By Mandi Hall, staff writer
When a Hispanic teacher announced to his fellow teachers at a meeting that he intended to teach calculus to his students the following year, his proposition was met with open mouthed shock. The teacher taught in an underprivileged school for Hispanic students in the 80s, and these students hardly knew how to add and subtract, much less attempt AP Calculus.
However, the teacher set a new precedent, and his students ended up taking the AP Calculus test their senior year, despite everyone’s doubts.
“Stand and Deliver” is a 1988 movie based on the true story about high school math teacher Jaime Escalante, who took his students from learning that “a negative times a negative equals a positive” to solving for limits and using polar coordinates.
Escalante was a math teacher at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, California. Upset with the low expectations that the administration placed on his students, Escalante decided to take matters into his own hands. He taught his students higher level math, telling them that they could use the language of math to make something of themselves and show the world that they were just as smart as the rest. He constantly refers back to the Spanish word ganas, which loosely translates to desire or enthusiasm, as a motivation for his students to continue to pursue excellence.
Some may write this off as your traditional “good teacher changes lives of his students,” but “Stand and Deliver” really opens your eyes to the true struggles of these underprivileged kids. Escalante tells his kids “You already have two strikes against you: your name and your complexion.” This movie sheds some light about what these two strikes mean for these kids’ lives, making it not only a fun watch, but an impactful and powerful story.
The best part about this movie is that it focuses on the lives of the individual students, not just focusing on the teacher. There’s Ana, a smart but shy girl whose father intends to have her work in the family restaurant instead of attending college; Lupe, a girl with a big family who is forced to take care of the little ones; Pancho, the tough guy with determination who struggles with the harder math and a handful more. These students, while very different from each other, are all lumped into one group merely because of their skin color.
One of the main students, Angel Guzman, portrayed by Lou Diamond Phillips in his earlier years, is a bad kid who it seems everyone except Escalante has given up on. But even he grows to respect Escalante as a teacher and a mentor throughout the course of the movie.
These individual students put faces to the stories of discrimination that often happened in inner city schools during the time period, and even some today. The students didn’t know much simply because their teachers thought it pointless to teach them, since they were “too dumb to get it.” However, as Escalante eloquently points out, “It’s not that they’re stupid, it’s just they don’t know anything.”
In complete honesty, this movie is not for people who revel in the adrenaline rush given off by action movies. It is simply not that kind of movie. However, it does tell the true and inspiring story of a group of students of a minority who learned how to work the system, and it’s worth 102 minutes.
Escalante teaches his students that their name and skin color shouldn’t matter in the world of academics, only their knowledge and ganas. However, that theory is put to the ultimate test when the class is accused of cheating on the final AP test. Forced to retake the test, the students are really pushed to their limits to see if their knowledge and ganas will get them far enough.
Escalante’s eccentric and old-school personality and teaching style truly steals the show, making “Stand and Deliver” a both amusing and inspiring watch. After all, not many teachers would show up to school in a chef’s outfit and chop apples with a cleaver to help his students learn percentages.