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RIP: Jaime Escalante, Inspiration for 'Stand and Deliver' Dead at 79


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Here’s what I wrote about “Stand and Deliver” — a film Jaime Escalante called 90% truth, 10% drama — just last year:

These inner city students had all kinds of reasons to fail but Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos, in one of the best performances of the 80s) refused to give them excuses. This scene crystallized the attitude of the entire film. No Ebonics, no multi-cultural nonsense, no woe is me. Escalante presented the world to his students as it is and prepared them to succeed in it by demanding their very best.

To produce narcissists you need only teach self-esteem based on identity instead of accomplishment.

Escalante produced adults.

That was a quick impression based on a single scene, a scene YouTube has since removed. But having just watched the film a few months ago I was struck even more by the faith Escalante had in his students. Through all the attitude, posturing, bad behavior and bravado, and though he was encouraged at every turn to give up on them, this was a man who fundamentally understood that people are people and that these kids were just as smart and capable of learning as any child of privilege.

Escalante saw their potential and pushed them aspire:

“One of the greatest things you have in life is that no one has the authority to tell you what you want to be. You’re the one who’ll decide what you want to be. Respect yourself and respect the integrity of others as well. The greatest thing you have is your self image, a positive opinion of yourself. You must never let anyone take it from you.”

Naturally, those around him poisoned by that grotesque union mentality and spoiled by how easy it is to just give everyone a passing grade and justify this cruel laziness as “self-esteem,” fought him at every turn. And I doubt that’s something Hollywood would allow to be portrayed on film today. But “Stand and Deliver” didn’t flinch from this horrible truth and neither did the Bolivian born Escalante who gave up a lucrative private sector job to make a difference…and did.

I live less than a couple of miles from Garfield High School, the school where one man changed the lives of thousands. Labor leader Cesar Chavez is celebrated all over my neighborhood. I don’t pay him much attention. But whenever I’m nearby, I’ll go a little bit out of the way to take a slow cruise past Garfield.

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