Honorary degree citation - Jaime Escalante*
By: Elaine Newman, June 1990
Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you Jaime Escalante, whose ideas and practices have altered the thinking of teachers all over North America.
Mr. Escalante teaches mathematics at Garfield High School, in East Los Angeles. In 1982, he astonished the academic world when 14 of his students from that inner-city school passed the advanced plaement tests for university-level calculus. Those of you who saw the movie "Stand and Deliver" will remember that the Princeton testing service was so astonished that they refused to believe the results - so the students passed the test a second time.
Escalante did not stop there. Year by year, he spread the message at Garfield until there are now only 3 schools in the entire United States that have more students writing advanced placement tests in calculus - and in a school where there were no advanced placement courses of any kind a few years ago, there are now such courses in several different subjects.
Mr. Escalante has shown us that we underestimate our students - and he has done this in the most amazing way - by having them excel in that sacrosanct subject known as THE calculus. This is the subject that is supposed to be too difficult for most people to learn -on the wall of Escalante's classroom there is a huge computer printout saying "Calculus need not be made easy; it is easy already".
It's one thing to teach calculus at the Bronx High School of Science, which selects the most gifted students in the area. The amazing and important thing is that Escalante is teaching it to an unselected class in inner-city Los Angeles. You will ask how he does it - what's the magic - and I'm glad to tell you that tapes are being made to show teachers how he does it.
But what is exciting is that it's not primarily a question of technique. It's his belief that these students can learn and his desire and ability to motivate them that has brought this success. Mr. Escalante has shown us that we underestimate our students, and equally important, that we underestimate ourselves. Singlehanded, he brought about a revolution first in Garfield High, and then in the entire education profession. He has raised the consciousness of our society to the point that teaching calculus was the subject of a film in first-run theatres - imagine - calculus in the home of mutant turtles.
Mr. Escalante has been showered with honours in recent years. I personally honour him for the demonstration that we need not despair in the face of mediocrity, and that situations can be improved by our own determination and resourcefulness. I ask our graduating class to remember his example, and apply themselves to the improvement of whatever microcosm of the world they may inhabit in the coming years.
Mr. Chancellor, it is a privilege, and one of the great pleasures of my life, to present to you, on behalf of the Senate, and by authority of the Board of Governors, Jaime Escalante, so that you may confer on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.