Stand and Deliver: - 2 + 2 = Jaime Escalante (6000 words)
"The School. The Teachers. The Parents. The Students. No one cared, except one man. He was the new maths teacher. And he was out for blood."
When I dig into movies in order to find little mysteries and alternative interpretations of the stories they tell us, there is a feeling that I like a lot. It’s the feeling of not being able to come back to my original perception of the film although my interpretation might seem quite far-fetched.
Sometimes, it’s quite easy to find an alternative reading, sometimes it’s buried deep or I’m not very sensitive to the elements that should guide me to it. But there’s a case that can be confusing and it’s when the “alternative reading” is so obvious that it doesn’t even seem like one and the movie is likely to be misunderstood by most people and critics because of a taboo which triggers denial reflexes and suppression into the subconscious.
Stand and Deliver is a case of this fascinating non-obvious obviousness.
The movie is based on a true story which was less than ten years old when it was shot. A teacher of Garfield highschool (poorest school of the state of California at the time) managed to have eighteen pupils pass a serious maths test (The A.P. Calculus) which would open them the doors to college.
If you search for reviews of the movie somewhere, it is quite probable that you’ll come across the word “inspirational.” Yes, without any resource, a teacher managed to transform under-educated very poor pupils into college material. He showed the world that you only need “ganas” (Desire) to manage ! Bravo ! What a stunt ! People who fail to overcome obstacles are just lazy losers ! Let’s leave them to their deserved fate ! This is so inspirational.
Now, how any person could watch this movie (several times) and not realise that the teacher is a psychopathic egomaniac, I cannot fathom. And I’m weighing my words carefully here. He IS a psychopath, and everything he does revolve around an EGO that swallows everything around him. He is a dangerous man who should be treated and certainly not given any kind of authority over anybody. He is not going to help these kids, he is going to scar them profoundly.
While watching the movie for the first time, I suppose we all produce the same conditioned response that is to infer from Jaime Escalante’s behaviour that he loves his pupils more than anything and that if he is so devoted to the task at hand it is because he wants to see them succeed, to see them have beautiful lives. And we want to believe this hard because the idea that teachers are benevolent and only think of their pupils’ profit is one of the greatest lie about education in our cultures.
Jaime Escalante is a very selfish and ego-centered man who is only trying to make a point. Also, he is a master at hiding his emotions, he is a very calculating person (math teacher ?) who remains very ambiguous with each one of his reactions.
Let’s take a closer look at the film.
1: Water and Canal
It starts with a very narrow shot of a stretch of water that reflects the sunbeams. This shot is accompanied with a music that sounds a bit oriental and inspires a feeling of serenity, of calm, wisdom, of harmony and space. The water and the sun are the two basic ingredients needed to spawn life and that’s what this first image represents: life, nature.
Just as the camera redresses from a diving medium shot to a standard large one to reveal that we were not looking at the sea but at a canal, the melodic music stops and enters a repetitive pattern which consists in two notes only separated by a half-tone (I believe) => A bit humorously, width is transformed into lack of space. The sea and the beauty that we were expecting are not there. Instead, there’s concrete, channelled water and the horizon is concealed by ugly bridges.
Of course, this is a metaphor for the story to come. The kids are nature, they are the water getting trapped and reoriented towards a future of concrete. Concrete here meaning uniformity, lifelessness, rigidity and pure practicality (absence of spirituality). “Béton” and “concret.”
2: Across the neighbourhood
On this bridge appears Jaime Escalante behind the wheel of his beetle. I really don’t know if it’s done on purpose but it gave me a lieutenant Columbo feel. The guy who has his mind above material things and who only investigates rich people’s crimes.
It’s an important element because it inspires the feeling that when he travels through the Latino neighbourhood his gaze is benevolent, all the more so as everything that the movie allows us to see is positive, apart from the obvious misery. There are tags on the walls, but most of them are actually quite beautiful (sight) and one shouts “we are not a minority.” There is pride in this neighbourhood. (whereas Jaime's apparent poverty is pure self-deprecation)
Men are forced to share the back of a pick-up truck to go to work probably because a vehicle still represents an investment not all of them can afford to make; but they are chatty and smiling and look relaxed and comfortable.
On the sidewalk a man is recharging the battery of a car with the one of another. Again, poverty => damaged old cars that people have to repair themselves because they cannot afford to go to a garage or buy another one; but autonomy, skills and solidarity => the guy is repairing on his own but with two cars. On the same sidewalk a group of young children is rushing through the street for no obvious reason except for the director's desire to show us that there is life, energy and happiness here… and a future too.
A band of mariachi is walking around in front of a record shop. There’s music here (hearing sense). Music = dance = love = sex = life. And a stand of tacos, it’s the same thing with food as with music. Taste = appreciation of life. There is a strong cultural aspect linked to all these elements obviously, an identity, most signs are written in Spanish (discoteca) except the one that says “we are not a minority” which is obviously addressing the exterior world.
Spontaneously, we believe that Jaime Escalante looks at all this with love. The thing is, there’s absolutely no indicator of that. Columbo (I love Columbo) regularly eats beans or chili at a humble bar/restaurant. In such an environment we’d see him buy tacos, smile or say hello and ridicule himself in some sort of manner. Jaime Escalante comes from the city. Literally, he appears in the film coming back from the city, the skyscrapers in the background=> Sky – scrapers. Jaime tried to touch the sun and burnt his wings. He goes through the poor neighbourhood without stopping and takes a turn on an empty road after he’s exited it.
I know this is going to sound completely out of nowhere but to me, it looks like John Carpenter’s Halloween or any horror movie with a stalking killer. The particularity of these movies is that the victims are killed because of something they do on screen. The murders are not exactly premeditated, the POV shots incarnate the judgement going on and show us why the murders take place but they also imply that things could go differently, something could stop the killer. What Jaime should see is life. But there is nothing to stop him in the Latino neighbourhood. He sees no worth.
Why would Escalante want to kill a whole neighbourhood ? (the answer is somewhere in this essay)
3: The Hair
I know the real Escalante had similar hair but it doesn't change a thing to the fact that it can be used as a meaningful element in the movie.
When he arrives at the school, the first thing that we notice is that he is bald. I don’t want to sound harsh or superficial here, I’m strictly talking about elements of meaning, but this discovery about his physical appearance borders a shift from “handsome man” to “hideous” in our perception of him.
In the car his baldness is concealed by the shadow of the roof and Jaime Escalante truly looks a lot more like a man who takes care of himself while in the hall of the school, he becomes that old weird teacher who lives in his own world and who isn’t aware of anything about himself or of the way people perceive him.
It’s not exactly Escalante’s baldness that is problematic, more the fact that he should let some of his hair grow long and cover his revealed skin to an absolutely repellent effect. This tells you a lot about him as a character:
First, it tells you that he cannot stand what he is. Then, that he is a hypocrite => he tries hard to conceal the truth about himself. And eventually, that he is a sterile land, or that his head/brain/mind is sterile, as nothing can grow on it.
I might sound very negatively prejudiced but I’m only trying to be coherent really. A peculiar physical appearance could mean that someone values the idea of “accepting oneself” but there is nothing that would echo this throughout the movie. On the contrary, Escalante asks for absolute submission and adaptation from his pupils.
And what about the fact that he’ll “funnily” bully one of them into changing his haircut the whole story long ?
4: Does Not Compute
In the hall of the school, he looks impatient and unsettled. When he finally manages to obtain the secretary’s attention he explains his situation: “My name is Jaime Escalante and I was supposed to teach computer science”
The secretary cuts him off with a “We don’t have computers” and leaves him hanging. The head of the maths department, Raquel Ortega, overhears the exchange and begins to explain Escalante the miserable situation the school is in. She is asking him to read between the lines: “We didn’t hire you to teach computer science.” But Escalante won’t hear anything and answers: “But, you don’t seem to understand, I was supposed to teach computers.”
Earlier in this article I called Escalante a psychopath, this echoing “teach computers” sentence is an indicator of the man’s psychological rigidity. He very well knows that there are no computers in the school and that he wasn’t hired to teach computer science, it’s written on the letter that he received from the school and that he is currently holding.
Ortega cannot tell him “Yeah, we screwed you. Nobody wants to work here, we’re in desperate need of new teachers and… we simply lied to you so that you would accept the job.” If she cannot tell him this, it is because she has pride, dignity and is very ashamed of what they did.
The letter was sent to Escalante in order to feign some kind of mistake on the side of the school. Something like “We hired you as a teacher of computer science, unfortunately, the school cannot afford to buy any computer this year and we have thus decided to reassign you to the math department.”
It’s a desperate move to find a math teacher and the letter represents a poor attempt at showing Escalante a little bit of respect as once he’s read it, he can resign or start looking for another job keeping in mind that he’ll resign as soon as he’s found it. There’s a P.E. teacher who teaches maths in this school so there’s no discussing the miserable situation it is in.
If Escalante was a balanced person, the letter sent by the school could have triggered two types of reaction in him; either he’d be angry and they would never see him again, or at least just once to get shouted at, or he’d understand, resign or accept the situation and teach.
But Escalante comes to the school and plays dumb. “I don’t understand, I don’t understand. I was supposed to teach computer science. Say it bitch ! Say it that you screwed me !” His last iteration of the phrase (the one that comes after Ortega’s explanations) isn’t the funny reaction of a disoriented man, it means “I don’t give a shit about your problems, you hired me to be a teacher in computer science and you knew perfectly that there was no such post available.”
Stand and Deliver introduces Escalante has a guy with a serious grudge against the school which hired him.
But this “I was supposed to teach computers” means even more than this. It means that Escalante is even less capable of understanding (forgive) the trap set by the school as it challenges his very own intimate logic. He was hired as a computer teacher, how could he possibly be expected to teach maths ? Does not compute. Syntax error.
And I should not forget about the ambiguity of the phrase “teaching computers” in which pupils = computers. No awareness of life.
So, we have our motivation for what’s to come. Jaime Escalante wants to prove the whole school that when you want to achieve something, it only takes will to do it, and nothing justifies the swindle he’s been subjected to because if truly the principal and Raquel Ortega wanted things to improve, they would just need to make an effort. His initiative is an insult.
Said like this it might seem a bit far-fetched; nobody would overreact in such a disproportionate manner. Yes, nobody normal, but Jaime Escalante is a psychopath.
5: The Fight With the Head Teacher
Jaime Escalante’s behaviour during the first reunion between teachers stands as a better argument in favour of the idea that he is… an asshole, to put it simply.
The reunion is a complete debacle. The principal explains that they are facing the possibility of being the first school of California to have lost its accreditation. One maths teacher reminds them that he truly is a Phys-ed teacher. Another announces his resignation.
The situation is critical and the head teacher’s discourse is “we need more money, we need support. The district’s expectations are ridiculous. They are delusional.”
This reunion is a peculiar one in the fact that critical situations ask for initiatives and special requests. The head of the maths department is really close to making her point: they need help. They need to be taken into account. Their existence needs to be acknowledged.
In the middle of this, Jaime raises his hand and tells the principal that he could do more. He utters his very quotable super cool sentence “students will rise to the level of expectations.” He is contradicting something that Raquel Ortega didn’t really say.
She said “You can’t teach logarithms to illiterates.” Jaime answers as if she was saying this contemptuously but the ostentatious radicality of her sentence doesn’t spring from her contempt for her pupils but from her desire to see the seriousness of the situation being acknowledged and acted upon.
By opening his mouth and thwarting her, he is going straight against the interests of every single pupil in the school. She was about to succeed into having her voice be heard and Jaime fucks it up. Why ? Because he holds a grudge against her.
This is a very important element to accept and assimilate. At this moment, if Jaime gave a shit about the pupils of the school he would have shut his mouth and postponed his declaration or better, he would have kept his project secret.
The thing is, humiliating the head teacher is his sole purpose (at this point). He chooses this moment to explain his idea specifically because he wants to humiliate her, to prevent her from reaching any goal she might want to reach.
Raquel: We cannot do anything in these conditions. We need an economic support.
Jaime: Yes we can !
Molina: What do you need ?
Jaime: Ganas. Desire. Will. We don’t need no money. Money is for sissies.
This is Stand and Deliver in four lines.
In four words: Escalante is a psychopath.
Before Jaime allows himself to boast in such a manner during a reunion, he’s taken the precaution of checking whether he could perform the stunt he announces.
Of course, this is not something that should be held against him. If he wants pupils to improve significantly or to pass a famously difficult test (that which he doesn’t yet want anyway), it’s understandable that he should make sure that there is a chance of success before getting them involved in an exhausting learning program. (But doesn’t it contradict what he said at the reunioin ? If Pupils rise according to expectations, why checking their level beforehand).
The thing is, the reconnoitring that the movie shows isn’t about their skills but about their personalities and motivations. He necessarily very quickly knows what they are capable of when it comes to maths.
This movie is supposed to be “inspirational” because Jaime Escalante’s story proves (symbolically) that anyone can succeed in studies if they put enough effort into it. The problem with this idea is that it is a common place. Anybody can be super good in maths or in literature or in philosophy. The question is not whether a person can be good at something, it is how much it is going to cost them and are they /capable of paying/willing to pay/ the price and should they be ?
Does the fact that “students will rise to the level of expectations” give you the right to expect anything from them ? And is it not more like “will try to rise” ?
There is no point in proving that the pupils of Jaime Escalante’s class can pass the A.P. calculus test. They can. They all can. In an abstract world. In theory. There’s no reason why they couldn’t.
However, when it comes to the real world, the obstacles are numerous and huge. That’s what Raquel Ortega was talking about.
And Escalante (unconsciously) takes this into account. That’s why he precautiously checks whether pupils are going to bite the fish hook or not.
Before the grandiose reunion during which he gets his first opportunity to shut the head teacher’s mouth, he shifts to teaching algebra instead of regular maths.
“You’re too good for basic maths. I’m going to teach you algebra because I’m the champ.“
What kind of an argument is that ? The pupils are weak. They’re not too good for basic maths. However, shifting to a different type of teaching will make his accomplishment stands out more easily. Also, the feeling of being special is something that can drive the pupils. Algebra becomes the signifier of their peculiar worth.
The “I’m the champ” goes in that direction too. Working for him becomes associated with “being special”, “being an elite.” And this is something that can be very rewarding for kids from poor areas.
Escalante is taking advantage of their misery and of his position as a representative of the state to manipulate them into doing what he wants.
And that’s not the only manipulation he resorts too.
Escalante’s first day at school is mainly the observation that sex is the sole thing that drives these kids.
Sex is the core of an individual. I won’t dwell too much into this but, simply, if it is so omnipresent in this scene, it is because the pupils are stripped to the core. They have nothing left but this raw, crude sex drive to express themselves or feel alive… and anger maybe.
Tito asks a girl “where were you yesterday ? I was waiting.” She sits on his knees and he gropes her body. The same girl asks Escalante whether they can talk about sex. Then the bell rings, the principal announces “it was a premature bell” and the girl jokes “A premature bell ? I thought we weren’t supposed to talk about sex in class.” Bell/orgasm. => the end of the lessons is what the pupils enjoy.
The pupils rigged the bell so that it would ring constantly, this makes the principal laugh because he knows it is a token of their appreciation of life. Escalante doesn’t. He is coldly observing his preys.
On the next day, he brings apples to the lesson and disguises himself as a cook. This represents his first attempt at capturing his pupils’ attention… and souls.
The apple is the forbidden fruit of knowledge and of sexuality. This scene is a metaphor of Escalante’s teaching.
The fruit is what the pupils want and that he pretends to know perfectly. He asks Claudia what’s on her desk and she says “an apple”, then he asks Lupé because both girls are in competition and he knows it. Lupé was given half an apple. So she gives a more complex answer than Claudia (But she is half as attractive). One is rewarded one is vexed. But Ana was given 75% of an apple and describes it as “missing 25%.” Escalante compliments her on her right answer and asks “Is it true intelligent people are better lovers ?”
He’s just ordered the female of the class according to their sex appeal putting the best in math at the top. This is done in one scene, obviously in reality this takes weeks but it still means the same thing: Escalante is depriving the pupils of their right to choose their objects of desire hence transforming them into objects. He attacks the last thing that they have, their selves, their personal lives, their identities.
We will never see the girl who said “can we talk about sex” again as he cannot fool her.
Pancho used to fancy Claudia but he quickly turns toward Lupé because of Escalante’s course. When they want to raise a mutiny, Lupé refuses to take her test but Tito, who was supposed to refuse too, doesn’t and thus Escalante breaks the bound between the boy and the girl. He emasculates Tito. And we know that he knew about the boy’s attraction for Lupé, it’s developed very early in the film when Escalante is observing his pupils.
In the courtyard when he asks Tito “Which one do you like Johnny ?” it doesn’t spring from a benevolent curiosity. He wants to know how he can put Tito on his knees, which woman should be rewarded, which one should be humiliated. Which one should be praised and encouraged, and which one should shut up. And when he calls Tito “Johnny,” he creates a parodic alter-ego of the boy that he mocks. Attraction is ridicule in the eyes of Escalante.
At some point in the film, both girls enter the room and he calls them “My Elizabeth Taylor” “My Sofia Loren” => it looks like innocent flattery but it’s an appropriation and redefinition of their characters and identities. He is a pervert and a manipulator.
So, Tito is brought on his knees because the girl he fancies is escaping him, and Pancho who liked the other one is redirected towards Lupé. Claudia is deprived of potential lovers and turns toward the teacher (she touches him regurlarly). Escalante by being harsh on her but still flattering her with this idea that “she can do it” makes her dream of a world in which she is more than the beautiful girl.
So we have… Pancho, Tito, Claudia. Lupé is there because in Escalante’s classroom she is more attractive than Claudia who is clearly more beautiful than her.
Ana is there because he makes her dream that being studious and shy is attractive come true. Javier (The boy who wears glasses and who more or less becomes her boyfriend) wants to be like Escalante because he is admirative of his manliness and would like his own to be acknowledged. Jaime is just a role model that suits him.
And… who’s left ? Ah yeah, Angel.
Angel is a man and he doesn’t need anyone to tell him what he should do. So how come he falls into the trap ? He doesn’t exactly. He is the only one who truly wants to improve in maths and pass the test.
The point I’m trying to make is that none of these pupils is doing everything he does in order to improve in maths and build themselves a bright future, or to pass the A.P. test. Escalante creates a very special environment in which they cannot give up.
Whether they’d be ego-centered or sexually-oriented, the kids’ motivations are intrinsic to the lessons; they are not contemplating a goal. Escalante is manipulating them and he makes sure that the power he as over them is always a little stronger than the pressure he is putting on them.
Of course, teachers all resort to manipulation to put their pupils to work. Here I’m supposed to say “it’s normal” but it’s not. I find our education systems very morbid and harmful. I remember a maths teacher who would start each term by giving his whole class a “motivational” zero and who bragged about it in the staff room. Don’t worry, I hid his corpse in the garbage dump where it belonged.
Still, Escalante’s methods are a lot creepier than those of your average retarded teacher.
8: Who Said He Was A Teacher ?
Did he prevent him from getting into a fight ? Or did he use an opportunity to show Angel who's the boss so that the boy would comply more easily during the lessons. Answer: "I'll break your neck like a toothpick."
When he enters the classroom for the first time, a pupil asks: “Are you the new teacher man ? You’re the new teacher ?” Jaime is asked to acknowledge his position. He answers “please find a seat.”
Later on, when he restrains Angel in order to prevent him from taking part into a fight, he shouts: ”Go get a teacher” and not “Go get another teacher.”
He doesn’t consider himself as a teacher.
So when he comes to school with his apples, and apron and his chef’s hat, he is not the teacher who thinks outside of the box in order to help his pupils more efficiently. He is a man who doesn’t give a shit about the rules because he considers that he is in a position where they don’t apply to him.
“I was hired as a teacher of computer science. I’m asked to teach maths. This is chaos. They like chaos ? Let's see how far they'll accept mine.”
His behaviour is a constant middle-finger raised in the direction of Raquel Ortega the head teacher. HE IS THAT IMMATURE. I see him as a man who had very strict parents and who is now extremely dependant on rules and order. He calls his wife mummy. He tells off his son because the boy is late for taking out the trash, not because he didn’t do it, because he is two seconds late to perform this incredibly important task. The boy came back from a friend's house to do it but it's still not enough. And that’s his entire relationship with his son: “take out the trash son.”
The scam of Garfield School gives him the opportunity to finally find a space where there are no rules.
I’m talking very seriously here. Jaime Escalante is seduced by this environment because he perceives it as complete chaos. You just need to watch how stunned he is when the bell rings at an inappropriate time to see how unimaginable it was for him a second before. His world collapses.
And to him chaos means being able for the first time of his life to be the one who will rule and do whatever he wants.
The cook is the result of this. It’s a brilliant initiative on the one hand but it’s also a despising commentary on the school on the other: “If a teacher of computer science can be asked to teach math, then even a cook can teach maths here.”
The first time he breaks a rule is a lot more shocking in my opinion => When the girl asks if they can talk about sex he answers “If we talk about sex. I’ll have to give sex for homework.”
He doesn’t laugh while making this joke and quickly changes the topic as if it was nothing but the girl answers “You know that I could get you fired for saying this ?”
He’s been in the classroom for about ten seconds and a pupil could already get him fired for his behaviour. How come ? Because again, he doesn’t give a shit. He’ll do what he wants, and say what he wants and if it gets him fired then so be it. The only limits he draws to himself are the ones that his goal (humiliating Ortega) implies.
More, with this joke he instates himself as a sex teacher. He nonchalantly tells his pupils that he could teach them sex if he wanted, that he knows it enough to be able to nonchalantly joke about it. That’s how he puts most guys in the classroom on their knees. He broke a rule to make a joke, but this joke is actually the first step in his manipulation.
Also, the joke truly means what it seems to mean: “I’d fuck you for homework.” It’s an assertion of his manliness as the girl is the one that you go and see if you want to have sex. (Which is why Tito wants to see her). And it is a real aggression because she is precisely the girl who knows herself enough to say "no." She is the one who can see through his lie.
So, when Escalante breaks the rules in an entertaining manner and we’re all like “aaaah, he is such a non-conformist teacher,” he is actually behaving in a forbidden manner for the exact reason why it is forbidden. He is the bad seed that grows because no one took the problem of the school seriously enough, not the miracle that happens against all expectation. He is the proof that Raquel Ortega is right.
He brought a meat cleaver for his cooking session. He is in the school of a neighbourhood devoured by gangs and poverty. What if something dangerously unexpected happened ? Oh wait… the end of the scene is marked by the discovery that there are four gang members in his class. Nothing serious happens (he gets threatened physically though), but the juxtaposition of the two elements (Meat cleaver + aggression) is enough to show how irresponsible his behaviour was.
9: The End of Algebra
After his “All you need is ganas” show during the staff meeting, Jaime is stuck, forced to prove the head teacher that you can do something with your pupils. “They can be good at something goddamn it ! You only need corones ! … I mean… GANAS !”
Do you think he shifted from basic maths to algebra because his pupils were too good ? Do you think that he is shifting from algebra to calculus because he wants his pupils to be on the same foot as the ones from normal high schools ?
Jaime Escalante is failing. The level of the pupils isn’t high enough for him to prove his point and boast about it.
The situation becomes even more problematic when Ana –best pupil– announces that she won’t be coming to the lesson anymore because she has to work at her parents’ restaurant.
Escalante goes to the restaurant with his wife, who thinks he is surprisingly paying attention to her for once, and lectures Ana’s father. The conversation becomes quite tense and when they leave, the father doesn’t even want from Jaime’s money.
This conversation looks like a classic –arrogant patriarch exploits his children and prevent them from following a path that might bring them to a fulfilling existence– type of scene except that it’s not. Ana’s dad truly thinks that his daughter won’t find anything better than a job in his restaurant. It’s a very defendable idea in their situation. More, Jaime’s wife tells him “My husband only wants what’s best for your daughter” and bidi bidi pop Ana reappears in Jaime’s class. The father was truly thinking of what was best for his daughter and what drove him angry was that Jaime’s feeling of superiority and contempt for his restaurant were obvious, not that he was “stealing his daughter.”
When they leave the place, the “teacher” doesn’t voice his annoyance with a “Dammit, this idiot is going to ruin Ana’s life. What a waste of talent and intelligence.” No, he throws a petty “He puts hotchiles in his dip to sell extra beers.” He diminishes the accomplishment of the guy. How come his ego was hurt in the conversation ? => He was not here for Ana’s sake.
He was here for Ana’s skills because the level of his pupils is insufficient; he is stagnating, failing, he’s stuck, he’s fucked, he’s screwed, he’s ridiculous, he’s pathetic and at some point he is going to have to admit that his pompous declarations were just hot air.
10: The Birth of Calculus
In the following scene, the principal and the head teacher visit his class. First thing, the goal of the exercise that the pupils are doing is to find the number of women of a gigolo. Obviously, it’s inappropriate. This single exercise is, again, a metaphor of his whole course, he is still using sex as a motivational element. We’re not talking about little jokes made between invisible brackets here, we’re talking about constant sex references and misogynist and misandrist remarks conveying Jaime’s perception of relationships between men and women…
Second, the students welcome the authority figures by mocking them. Angel coughs “Late, late” and the whole class starts shouting.
In a normal school, these two things would put Jaime in a bad position and if he doesn’t lose his cool, it is because he is not a teacher. His attitude is still a raised middle-finger and the sole thing that he needs to save his skin is good answers from the pupils. He knows that as long as he gets results, the principal and the head teacher will tolerate the rest.
Of course, he could soften his game a bit while they’re here in order to avoid any conflictual situation or any backlash. That’s what he would do if he was doing all this for the pupils. But as he is only aiming at pissing off Ortega he, on the contrary, ostentatiously revels in tasteless and inappropriate jokes.
He nearly fails as none of his pupils manage to find the answer, until miraculously Ana comes back and saves the situation (and it looks a lot like he was going to give her a smack on the bottom as she passes by him to go and sit in the classroom). If Jaime had not been to the restaurant, if his naive wife had not opened her mouth, the story would have ended there. But as Ana has given the right answer he indulges into a last obscene joke “Do you think it would be possible to get a couple of gigolos for a practical demonstration ?” which is pure provocation aimed at the head teacher. “You wish you could stop me bitch ! but you can’t.”
Algebra doesn’t work as well as hoped (Only Ana found the answer), the school trip is an attempt at motivating the pupils even more as it shows them the kind of (lifeless shitty) jobs they should get thanks to it. Escalante is looking for a skill that he could teach his pupils and which would be impressive enough to support his stupid “It only takes ganas” standpoint.
The man and his neighbour, Jo, are both looking at computer screens. Pancho asks what kind of maths it is they are reading, Jo answers “it’s calculus” and Escalante adds “you’ll get it in college.” Pancho leaves without any further question=> he does not believe that he’ll ever go to college nor does he want to.
Escalante’s confidence in Pancho’s success is hollow here. He simply knows that calculus is taught in college and addresses the boy as a representative of the group “pupils.” Pancho is his worst pupil and he dislikes maths, Jaime’s statement is very premature and assuming.
It’s not like it is a serious misstep, I’m explaining this only because the remark gives the feeling that Escalante is already thinking of sending the pupils to college. And maybe he is, but when he tackles the idea with the principal just after the visit of the factory, it is only a consequence of Jo’s remark about calculus… a remark that comes after he told Pancho “you’ll get it in college.”
Why is this important ? Because the scene is written in order to make us spontaneously misinterpret what is going on.
We see: “Escalante wants to send his pupils to college and is confident he can do it but he is confronted to an unexpected obstacle which is going to ask for more involvement from him.” (Which is not even a coherent idea as nobody said Calculus was anywhere near necessary to go to college).
When actually it is: “Jaime gives a reflex answer to Pancho and then discovers that he could actually teach his high school pupils something that is a lot more rewarding than Algebra and in the field that he was hired to work in the first place: Calculus, the language of computers.”
This would shut Ortega’s mouth for good, him the guy who was forced to teach maths, teaching the subject he was falsely hired to teach and getting his pupils into college !