order that you don't see from outside. A definite beginning with a very definite and different ending. And not only do you expect to see that in the math, it occurs to you that maybe you need to add new math to describe what you are seeing/hearing the way jazz and the avant garde added to music.

But the emphasis here is on the work. There is no intuition or natural talent. The child who sits at the piano for hours after the other children grow bored does not have a natural talent for music. He has a natural talent for work. The joy is in figuring out, in trying.

There is only comfort in work, because all there is that is great comes from inhuman amounts of work. The only way to create order out of disorder, to create pattern out of noise, is work. Work fights entropy. Bach and Beethoven worked. They suffered. They were possessed of Plato's demon, driven to study and study and study and slowly they learn to see the patterns, and until they learn to recreate the patterns, change them, and finally dare to wrangle the forces underlying those patterns, and set to work on those forces themselves, creating new patterns surprising and unexpected to even to accomplished musicians.

So not doubt that this is what mathematicians do. This is why the field attracts introverts and those comfortable with solitude. Math--not computation, but math--requires concentration, devotion and humility. A mathematician is a good listener. Maybe he thinks he's listening to God, or the Universe, or the white noise of bombinating quarks. But the mathematician working his systems of equations is not mechanically jostling symbols around the page. That work is for the mathematician the work of listening. The good mathematician listens, and wonders where he's heard it before.

Oh, and .
posted by Pastabagel at 11:57 AM on March 31, 2010 [16 favorites]

Why are creative, energetic, passionate teachers forced out of their schools and even their professions by school systems unwilling to embrace unorthodox methods, even if those methods are proved to promote student success?

Seems like bullying, adult/teacher style.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:43 PM on March 31, 2010

I mostly agree with you, Pastabagel, and you're right - I shouldn't have used the word "intuitive." But I do think that certain kinds of brains are wired (or develop the wires more readily) to see and integrate certain kinds of patterns more easily than others. Catch those not-as-well-wired brains early enough, and the differences likely vanish for most. I lacked some fundamental grounding in some pretty basic concepts, and that's tripped me up all my life, though I can muddle through. But still, if I have to figure out (for example) what 36% of 5,421 is, I have to stop and very carefully work through that This has to be divided/multiplied by That, and then - oh yeah! remember to move the decimal place...how many? It doesn't help that I'm mildly dyslexic when it comes to numbers. I love baseball, but baseball statistics are a struggle. My partner can look at the stats for a player and quickly synthesize what they mean while I'm still going "His OPS is [whatever] and so that means...um...Honey, what does that mean?" (And truly, no matter how long I sat at the piano, no matter how much I practiced, I was never going to be Glenn Gould or Oscar Peterson. Wasn't gonna happen.)

When I was in college and taking intensive French classes, we had drills every day. Class was three days a week, but we had drills and language lab five days a week. It was cake for me. I saw the spelling and grammar patterns much more easily and quickly than some of my classmates, even those who had learned other languages at a young age. But the drills and labs helped us all - well, those of us who worked at them. But it was less work for some than for others.
posted by rtha at 12:45 PM on March 31, 2010

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posted by tommasz at 1:32 PM on March 31, 2010

posted by samsara at 1:58 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

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