Why am I reading a children's book - because I met Jaime Escalante years ago while he was teaching at Garfield, read about his achievements, and am very impressed by him. Author Schraff begins with Escalante's early life in Bolivia - bright son of two teachers, with a violent, drinking father. Escalante began teaching (physics) at age 21, while still going to school himself. He came to the U.S. at age 33 in 1963, at the urging of his wife. He spoke almost no English. In Bolivia he had been a poplar science and mathematics teacher; now he was looking for even car wash and restaurant work while his wife and son waited in Bolivia to join him.
In Pasadena he worked in a restaurant and attended school, then switched to working at Burroughs computer before graduating from California State University in 1973. In 1974, Escalante became a certified teacher in California at age 43. Arriving at Garfield High he found no learning going on - gangs, dropouts, rampant tardiness, material that was too easy, and a complacent staff and administration. By 1978 Escalante was teaching AP calculus - his first year two out of five passed, then 6 of 9, and 14 of 15. Escalante involved the parents, getting their support; in addition, the students came in early, stayed late, and worked extra at other times as well. Every class began with a five-minute quiz, and every week ended with a test. A considerable source of Escalante's success was due to his high expectations and ability to grab and retain the attention of normally restive and rebellious students. (The latter was accomplished through common interests such as sports, ability to relate to his pupils, and his own athletic ability - he would challenge pupils to handball, winners didn't have to complete their homework. Escalante always won. He was also an excellent boxer and not loathe to stand up and challenge his pupils.)
In 1982, Escalante had 18 AP students, and all passed. The Education Testing Service, however, suspected cheating, and requested retesting. Twelve returned, with little time for preparation, and all passed. Escalante became a hero, and by 1987 led 73 students to passing scores. However, jealousy from fellow teachers and administrators over the attention and awards Escalante received (a movie, honorary doctorates, visits from political notables, a trip to D.C. to meet President Reagan) caused Escalante to move to another school, and then retiring to Bolivia after 33 years of teaching in the U.S. and Bolivia.