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Chapter 3 Escalante Stands and Delivers This is one of our favorites. Stand and Deliver (1988) is the story of Jaime Escalante, a mathematics teacher from Bolivia who comes to Garfield High, a poor and poorly run school in the Latino area of East Los Angeles. He is a humorous, charismatic, and demanding teacher, who persuades his class to take the Advanced Placement exam in mathematics.1 The class performs so well that they are falsely accused of cheating by the testing authorities. The story is substantially true, with important qualifications that we detail at the end of this chapter.2 The real-life Escalante was made famous by the events at Garfield High, which culminated in his winning the Presidential Medal for Excellence in Education in 1988 and being inducted into the National Teachers’ Hall of Fame in 1999. Sadly, Jaime Escalante died in 2010. Right up until his death, Escalante was actively involved in promoting mathematics, in sharing his passion for mathematics. Stand and Deliver succeeds primarily because Edward James Olmos, who plays Escalante, captures this passion. Stand and Deliver is not a story about mathematics, nor even really a story about mathematics teaching; it is a story of the human spirit.3 Nonetheless, the movie contains lots of mathematics. Moreover, unlike the vast majority of school-based movies, the mathematics is not only internally correct, it is contextually correct: the mathematics the students fight with is what they would have had to fight with. As the students progress, the mathematics progresses, from arithmetic and algebra to trigonometry and on to calculus. We won’t comment on every 1 The Advanced Placement Program is a scheme by which students in the United States can gain university credit for study undertaken in high school. The AP subjects are usually taught at school, but the exams are administered and independently assessed by the College Board, who are effectively the villains in Stand and Deliver. 2 For a clear and thoughtful telling of the story, see Jay Matthews, Escalante: The Best Teacher in the World (Henry Holt, New York, 1988). 3 Rare among human spirit movies, Stand and Deliver doesn’t make us embarrassed to write “human spirit.” 41 42 3 Escalante Stands and Delivers piece of math that occurs, but certain scenes are notable, giving the flavor of Escalante’s style and the role it plays in the drama. These scenes will be our guide to the movie. 3.1 Welcome to the Finger Man When Escalante first appears, he is confronted by a wild and totally disinterested class: I don’t need no math. I got a solar calculator with my dozen donuts. The class is then ended by a premature bell, but the next class sets the tone. Escalante appears wearing a butcher’s apron and wielding a huge cleaver. Chopping apples, he illustrates fractions to the students. Two cholos , Chuco and Angel, appear late, and Escalante enters into a whispered discussion with Chuco: 0:10 ESCALANTE: You know the times tables? CHUCO [sticking up his thumb]: I know the ones [sticking up his second finger] the twos [sticking up his middle finger, in an obscene gesture], the threes . . . ESCALANTE: Finger Man. I heard about you. Are you the Finger Man? I’m the Finger Man too. You know what I can do? [He holds his ten fingers splayed.] I know how to multiply by 9. 9 times 3: 1, 2, 3 [counting off with his fingers, to leave two fingers on one side of his crooked finger, and seven on the other side; see figure 3.1]. Whaddyou got? [wiggling his fingers] 27! 6 times 9: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Whaddyou got? [wiggling his fingers] 54! Yeah. Want a hard one? How about 8 times 9? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Whaddyou got? [wiggling his fingers] 72! Escalante has demonstrated a clever trick for multiplying by 9 (which works because the sum of the digits in the answer is equal to 9); the trick is cute in itself, but it also contains a message relevant to the drama to come.4 3.2 Filling the Hole In his next class Escalante explains zero, and negative numbers. 0:15 ESCALANTE: You ever dig a hole? The sand that comes out of the hole, that’s a positive. The hole is a negative. That’s it. Simple. Anybody can do it. Minus two plus two—equals—[He cajoles Angel into...


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