Alternate Approaches to Leadership

Read the scenario below about the transformative teacher Jaime Escalante. Then use information about Escalante in life and as portrayed in the film, as well as your understanding of leadership, to answer the questions.

Management at Work

In the 1988 film Stand and Deliver, Edward James Olmos plays real-life teacher Jaime Escalante. After the film was screened, Escalante described it as “90 percent truth, 10 percent drama.”

In the film, as in life, Escalante teaches mathematics at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. Most of the students are from working-class Mexican American families and are not excelling academically. They receive messages every day from their families, other teachers, and society at large that they are not capable of achieving much. Escalante, a math teacher from Bolivia who had worked in unskilled jobs when he first came to the United States, believes in their ability, saying, “It’s not that they’re stupid. It’s just they don’t know anything.” He sets them a challenge: take and pass the Advanced Placement Calculus exam by their senior year.

The movie telescopes time for dramatic effect, showing the students achieving a college credit–earning score on the AP exam in Escalante’s second year of teaching them. In fact, Escalante refined his pedagogical approach over a number of years, as well as working to institute more rigorous math classes in the middle schools that fed Garfield High School. However, the film accurately portrays the summer intensive course that Escalante established to help his students gain the grade-level math skills they had not yet learned. It also shows him working outside regular hours, staying late to tutor students and even visiting their parents to educate them about the importance of school for their child.

In the film, the teacher acknowledges the prejudice that his students face and challenges them to succeed despite it: “There will be no free rides, no excuses. You already have two strikes against you: your name and your complexion. . . . Math is the great equalizer. . . . You’re going to work harder here than you’ve ever worked anywhere else. And the only thing I ask from you is ganas, desire.”

At the same time, he encourages them to see their heritage as a strength: “Did you know that neither the Greeks nor the Romans were capable of using the concept of zero? It was your ancestors, the Mayans, who first contemplated the zero. [You] have math in your blood.”

He also encourages them to think about their potential futures, to “see the road ahead.” He often draws a picture of what life is like for people with the low-paying, low-status jobs that high school dropouts can get and contrasts that lifestyle with the opportunities available to people who attend college.

As the above quotes indicate, the film shows Escalante teaching with tremendous passion motivated by a deep commitment to his students’ futures. According to the obituary for the real-life Escalante in the Los Angeles Times, “he mesmerized students with his entertaining style and deep understanding of math. Educators came from around the country to observe him at Garfield, which built one of the largest and most successful Advanced Placement programs in the nation.”

Sources: Menéndez, R. (Director). (1988). Stand and deliver [Film]. Warner Bros; Woo, E. (2013, April 25). Jaime Escalante dies at 79; math teacher who challenged East L.A. students to ‘Stand and Deliver.’ Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-jaime-escalante31-2010mar31-story.html

How did Escalante encourage students to envision their futures? Check all that apply.

He tells the class, “You’re going to work harder here than you’ve ever worked anywhere else.”

He urges a student to “see the road ahead.”

He compares the jobs students will likely have if they do not get a college education with those available if they do go to college.

He says to them, “You already have two strikes against you: your name and your complexion.”