SUBJECTS — U.S./1945 – 1991, Diversity & California; Mathematics; Literature/Literary Devices: character development, symbols, subplot, foils, and irony;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Male Role Model; Self-Esteem; Education;

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Responsibility; Citizenship.

AGE; 12+; MPAA Rating — PG;

Drama; 1987; 105 minutes; Color. Available from

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This film is a dramatization of the efforts of a math teacher, Jaime Escalante, at Garfield High School in Los Angeles, whose motivational skills and teaching techniques brought academic success to students accustomed to failure. In 1982, eighteen of his students passed the Advanced Placement Test in Calculus, a success story muddied by charges of cheating when it was discovered that twelve of his students gave the same incorrect answer to one question on the test. The story reveals the response by the Educational Testing Service, the organization responsible for AP exams, and raises questions of racism. Not known to the moviemakers was strong evidence that cheating did, in fact, occur on the first AP Exam. However, when retested under strict scrutiny, the students passed a second exam.


Selected Awards: 1989 Independent Spirit Awards: Best Actor (Olmos); Best Director (Menendez); 1988 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Actor (Olmos); 1989 Golden Globe Awards Nominations: Best Actor (Olmos); Best Supporting Actor (Lou Diamond Phillips).

Featured Actors: Edward James Olmos, Lou Diamond Phillips, Rosanna De Soto, Andy Garcia, Will Gotay, Ingrid Oliu, Virginia Paris, Mark Eliot.

Director: Ramon Menendez.


Stand and Deliver is inspirational to all students. It also shows how, with hard work, the barriers a disadvantaged background can be overcome. There is a clear and obvious use of several literary devices.

Students will recognize and explain the literary devices of symbol, foil, and irony and the use of these devices to elucidate theme. Students will exercise their writing skills.


Smoking, alcohol use and allusions to sexuality are shown in the film. There are many incidences of profanity. The film telescopes four years of math study into one year and presents an inaccurate rendition of the facts relating to the dispute with the ETS.


Point out to your child that the students who may have cheated on one question still passed enough of the test to earn a good grade on the exam. Let them know that, as in most incidences of cheating, the victim is the individual who cheats; he or she is hurting him or herself.


This film demonstrates that teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds can accomplish amazing things when properly motivated and assisted by a good teacher. There is also strong evidence that twelve Garfield High students who passed the AP Calculus test in 1982 cheated on one problem: a question for which they all got the same wrong answer. It is clear that these students learned calculus and this fact does not undercut the message of the film. However, the evidence of cheating puts an interesting twist on the dispute with the ETS. It also provides an opportunity to teach students about due process in modern society and some of the problems with cheating. See teaching opportunities (5) and (6) below.

This Learning Guide explores teaching opportunities from “Stand and Deliver” in six areas:


Using In Classroom Here.


After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.


1. The changes in Angel’s clothing are a symbol which signifies something about his character in a way that is related to one of the themes of the story. What is the change and how does that change relate to theme?

Suggested Response:

At the beginning of the movie, Angel’s clothing signifies that he is in a gang. By the end they were neatly pressed and fashionable, part of the mainstream culture. This shows that Angel was transformed by the experience of working hard in the class and then mastering calculus.

2. What is revealed in the character of Angel when he bargains with Mr. Escalante to keep a book at home and how does this incident illustrate one of the key barriers to success facing young people such as Angel?

Suggested Response:

Angel wants to keep a book at home so he would not be seen by his friends as a serious student. In gangs as well as many friendship groups, academic success is a sign of leaving the circle of camaraderie, of disloyalty and of a desire to be a part of the mainstream culture.

3. Two of the main characters in the film have foils — less important characters who are different than the main characters in a way that points to theme. Identify the foils and describe how their differences with the main characters point to theme.

Suggested Response:

The lady who was the head of the math department who doubted that the students could learn calculus and who believed that they had probably cheated, was a foil for Mr. Escalante. She didn’t think that the students could meet the challenge of calculus and she believed that they cheated. Mr. Escalante believed in his students, had high expectations for them and didn’t believe that they had cheated. Angel’s gang banger friend, who didn’t try to learn anything and didn’t grow out of the gang life, was Angel’s foil. He stayed mired in the gang while Angel was able to lift himself out of it.

4. Assume that the students cheated on Free Response Question #6. There is an irony in this fact. What is it?

Suggested Response:

First, these students didn’t need to cheat. They passed the exam the first time without any credit on FRQ #6 and then they passed a different AP Calculus test when it was given the second time. Second, in their effort to cheat, they got the wrong information and the wrong answer. In other words, the cheating didn’t help the students get their passing grades the first time around and they suffered a substantial penalty by having to take the test again. This is an example of situational irony.

5. Assume that the students cheated on Free Response Question #6. How does that fact affect the core messages of the film?

Suggested Response:

Two of the core messages are that (1) inspired students can achieve wonders if they have teachers who have high expectations and (2) something very good for math education and for the Latino community happened at Garfield High while Mr. Escalante taught there. Whether or not Mr. Escalante’s students cheated on one question because of the pressure they were under and their inability to resist temptation, they still learned calculus. It is obvious that they worked hard and mastered the material, given the fact that they passed the examination again when ETS monitors were present. Thus, the evidence that they cheated on Free Response Question #6, does not negate their achievement in mastering calculus.



1. Do you think that Mr. Escalante is a role model for a teacher?

2. The film shows some of Mr. Escalante’s mistakes. Can you describe three of them?



3. Would you be willing to give up your mornings, afternoons, and weekends, and a good part of your summer to prove to yourself that you could learn calculus and pass the AP Calculus test?

4. Describe the corrosive effects of the loss of self-esteem to the students in this film before they met Mr. Escalante.



5. One of Mr. Escalante’s special qualities was that he had high expectations for his students. What is the importance of a teacher’s expectations for a class?

6. Did Mr. Escalante do the right thing in going to the restaurant owned by the family of one of his female students to persuade the girl’s father to allow her to attend the extra calculus classes? What is the appropriate role for a teacher when communicating with a student’s family?

7. Describe some of the techniques that Mr. Escalante used to keep his students interested in the class.

8. Remember the lady who was head of the math department at Garfield High School? This teacher had low expectations for her students and thought that Mr. Escalante’s students had cheated. What caused her to have these attitudes?

9. What does this film tell you about the special contributions that inspiring teachers can make to their students and their community?



(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)

1. The ETS was faced with strong evidence that the students had cheated. This came from their incorrect responses to Free Response Question #6, in which most of the class applied the same incorrect formula to the problem and made an identical mistake in simplifying a fraction, a type of calculation that they had been doing correctly since the 6th or 7th grade. Assume that the students cheated on Free Response Question #6. Discuss the role of the law of unintended consequences in the outcome of this situation.

2. Assume that the students cheated on Free Response Question #6. Describe three reasons why cheating at school is not a good idea and how this relates to the situation of the students in Mr. Escalante’s class.



(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)

3. Many teachers and school administrators, as well as children and parents have seen this film. Why aren’t all children taking the AP Calculus test or engaging in some other specialized effort to excel? What about you? Are you making some special effort in your life to excel?

4. Mr. Escalante got angry at Angel and unfairly punished him. The only reason that this did not have disastrous consequences was that Angel was committed and resourceful. How does this incident show the need for self-control by both Angel and Mr. Escalante?


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


Assignment, Projects & Activities Here.


Books that can be read in conjunction with this film are biographies of people from disadvantaged backgrounds who nonetheless excelled in their work. Examples are Sal Si Puedes by Victor Chavez, Yes I Can by Sammy Davis, Jr. and Go Up for the Glory by Bill Russell. Jaime Escalante: Sensational Teacher by Ann Byers, 1996, Enslow Publishers, Inc., Springfield, N.J. was written for students grades 6 – 9. Escalante: The Best Teacher in America by Jay Mathews, 1988, Henry Holt and Company, New York, is a full-scale biography of Mr. Escalante. Another wonderful book is The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (1902).


Supplemental Materials Here.


Links Here.


CCSS Anchor Standards Here.


Bibliography Here.

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