Statements of Excellence for Admission to Graduate School in Mathematics
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The Humanitarian Side of Mathematics
They named an asteroid after Jaime Escalante. They made a movie about him, and wrote a book in his name. This Bolivian math teacher´s story is a fascinating and deeply humanitarian one.
Escalante taught mathematics and physics for 12 years before he moved to the USA in the 70s. He worked odd jobs and earned another college degree at California State University until he was able to learn English and start teaching calculus to underprivileged students no one else wanted to teach.
Escalante began by convincing the students that they could control their futures with the right education—that they could get jobs in engineering, electronics and computer science if they learned math. He said, “I'll teach you math and that's your language. With that you're going to make it. You're going to college and sit in the first row, not the back, because you're going to know more than anybody."
To begin with, he received considerable criticism from the school administration where he worked. He was threatened with dismissal because he was coming into work too early, leaving too late and neglected to get administrative permission to raise funds to pay for his students´ Advanced Placement tests.
When a new principal arrived, who supported Escalante´s work by denying extracurricular activities to students who failed to maintain a C average and new students who failed basic skills tests, his work really started to have a big impact.
In 1978, he taught his first calculus class to five students, and two passed their AP calculus test. The following year, the class got bigger, and seven out of the nine students that participated passed their AP calculus test. By 1981, 14 out of 15 passed. Escalante pushed his students hard, and they really moved mountains to get the grade.
In 1982, Escalante received a lot of attention when 18 of his students passed the AP test in calculus. But 14 were asked to take the exam again, when the Educational Testing Service were suspicious because all the students made the same error and used certain variable names in their exam. Many of the students did better the second time around, and had their scores reinstated. By the early 90s, the number of people taking the advanced placement exams jumped up to 570.
Jaime would proudly claim “The Aymara knew math before the Greeks and Egyptians”. He was a proud of his heritage. Escalante sadly passed away in 2010, aged 79, of bladder cancer.
Thank you very much for the prompt attention given to my essays. You really did a great job.
E.A. (Application for Ph.D. in Mathematics April 2011)