We are reminded in an essay today by Ruben Navarrette, Jr. that Jamie Escalante “became, in the words of Jay Matthews, education reporter for the Washington Post, ‘the most famous and influential American public school teacher of his generation.’”. Navarrette explains:
Escalante — who made East Los Angeles’ Garfield High School famous when his story was immortalized in the 1988 film Stand and Deliver – earned that title by teaching calculus to students who the school system had decreed couldn’t handle anything harder than general math.
I have had three experiences with high school classes populated by teenagers who have been judged to be limited learners. For 10 years I coordinated a New York City public schools mentor program. For two years I personally coached a debate group of about 20 student at a problem high school. For nearly thirty years I have judged citywide public high school debates. I have witnessed bountiful excellence from these kids.
The bottom line is that only individual students succeed in learning. School spirit “rah, rah,” affection for the teacher and mentor, and other teenage foibles are at the surface. When it comes to learning calculus or debate, individual students learn and master the subject one at a time.
Obviously believing in students is necessary to teach them something. Otherwise why would a teacher bother. The notion, however, that setting group standards will somehow teach classes of kids — elite or deprived — is false to the core. Having the confidence that one can teach almost any individual youngster to understand calculus or debate is valid. Escalante proved the point about calculus and I have seen it happen repeatedly in debate.
I realize that the educators, pedagogues, and politicians have elaborate theories about these issues. They claim expertise and spin their ideas at great cost in both money and generations lost to a failing school system.
Handschooling is a stunning new way individual youngsters can learn without being part of a crowd that identifies them as elite or deprived. A kid with a mobile can ride in a BMW or a bus, learning calculus or the rules of debate on his/her own. I feel certain that Jaime Escalante — as with all great teachers — found a way to teach each of his students as individually as handschooling does now virtually. May he rest in peace.
And of course the mobile is not human. It is a machine that teaches individuals the way a flight simulator or flashcards do. One advantage the mobile knowledge delivery does have over human teachers is that the online source is incapable of prejudging students because it does not know who they are: the elite/deprived factor is removed from the knowledge delivery mix.