Saturday, April 3, 2010

Education and Jaime Escalante

The other day I walked into my house and found my father and two of my brothers sitting around the kitchen table discussing some pressing matter. This is our favorite past-time. Other families may enjoy throwing the ball around, board games, or watching sports, but nothing gets us more excited than an argument over Obama's progress or lack there of, immigrant rights, big government, the state of public schools, allocation of state money, and so forth. We sit around the kitchen table blood boiling calling each other loyal "automotrons" and other such ridiculous insults.

On this particular day the argument had something to do with education and the state of Latino progress in comparison with the rest of the nation. My brother Julio, the oldest and arguable the smartest (he went to Stanford...whatever!) mentioned a quote he had heard that the Chicano movement of the sixties and seventies did the population a great injustice by focusing on education and not on business. My brother Gabriel agreed and thought we might be better off today if they stressed becoming part of the market instead of focusing on things such as cultural studies in colleges. Basically, they argued that the movement created a whole generation of teachers and thinkers, but no money makers or government players. My only retort: "But it's part of our makeup to encourage community, culture, and education." They didn't seem too convinced, and went on to discuss those people who have made it to the upper echelons like Villaragosa and Gloria Molina. I decided to retreat to my computer and let them solve the world's problems without me.

The next morning, while getting ready for work, my father had the news on in the living room, which had a live feed from Garfield High School and the memorial for educator Jaime Escalante.

And I thought, "See, this is what it's about."

Jaime Escalante changed people's lives. More than that he changed how his students' saw themselves. He gave them tools to succeed, and what more can we ask for? That's why education and art and community are important. It reminds of who we are, and by knowing who we are we are able to accomplish more.

He told his students, "I'll teach you math and that's your language. With that you're going to make it. You're going to college and sit in the first row, not the back, because you're going to know more than anybody." He gave them an even playing field. He gave them the language and the space to achieve, and that is essential.

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