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Education Bookcast

Feb 6, 2019

One of the main lessons from the story of Jaime Escalante's career at East LA's Garfeild High School was that it was ultimately a team effort to reach the academic level that the school eventually did. Apart from Escalante himself, there are two figures who stand out as central to the story: Henry Gradillas and Benjamin Jimenez.

Gradillas joined Garfield High as a biology teacher after six years in the US army and a short stint as an orchard manager. He saw clear similarities between the young people in his classroom and those who he had been training as an army captain - they were only slightly younger, and they had similar needs, desires, and problems. He would later be promoted to Dean of Discipline and finally Principal (Headmaster) of Garfield High, positions in which he would help deal with Escalante's problem students, and provide him with the resources he needed to make the Advanced Placement Calculus courses a success.

Jimenez was one of the other mathematics teachers at Garfield. Impressed with Escalante's classes, he became an apprentice and later collaborator and ally to Escalante. He would go on to run many of the courses preparing students for a the rigours of calculus, and would run some of the calculus classes themselves when the program grew above 100 students. Without Jimenez, Escalante would be left with only uninterested teachers and active enemies in his department, and too much work for one individual to carry out.

Escalante himself needs much less introduction, famous as he is. The title of the book is Escalante: The Greatest Teacher in America after all. The book goes into more detail about his background than those of the others. The most interesting thing we hear about his background is how he struggled as a beginning teacher, and the teachers that he admired as he went through his training. It is enlightening to see what his early influences were in terms of his approach to teaching.

Enjoy the episode.