Monday, April 5, 2010

Jamie Escanlante, the passing of a true educational hero.

News of Jamie Escanlante's passing is widespread news. It's not often a teacher gets such national attention. Given the state of our education system, especially those in the inter cities, his accomplishment bordered on miraculous. His story was the inspiration for me to go into the teaching profession. However, it would lead to one of my biggest life long mistakes as I never kept up with story. You see, the movie telling of his accomplishments came out in 1989, 5 years after the story took place. What wasn't known to me as I transfer to Sac State pursuing a math education and later a math degree was what happened after the story. In 1992, his principal retired and things went downhill for him. He had the backing of his principal where most in the LA Unified District were opposed to him as a disruptive influence. When his principals retired the new administrator found him to be a disruptive influence, results be damned. What's worse as more and more incompetent teachers were being hired due to affirmative action, he made his final mistake: opposing the union. When he fought against the union, their support went and then he was hung up to dry. This part of the story I didn't learn til after I got my internship and then what happened to me made sense of how I was doomed from the beginning.

Escanlante faced many challenges. The biggest was getting his students to actually believe they can learn math when they were being told they couldn't. Imagine the shock they got when they were being allowed pretty much to do what ever they wanted as learning wasn't expected of them as he told them remedial math is too easy for them, they're going to learn algebra. I'm sure the class looked at them as if he was completely insane, or a complete joke. I know those looks all too well. I didn't have the backing of my principal however, but that's another blog. He dispel the stereotype by mentioning how their ancestors, the Mayans, come up with the biggest breakthrough in mathematics: zero, the concept of the complete lack of value. This was true as mathematicians, including Newton, struggled with the concept of zero. The breakthrough mathematician and physicists used infinitesimals for his math concepts. When those from the new world were discussing what these "primitives" from Latin America were using, zero, the concept of lack of value, it was a eureka moment and the rest is math history. A stone to throw at the barrier that Latinos can learn math, it's in their blood.

In addition, another barrier was to get them to have a desire to learn math. After all, so what if they learn math, algebra, whatever. What good will it do them. One of the most memorable lines he had was, "Those people that can't do math deep fry chicken for a living". Not something those in the educational community wanting their students to know for some reason. How he told a tee mechanic that he should be BUILDING cars, not fixing them. His goal was to inspire his student that they are capable of bigger and better things. A lesson they received as one girl used that inspiration to convince her mother to sign off on her learning Calculus as it required after school and before school hours as well as Saturdays so they needed parental approval to have them attend. She stated, "I'm learning Calculus so I don't have to rely on a man for my support". Ah, so she can be more than a possession that relies completely on the male master for her survival. What attracted me to my wife, her smarts. But again, that's another blog. Compare that today what is taught in school. The biggest is that they're so ignorant that they need affirmative action or government intervention to give them an "equal" opportunity against those that are better educated or better able to learn. What racist nonsense.

The other obstacle that he had which unfortunately still goes on today is teacher envy prejudices. Many on the faculty at Garfield High didn't believe their students were even capable of mastering the subject matter. Many, still thinking self esteem is better than learning, thought he would take what little self esteem they had left and destroy it. It was clear by the start that many of his students were lacking self esteem. They were lacking higher expectation to take them to he next level. This was indicative of those bad teachers that didn't want to look incompetent in my personal opinion. Perhaps many, educated by leftist ideals in the credentialing programs of the time that it really was a lack of self esteem and do nothing to damage their self worth. Escanlante knew that accomplishment, not unworthy praise and fake grades, were the pathway to self esteem. He learned that in Columbia when he got his math degree and teaching credential at the age of 43.

The culture war was a huge obstacle as well. One was a gang member who wanted to work his way out. He had to study in secret to avoid violent repercussions. He was even given 3 books, one for the class, his locker and at home for he couldn't been seen with it. As long as it was in his locker giving the appearance that he wasn't studying, the gangs left him alone. This still goes on today as I witnessed it myself as I got confrontation that was I failing them because they were acting too black or how a couple of gang bangers seeing a friend on the perfect attendance list going to go kick his a$$. There's a culture war in the balkanized thinking that to learn is to be white. It was bad in 1984 and it's worse today.

Stereotypes are hard to break. When his students took the AP test and smoked it, the administrators of the test couldn't believe it. In fact they didn't. They nullified their scores as they suspected they cheated (they all missed the same questions concisely. I still think it was the substitute MUSIC teacher that took his place for a couple of weeks when he had his first heart attack that was behind why, not Escanlante). Though they couldn't prove that cheating took place, they forced them to take the test again, only a harder one as well as they were being watch more closely. In the end half got 4's (a college B), a third got 5's and the rest 3's. All passed without question. Escanlante's point was proven.

However, the story doesn't end there. His success gradually improved over the years until his Principal retired as mentioned before. As he saw more and more bad, incompetent or downright apathetic teachers got hired, he started to rebel against the union that protected them. He felt, rightfully so, that the union wasn't having the best interest in the students and was a corrupting influence. Well, as the Governor learned, you don't go against the teacher's union. Especially in California. It's the most powerful union in the state, except perhaps the lawyer's guild, and even he couldn't survive. With the union against him with those apathetic and envious teachers, as well as corrupt administrators that believe the leftist mantra, he was eventually fired. He would get another job in Sacramento, but he was never the same teacher again nor was able to repeat the accomplishments that he did in LA. There are still some that maintained that he cheated, he was just so good at it that he nor his students were able to get caught. Hiram Johnson High hired him in hopes of turn that school around, but with the union and student rights, he wasn't able to maintain the discipline needed to make such accomplishments. I was able to sub for the school before he finally retired in 03 and I can tell you the school was in bad shape. Dilapidated building, graffiti, gang symbols. It was clear the school was run by the gangs or those that support them. Escanlante, without support from those higher ups, couldn't perform his miracles as he was no longer allowed to. After all, students have their rights as being the right not to learn if they choose not to.

The big picture of his man's story and accomplishment is how badly the education system, at least here in California, has failed. When teachers are allowed to educate, be in charged and discipline maintained, our children can become bigger and better then they realize. The expectation of our education system is catering so much to the lowest common denominator, it's no secret to why it fails so miserably. A union that backs the dysfunction and perpetuates the stereotypes and frankly is becoming so balkanized and racist, that it's beyond repair. The head of the Department of Education stated and it's being taught in our teacher preparation programs is that people of race can't learn from those outside because those outside their race can't communicate to them. That the black student will learn best from a black teacher, a Hispanic student from a Hispanic teacher, and so on and unless all the white teachers are removed for the education system, students will continue to fail. It was at this point I lost all passion for teacher and wanted out. It was at this point I tried, and eventually was successful, to get my ex wife to take our children out of public school and home teach. A lesson more and more Californians are learning as more of them are home schooling. This hasn't escape the attention of the educators and union. They have made one attempt to make home schooling illegal unless the parent has a teaching credential. In other words, toes the line of the leftist propaganda. It failed because Arnold was going to veto it. However, we have an election coming up and should a democrat win the governorships, which moonbeam Jerry Brown is hoping to do, then that option of home schooling will be taken and the monopoly that got a such a successful man like Escanlante removed and discredited will have a total and complete monopoly on the education of our children here. It will have Escalante and his accomplishments forever forgotten and that will be a far greater loss than the death of this man. Should that come to pass, then at least he didn't live to see everything he believed in become completely destroyed by the powers that he fought against. That indeed will be the greatest tragedy.

No comments: