Jaime Escalante's legacy is the subject of my regular Friday piece during NPR's "All Things Considered" on KCRW (89.9 FM), airing at 4:44 p.m. It's available online at KCRW.com and as a free podcast on iTunes. The script is after the jump.
Also fresh around LA Observed:
- The judge in the Bruce Karatz trial scolded the jury after one of the jurors shook the hand of ex-mayor Richard Riordan, who with Eli Broad was a character witness for Karatz, Mark Lacter says at LA Biz Observed.
- Bob Timmermann went out to the Dodgers' first home game of 2010, and it's a good thing it was still spring training: neither he, the team or the stadium is in regular season shape yet.
- Adrienne Crew writes that baby boomers (and a lot of others) won't be too happy with plans for the Sunset Strip building that used to house Tower Records and, going back even longer, the famous Muntz Stereo.
- Spring has definitely sprung in Veronique de Turenne's Malibu.
- Good week for editorial cartoonist Steve Greenberg at LA Sketchbook: Jaime Escalante, San Fernando Valley history and more.
- Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto's name is being used to entice a concession contract for the terminals at LAX. LABO
These days, to be a parent with children in Los Angeles area schools is to live in fear.
Fear that it might all go wrong, that your kid might be forgotten, or damaged for life by a bad algebra teacher.
You hear about the libraries being closed, the music and art classes that won’t be offered anymore, and the truly crazy cutbacks like doing away with programs for autistic children and others for whom the public schools are everything.
And the teachers -- thousands in the LA Unified District alone –- who are threatened with being cast aside. Fired due to budget cuts, with no respect for which might have the magic touch.
The teacher who saves a shy girl with too much IQ for the room from vanishing into the back row. Whose extra attention steers a gangbanger to the university.
In other words, the next Jaime Escalante.
Escalante, who died this week at age 79, was at one time the most famous high school teacher in America.
His biographer, Jay Mathews, wrote in the Washington Post obituary that Escalante may also have been the most influential American public-school teacher of his generation.
It’s a heroic American story, actually. Escalante came to California from Bolivia when he was 33, and needed ten years to learn English and get his state teaching credential.
He took up his new career at a challenging place to teach: Garfield High in East LA.
Just before he arrived, the school was on the verge of losing its accreditation. Students at Garfield tended to be poor and brown, and most didn’t expect to go to UCLA or USC.
They sure didn’t stay after school to work on advanced calculus problems.
But they came to Jaime Escalante’s classroom after school. And on Saturday’s, and during the summer.
He had that connection the best teachers strive for, and that parents desperately hope will happen for their child, at least once.
In East LA, Escalante changed the game.
In 1987, more students from Garfield took the Advanced Placement exam for calculus than from all but four American high schools, public or private.
Of the Mexican American students anywhere in the country who passed the exam, a quarter of them were from Garfield.
Perhaps more important, expectations were raised. Garfield kids now expected to prepare for college, just like the kids at Palisades High or Harvard-Westlake.
Escalante became famous. Mathews wrote his book, and Edward James Olmos got an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Escalante in “Stand and Deliver.”
His fame and his no-nonsense ways didn’t win Escalante a lot of friends among the other teachers. He left Garfield, but he was never forgotten in East LA.
When word got around in recent weeks that Escalante was sick with bladder cancer, and would be coming back from retirement in Bolivia for treatment he could not afford, his family of admirers went to work.
Olmos organized a fundraising campaign through his production company. Actress Vanessa Marquez, who made her screen debut as Ana Delgado in the movie 22 years ago, videotaped a plea for donations on YouTube.
Escalante, she said, gave hope to an entire community and changed thousands of lives.
His ended on Tuesday, just hours after Olmos drove Escalante from a hospital in Reno to his son’s home near Sacramento.
Garfield High has already announced that it will name the school’s new auditorium for Escalante.
The next time you pass through the intersection of Wilshire and Alvarado, take a look up.
That’s Jaime Escalante’s face looking down from a mural on the side of the former Westlake movie theater.
Throw an old teacher a salute, won't ya?
For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.