Create Desire

"You've got to have ganas—desire," Mr. Escalante told his high school class of Mexican-American students in East Los Angeles. "Desire to know."

Jaime Escalante's story is immortalized in the inspiring film Stand and Deliver. In the movie, Mr. Escalante has left a lucrative job as a computer programmer in the aerospace business to take on a low-paying teaching position in East L.A. where he faces off with the class's cholo gang leader. Undaunted, Mr. Escalante tells his students that "you have mathematics in your blood." He tells them that without an education they will end up pumping gas for a living. To convince his students that they can be successes, Escalante invites an F-16 pilot to lecture on the importance of mathematics in flying high-performance aircraft. The pilot is a Mexican American and the students listen.

Mr. Escalante is determined to teach advanced placement mathematics—calculus—to his class. The other teachers explain that it would be impossible—most of the students are from broken homes and, besides, the school doesn't have the funds for the computers Escalante wants. The teachers and even the students themselves have low expectations.

Mr. Escalante refuses to give up on his dream. He waves off the naysayers, turns aside the threats, finds the funding—overcomes all the obstacles thrown at him.

He insinuates himself into the minds and hearts of his students. He somehow knows what makes them tick. He instills in them the feeling that they are "part of a brave corps on a secret impossible mission," as discussed by Judith Rich Harris in her seminal book, The Nurture Assumption.

The students start to work hard on calculus and they learn to support each other. Even the gang leader tries to help out by offering Mr. Escalante "protection" in exchange for two extra textbooks. Escalante accepts the offer, carefully sidestepping direct aggression with the aplomb of a matador.

In the end, eight students take the standardized test and pass with high marks—so high, in fact, that the testing agency suspects the students of cheating due to the statistical improbability of such a feat. The students are forced to take the exam again. Suspicious proctors stare over their shoulders—but the students rise to the occasion and are vindicated. In the ensuing years, Mr. Escalante shares his dream with dozens of other students who stand and deliver in greater and greater numbers.

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