Jaime Escalante, the legendary calculus teacher who turned East Los Angeles teenagers into top math students, said he has agreed to advise Arnold Schwarzenegger on education issues.
In a phone interview this week from his native Bolivia, where he retired after a career teaching math, Escalante, 72, said he had been contacted by Schwarzenegger representatives and would be flying to California next week to discuss education with the gubernatorial candidate.
“I’m going to come up and help him out,” Escalante said. “Once I get there, we’ll have help from different sources, especially in the Latino community. We’re going to do something.”
By tapping Escalante, the Schwarzenegger campaign continues a pattern of using high-profile “wise men” to speak for the candidate on various issues. Last week, Schwarzenegger held a summit of a new “economic recovery council” co-headed by former Secretary of State George P. Shultz and billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett.
Schwarzenegger aides said they would announce a team of education advisors in early September to coincide with the back-to-school season.
Escalante is just one of many “big names” who will be part of Schwarzenegger’s education team, a campaign spokesman said.
Escalante, whose success in teaching Advanced Placement calculus at Garfield High School inspired the movie “Stand and Deliver,” is not new to the political world. He appeared at a Sacramento campaign forum during George W. Bush’s presidential campaign and was featured in Spanish-language advertisements for Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Lungren in 1998. He was on Gov. Pete Wilson’s short list for state superintendent of public instruction.
Escalante said he planned to meet with Schwarzenegger on Sept. 8.
“We’re going to have to develop the attack plan,” Escalante said.
As a teacher, Escalante used unorthodox techniques to inspire students. He presented calculus almost as a team sport, and used daily tests, Saturday sessions, math tricks, warm praise and even harsh insults to inspire his charges. He did not use lesson plans or the carefully scripted curriculums that state education officials have recently favored.
Escalante and Schwarzenegger have been friends since 1991, when the actor appeared on the PBS series “Futures,” which consisted of 15-minute episodes that Escalante anchored. Escalante would talk about math, and then have a celebrity, in one episode Schwarzenegger, appear to discuss the real-world applications of the lesson.
That program was produced by the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education. The foundation, which helped support Escalante’s after-school and summer instruction, has no formal ties to the Church of Scientology but was founded by church members. The foundation remains a primary contact for Escalante, and the teacher said the Schwarzenegger campaign had reached out to him through the foundation.
Escalante said he was still grateful for Schwarzenegger’s help and saw his campaign work as returning the favor.
“Somehow I had to pay back what he did for me,” Escalante said.