Saturday, 7 September 2013

Stand and Deliver: Making math cool long before "The Big Bang Theory'

Edward James Olmos with Jaime Escalante, the real-life inspiration
 for the character he played in "Stand and Deliver"
Many times it has made the top 10 lists of the most inspiring movies about teachers, right up there with "Dead Poets Society", "Dangerous Minds", and "To Sir With Love".

"Stand and Deliver" told the unbelievable story of a group of high school students in east Los Angeles who could barely do fractions. Then, a new teacher comes to school, a graduate of the same school and Hispanic like them. He not only teaches them math, but how to dream. They go from barely able to do fractions, to mastering calculus and writing an exam that gives them advanced college credit. It is based on the true story of Jaime Escalante, who turned barrio students into mathematicians.

Edward James Olmos, abandoning his role as the stylish
and well-groomed police commander on "Miami Vice" to
play the middle-aged math teacher Jaime Escalante.
He actually gained weight and underwent other physical
changes to play the role.
It was an inspiring movie, a true story of a teacher who saw the potential in students who everyone else gave up on. Edward James Olmos took a break from his role as Castillo, the commanding officer of Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs on "Miami Vice" to play Jaime Escalante. It also starred a young Andy Garcia in a bit role, and Lou Diamond Phillips, fresh off his role as Ritchie Valens in “La Bamba”.

It’s one of a handful of movies about teachers making a difference in the world. It also showed math could be a way to a new life. Essentially, long before shows about geniuses like "The Big Bang Theory"made math cool, there was "Stand and Deliver". At the time I was an education student, and stories like this made me believe I made the right career choice.

“Just remember, I was a math major before ‘Stand and Deliver’ came out.” – Chris Vining
Those were the immortal words of my best friend in high school and roommate in university. I’d read a story and seen the movie poster of the movie “Stand and Deliver” in the Edmonton Journal in first year of university. I had made a mental note to see it when it hit the theatres.

The movie poster that first peaked
my interest in "Stand and Deliver"
That would not occur until first year was over, and Chris and I had moved home for the summer. He spent a good chunk of that summer working up north, but got home once in awhile. One weekend when he was home, “Stand and Deliver” was playing at College Village Mall, or as we called it, the Woolco Mall.

He wasn't as sold on it as I was, because it really did not sound that exciting the way I described it. Yet he was always game to see a movie. When he got out, he was as impressed as I was – especially because he had just switched his major to math. He would eventually go on to teach quite a bit of secondary school math. I too changed my minor from English to math as well. However, I ultimately made the decision not to be a teacher, but to be a journalist.

As it turned out Chris made the right choice. He’s an amazing teacher. I guess what I learned was not to be a teacher, but to tell the stories of inspiring people like Jaime Escalante.

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