English-Language Learners

Reading the Obits of Jaime Escalante

By Mary Ann Zehr — April 01, 2010 1 min read
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I’ve seen the film “Stand and Deliver” and thought it was inspiring. I also have read Washington Post writer Jay Mathew’s book about math teacher Jaime Escalante’s success with teaching calculus to Mexican-American students at Garfield High School. The book, Escalante: The Best Teacher in America, helped me understand that a teacher who is effective can mean a great deal to kids whose families don’t have a lot of experience with education. Mathews wrote in his Class Struggle column yesterday that writing the book helped him decide that he wanted to write about schools for the rest of his life.

Jaime Escalante passed away this week at age 79 after battling cancer. (Update: My colleague Erik Robelen blogs about the math teacher’s legacy today over at Curriculum Matters.)

In browsing obituaries last night, I learned something about Escalante I never knew. The Los Angeles Times reports that he was an opponent of bilingual education. He campaigned for passage of Proposition 227, which curtailed bilingual education in California in 1998.

The obit says that Escalante had said the hate mail he received for taking the position he did on bilingual education led in part to his resigning from Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento, the teaching post he had taken after leaving Garfield High School. What a shame, it seems to me, that some people labeled him a traitor.

Surely the man had proved himself in the classroom enough to deserve a respectful audience for whatever he wanted to say about education policy. I wish I’d had a chance to hear his perspective on how best to help ELLs to learn English.

Photo information: This March 16, 1988, file photo shows Jaime Escalante teaching math at Garfield High School, in Los Angeles.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.