A student of longtime Los Angeles high school teacher Jaime Escalante's, now a teacher herself, called her former instructor "a master artist." Indeed, it was his refusal to accept commonly held beliefs that made his work so beautiful. Unlike many others, he refused to tolerate the notion that inner-city students were incapable of learning. Escalante, whose inspirational story was the basis for the 1988 film Stand and Deliver, died March 30 at 79 after a years-long battle with bladder cancer. Upon arriving in the U.S. from Bolivia, Escalante studied English at night to earn his California teaching credentials. At Garfield High School, he found that his primarily Mexican-American working-class students were oppressed by a culture of low expectations, and he began to overhaul the school's math curriculum. His young charges did so well on the 1982 advanced-placement calculus exam that suspicious officials made a dozen of them retake the test. Each and every one passed.
This text originally appeared in the April 12, 2010 issue of TIME Magazine.