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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Stand and Deliver is a 1988 movie based on the true story of an inspiring math teacher in a struggling inner-city Los Angeles high school who, through his hard work and tireless dedication, helps his students live up to their full potential and succeed at AP calculus. Gangs threaten violence, and there's a scene in which students are chased through the hallways of the school by someone trying to hit them with a chain. While the film shows what can be achieved when a tough but fair teacher brings out the best in his students -- students who are shown struggling with the difficulties of their neighborhoods, family life, and the pains of adolescence -- there are some scenes in which some of what the teacher says would be seen as inappropriate by today's standards, including a scene in which a girl with a reputation for being "easy" is slut-shamed by the teacher. While she does stand up for herself, the teacher experiences no repercussions for his remarks or even an awareness that what he said was highly inappropriate. There is also some profanity -- Spanish slang for "a--hole" and "fat girl" mixed in with English curse words.
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What's the story?
Based on the true story of a Los Angeles teacher who converted apathetic students into math stars, STAND AND DELIVER is full of Spanish (without subtitles), calculus, and inspiration. Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) will do anything to coach his poor, Latino students through college-level math, even sneak out of his hospital bed to get back to work. Escalante quits his job at a software company to teach computer science in the barrio, only to discover that the school -- impoverished Garfield High -- lacks computers. Determined to turn around his students' lives, he begins by teaching algebra to remedial math students and eventually shepherds them through a highly advanced course in calculus. Escalante and his students all make significant sacrifices to achieve academic honors. The teacher nearly kills himself with work, and the students weather an unjustified cheating scandal. Eventually this group of ghetto youth prove they have the right stuff for college and beyond.
Is it any good?
This is a rare Hollywood feature that brings depth and dignity to its exploration of high school life. It's gritty and free of saccharine sentiment and Hollywood glitz. What makes it even more unusual is that much of their dialogue is delivered in Spanish (with meanings made clear for those who don't speak the language).
Stand and Deliver is anchored by Olmos' near-perfect Oscar-nominated performance. It's not easy to make calculus interesting and, as Escalante, Olmos lights a fire under his students. The greatest pleasure lies in watching his unlikely crew turn into a group of confident achievers. The film never falls into the trap of making these characters too good to be true. Escalante, while driven, neglects his family. His behavior in the classroom verges on sexist. He loses his temper and even makes academic mistakes. He is, in other words, completely human. His students, too, are all complex, realistic characters, with great stories to tell.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the advantages and limitations of using movies like Stand and Deliver to dramatize real-life events. Can movies tell stories in ways that other media, such as books or radio, can't? Where do they fall short? How much of a story can one tell in the time span of a typical movie? Who decides what's left out or what's emphasized?
How did this movie attempt to convey the challenges these students face with the gangs in their community, families who don't understand the point of learning calculus when they could be earning a living, and the institutional shortcomings of the school itself?
What are some other movies about an inspiring teacher who turns around the lives of their students? What are some similarities and differences in these movies?
- In theaters: March 11, 1988
- On DVD or streaming: May 18, 1999
- Cast: Andy Garcia, Edward James Olmos, Lou Diamond Phillips
- Director: Ramon Menendez
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: STEM, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, High School, Misfits and Underdogs, Numbers and Letters
- Character strengths: Courage, Curiosity, Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 99 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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