In addition to being profiled in the film “Stand and Deliver”, Jaime Escalante had his own television program on PBS in the 1990s. Scientists, astronauts, engineers, and celebrities visited his classroom and talked with his students about how math is used every day in a wide variety of careers. The series was one of the most popular PBS programs and was watched in thousands of classrooms every week.
Shortly after the release of The Abyss, director James Cameron visited Jaime Escalante’s math classroom for an episode of the popular PBS series: Futures with Jaime Escalante.
What’s remarkable is that though STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) was not a buzzword 20 years ago, James’ message to students could be repeated word for word today and be just as accurate and topical.
Watch a video interview in which Jaime Escalante talks about what it takes to succeed at one of the most important jobs.
Jaime Escalante was born in La Paz, Bolivia in 1930. Both of his parents were teachers who worked in a small Aymara Indian village called Achacachi. He became a teacher himself, and developed a widespread reputation for excellence during 12 years of teaching math and physics in Bolivia.
In 1974, Mr. Escalante was hired as a basic mathematics teacher at Garfield High School, a troubled inner-city school in East Los Angeles. His spectacular success teaching advanced mathematics to gang members and other students who had been considered “unteachable” attracted national attention. When his story was told in the acclaimed film “Stand and Deliver” (1988), Escalante became a national hero.
From 1974 until 1991, Mr. Escalante taught in the L.A. Unified School System. From 1991 until 1998, he taught algebra and calculus for the Sacramento Unified School District.
To reach more students, he became the host of the acclaimed PBS television series, “FUTURES”. “FUTURES” introduces students to the exciting and astonishing variety of math and science-based careers. It became one of the most popular classroom programs in the history of PBS and has been honored with more than 50 awards from educational and professional organizations including the highest honor in the broadcasting field, the George Foster Peabody Award. He also appeared in two family specials for PBS, “Math…Who Needs It?!” and “Living and Working in Space: The Countdown Has Begun.” Both have received multiple awards and continue to be popular among teachers, parents and students.
Mr. Escalante’s many teaching awards include the Presidential Medal for Excellence in Education, the Andres Bello Prize from the Organization of American States and the Free Spirit Award from the Freedom Forum, a foundation affiliated with USA Today and dedicated to the preservation of the First Amendment. He was also inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame in 1999.
In the spring of 1998, Mr. Escalante announced his retirement from teaching.
Mr. Escalante passed away on Tuesday, March 30, 2010.
In this personal account, Jaime Escalante lays out the fundamental principles that are the foundation of his teaching methods and provides a detailed overview of the famous Escalante Math Program at Garfield High in East Los Angeles. This article was first published in the Journal of Negro Education in 1990.