By Robert F. Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
A third-grader, asked to summarize a story his class had just heard about Socrates, replied: “Socrates was a great man. He told the truth. They killed him.”That anecdote reminded me of what happened to Jaime Escalante, whose work teaching math at an inner-city Los Angeles high school was the subject of the movie Stand and Deliver starring Edward James Olmos.Mr. Escalante passed away March 30th of this year, and he’ll be honored in his native Bolivia as the great educator he was. Unfortunately, in Los Angeles, he became a prophet without honor in the union-dominated school system.Why? Long before “No Child Left Behind,” Mr. Escalante believed that every child could learn. His boundless energy and remarkable success challenged his apathetic colleagues, who mostly were content to collect a paycheck and go home to suburbia.Mr. Escalante’s unorthodox methods elevated the achievement level to unprecedented heights among his mostly low-income pupils, and they won national honors in advanced-placement math, including calculus.Mr. Escalante also worked hard to instill pride as well as knowledge in his mostly Hispanic students, reminding them that many had ancestors – Aztecs, Mayans, Incas – who were great engineers, astronomers, and mathematicians.However, Mr. Escalante’s success contrasted with the apathy, sloth, and failure all around him and — as someone once noted about peer-group conformity — “the standing nail gets hammered.”The L.A. teachers union – so notorious for its intransigence that even Miami’s militant teacher union leader Pat Tornillo once told me that its leaders were “insane” – managed to destroy Mr. Escalante’s career and, eventually, get him dismissed from his job. Such is the state of government education when the unions run the show.