STAND AND DELIVER
In the Gospel of Matthew it states, Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. (Matt. 25:40). This relates to Moltmanns guideline of the preferential option for the poor. In todays society we are faced with the poor everywhere we go. Whether it be in the largest cities in the world such as London, New York, or Los Angeles; or in the smallest towns in middle America, or third world countries the poor are suffering all around us.
I chose to discuss what I believe is an excellent example of the preferential option for the poor. The movie is called Stand and Deliver. This movie is based on the true story that focuses on a high school teacher in Los Angeles. His name is Jaime Escalante, portrayed by Edward James Olmos. He was a well-respected, well-liked teacher that decided to take a job at an L.A. high school in a poor, Spanish area, known for its violence, drugs and gangs among other things.
Many of the families that lived in this area could barely speak English, if at all. Many could not read or write past a fifth grade level either. The families were usually overpopulated with children that were underprivileged. These high school students were just trying to survive in their world without getting into trouble or dying, school was not a major concern for many of them. Most of these students normally ended up in jail, working in blue-collar jobs or even dead.
The teacher, Mr. Escalante, was also of Spanish decent and could relate to the trials of his new group of students. He had grown up in a tough neighborhood as well. He could not understand though, why they gave up so easily and why they seemed to lack self-discipline and self-respect as well as a lack of respect for others. He was taught to survive but to also respect his elders.
Mr. Escalantes area of expertise was in mathematics and he was hired to teach these students calculus. He walked into the classroom and was astonished to find that most of his students only knew basic mathematics. His goal was to prepare them for a statewide test in mathematics in order for them to be able to graduate from high school. His job was extremely difficult though, more difficult then he had anticipated. He never gave up hope for his students though.
After a few trying weeks the students seemed to pick up on the math that Mr. Escalante was trying to get across to them. He used everyday ideas and problems to convey the math to the students. For example, he used an apple to show the students that when you split an apple it gets cut in half (1/2), and if you cut the half you have quarters etc. This gave the students the help they thought they needed because they were always shown that they would end up like their families did, poor and always fighting for the necessities of life.
All the while he was also becoming their friend, mentor, father figure, counselor, motivator, as well as a teacher. He became involved in their personal lives helping them when and if he could anyway he could. For example, one student portrayed by Lou Diamond Philips, was a gang member, drug-dealing punk who lived with his Spanish-speaking grandmother who couldnt read. Mr. Escalante on his own time taught the boys elderly grandmother how to read and when a particular student got into trouble Mr. Escalante got him out of it as well. Another example of hope in action found in the film was the fact that every week Mr. Escalante would teach a night course to a group of ESL adults. He taught his students that they should be above all else proud to be who they are and that they can achieve something that many of their parents didnt achieve. They would with perseverance go on to better themselves in all aspects of their lives. He gave them the best gift of allhope.
It was this hope that was key when Mr. Escalante suffered a heart attack and his students took the imitative to study for their exam to prove to their teacher and friend that his hard work was not done in vain. The students took the required exam and when most of the students passed the test they were accused by the state of California of cheating. The students as well as Mr. Escalante were outraged that the state didnt believe that this group of kids could have done so well when they came from such a bad neighborhood.
They were asked to take the test again under strict supervision to prove that they were not cheaters. The findings on the exam were such that many of the students got the same questions wrong with the same exact errors on all of the papers. The state couldnt comprehend that because the same teacher taught them all, that it could be possible to make all the same mistakes on the exam. All of the students studied twice as hard and as long as they had the first time around. They all passed the test with flying colors again and the state had to let the students graduate.
No one could have been more proud of these kids as Mr. Escalante was. It was because of his faith and hope in these students intelligence that they could be high school graduates. He never gave up on them even when their own families did. He showed them that if you want something bad enough you will go to great lengths to get it and you will persevere. This is hope in action.