Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

30 January 2015

Jaime Escalante Is My Hero

Like, ok, technically, Stand and Deliver is sort of a bad movie. It's actually kind of a hot mess. No scene lasts for longer than about 4 minutes, and director Ramón Menendez switches focus so many times that your head can start spinning.

But... Stand and Deliver is about the power of pedagogy, and even more importantly about the shift that can happen when a teacher believes that students can accomplish the tasks set in front of them. This is an inspiring, sentimental narrative that I totally bought into, even if I thought the movie was only so-so.

For some reason Edward James Olmos (who got an Oscar nomination for this role) has an accent I can't quite define, but the plot of the film – a computer programmer quits his job to teach math to Latino students in East Los and winds up helping them pass (with flying colors) the AP Calculus exam (They did better than I did. Seriously.) – is just so awesome.

And the film makes it really clear that it's racism that holds these students back, not their economic situation or anything else that mitigates their performance in the classroom.

Lou Diamond Phillips, Will Gotay, Ingrid Oliu, Vanessa Marquez, Lydia Nicole, Karla Montana, Mark Eliot, and Patrick Baca play a group of students that no one believes in. But they rise to the occasion and are awesome. (Incidentally, Vanity Fair should do a thirty-year-reunion photo with all of these folks in 2018.)

By the end of the picture, when the subtitles tell us that 18 students from Garfield High passed the AP Calculus test in 1982 and then that number grows every single year until it says that 87 students passed the exam in 1988, I had already started crying, soft-hearted sap that I am. This is the work. And if the film was sort of a mess, I don't really care. I was inspired.