Ruben Navarrette wrote a tribute to revered, late educator Jaime Escalante, “Jaime Escalante’s lesson for teachers.” Unfortunately, Mr. Escalante’s martyrdom — although unacknowledged — far overshadows his heroism:
Jaime Escalante, Erin Gruwell, Ron Clark.
What do they all have in common? For one, they have each been celebrated by public education and Hollywood as heroes of American education, leading their students against all odds to success, within and without the classroom.
The other thing they share is not as well publicized: they left public education far too soon. Escalante frustrated by bureaucratic, non-student-centric administration and union rules. Gruwell and Clark to find non-public education solutions to better learning; Gruwell after only four years to become a college professor, and Clark after about a dozen years to found a private school based on his principles and practices.
Why is that?
Consider the irony. Thousands of math classrooms show Stand and Deliver on the “off days” right before a holiday break or in the days after the end-of-class high stakes exams occur (effectively marking the end of the course), classrooms which have little in common with Escalante’s classrooms. Freedom Writers, also a staple of English classrooms, is regularly shown in classrooms which quickly return to the routine of teaching writing and literature with no attempt to connect to the lives of the students.
The greatest irony is perhaps watching Ron Clark give his inspirational performance before 1,700 applauding and foot-stomping teachers at a National Council of Teachers of Math conference in Washington in 2009 with so few of those revelers even stopping to think that the school systems at which they work and the teacher unions they support do not tolerate Clark’s methods in their classrooms. And, of course, not even stopping to think that that may explain why Clark is no longer in public education.
These people are truly heroes. It would be so much better if they weren’t in a public education culture that made them martyrs as well.