© 2024 Central Florida Public Media. All Rights Reserved.
90.7 FM Orlando • 89.5 FM Ocala
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Teacher Portrayed in 'Stand And Deliver' Dies


The Bolivian-born math teacher was the subject of the 1988 hit film "Stand and Deliver," which showcased his story and his gift for teaching. Escalante died yesterday after a long battle with cancer. He was 79. NPR's Claudio Sanchez has this appreciation.

JAIME ESCALANTE: My assignment, it was not just to teach mathematics. It was to teach discipline and responsibility.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ: For 20 years, the Bolivian-born Escalante taught calculus and advanced math at Garfield High School in one of east L.A.'s most notorious barrios, a place where poor, hardened street kids were not supposed to master mathematics - certainly not algebra, trigonometry, calculus. But Escalante believed that a teacher should never, ever let a student give up. So I asked him what kept you from giving up.

ESCALANTE: You have to love the subject you teach. And you have to love the kids and make them see that they have a chance, opportunity, in this country to become whatever they want to.

SANCHEZ: And to make it, Escalante often said, you need ganas, Spanish for desire and drive. Ganas was Escalante's battle cry, not just in motivating his students but every time he chided apathetic administrators and jaded teachers. The movie "Stand and Deliver" captures the tension perfectly in this scene, when Escalante, played by Edward James Olmos, makes an announcement at a faculty meeting.


EDWARD JAMES OLMOS: Unidentified Woman (Actor): (As character) That's ridicules. Our kids can't handle calculus. We don't even have the books.



SANCHEZ: Unidentified Man#2 (Actor): (As character) Bring us a couple of beers, please.


SANCHEZ: In this scene, Escalante shows up at a family restaurant owned by the parents of one of his brightest students, Ana. Her father had pulled her out of Escalante's calculus class so that she could work more hours at the restaurant. Escalante tries to change his mind.


JAMES OLMOS: (as Jaime Escalante) Ana can be the first one in your family to graduate from high school, go to college.

JAMES VICTOR: (as Mr. Delgado) Thank you for your concern. Her mother works here, her sisters, her brothers. This is a family business. She's needed.

SANCHEZ: But she could be a doctor instead of wasting her life waiting tables, Escalante insists. Anna's father is insulted.


VICTOR: (as Mr. Delgado) I started washing dishes for a nickel an hour, now I own this place. Did I waste my life?

SANCHEZ: Years later, it pained Escalante to hear parents complain that Garfield's math curriculum had been dumbed-down. Still, the last time we spoke, he only wanted to talk about the fond memories he had of Garfield High. How do you want people to remember you, I asked him.

ESCALANTE: The only thing I could say, to be remembered as a teacher, picturing that potential everywhere.

SANCHEZ: Claudio Sanchez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Claudio Sanchez