ESCALANTE: The Best Teacher in America by Jay Mathews

ESCALANTE: The Best Teacher in America

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The amazing story of the high-school math teacher who inspired the film Stand and Deliver for his transforming hundreds of underclass, primarily Mexican-American students into college-bound calculus whiz kids. A Bolivian immigrant, Escalante was 44 when he arrived at Garfield High in the barrio of East Los Angeles. Violence-ridden, graffiti-smeared, the school was staffed with teachers who expected little of Hispanic kids. After several years spent inspiring students to learn basic math, Escalante convinced the principal to let him teach an advanced placement calculus course. Most of his supposedly ""unteachable"" students consistently scored with excellence on the nationwide exam; in 1982--suspecting cheating--the Educational Testing Service required 14 of Escalante's students to retake the exam: all come through with flying colors. The media made Escalante a hero. Today, Garfield ranks fourth along public-school advanced-placement test applicants. Escalante's ""secret"" is total dedication, passion, and an unshakable belief his kids can do the work. He starts his first-period class early, eats lunch with his students, and continues teaching after school, Saturdays, and even in the summer. He meets every parent and uses every possible gimmick to grab students' interest: calculus problems disguised as baseball and basketball plays, comic routines, threats, bribes, daily quizzes and weekly tests. Overlong on the life histories of Escalante, his early students, even his principal and fellow teachers; skimpy on the applicability of his teaching methods to American public education. Nevertheless, a fascinating and inspiring tale of a genuine American hero.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Henry Holt