An Interview with Henry Gradillas, Master Teacher

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Henry C. Gradillas, Ed.D., is one of the great unsung heroes of American education. Though the 1988 film Stand and Deliver starred Edward James Olmos (portraying Jaime Escalante), there were no stars or celebrities standing in for Escalante's collaborator, principal, and boss: Señor Gradillas. Though Gradillas' role may have been "behind-the-scenes" of the breakout film, he was never behind the scenes anywhere he served.

We enjoyed an opportunity sit down with Henry Gradillas over three days during the summer of 2016, and we are delighted to bring his personal history and educational philosophy directly to you and in his own words. This series of interviews was conducted in Gradillas's home and was unscripted. The interviews themselves have only been lightly edited.

This is a complete transcript of a video interview conducted by It has been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.—Editors.

Rich Tatum: Hi. This is Rich Tatum and I'm with I'd like to welcome you to these interviews and this is the first of three with Henry Gradillas who was the principal at Garfield High during the events depicted in the film, Stand and Deliver. This is a very interesting interview, and if you're interested at all in education and teaching, I think you'll find this fascinating.

Henry spent some time in this interview talking about his childhood and the events that inspired him to become a teacher and to dig deeper academically, and to have a better vision for his life and what he could accomplish. He also spent some time talking about his military service and the things he learned in the military that helped him become a better teacher, and some of the principles that he brought from military training into the educational system. I think you'll find Henry a very inspirational teacher and if you are a teacher yourself, I think Henry would make a great mentor for you and someone to learn things from and we hope that these interviews do exactly that.

I especially want you to listen to the story near the end of the interview, where Henry talks about teaching to the Bell Curve and why that can be disastrous in real life—and what he prefers to do instead.

Thank you, and please enjoy the rest of this interview.

A Brief Biography

Henry Gradillas: My name is Dr. Henry Gradillas. I've been in education almost all my life. I got started when I was in high school—I would tutor kids in high school, especially in chemistry and physics. I was also given special permission while I was at high school to return to my junior high, where I graduated from—and assist the students there who were eventually going to be coming to my high school.

I've been working in this all my life. When I went into the military, I also continued to teach. As a military instructor, I was teaching survival skills in the battlefield for many, many years and when I moved from the military into civilian life, I went back in and got a Master's degree, so I could continue with my educational pursuits. I also continued to educate the other students, got a teaching credential, was involved in—my first teaching assignment was in the same junior high where I graduated from. I Got a job teaching horticultural science, landscape design—a very interesting course for young kids—and therefore I finished that, went on to the high school, resigned for a while to go into farming. I had a tremendous opportunity of working 1,000 acres of peaches—a fruit ranch that was fantastic in northern California—and I worked that for several years until it was sold. And I didn't want to continue working in that area, so I was given an opportunity to return to teaching, and very soon after I got into the teaching profession again, I ended up at Garfield High School and I began teaching biological science at Garfield.

Jaime Escalante
Jaime Escalante (1930–2010)

There's where I met Escalante. We were both teachers at the same time and we worked very hard. He said, “You know, I'm pushing mathematics very, very hard and you are very close to the students. I know you've been in the area. I would like you to help me in my pursuits.”

And as a fellow teacher I said, “Sure.” And so we worked together, me in biological sciences, he in his mathematics.

Therefore, you can see that we knew each other for quite a while. When I returned to that school as Assistant Principal and then later as Principal, Escalante was thrilled to the fact that he—the first day I showed up at school, he was able to put his arms around me and say, “We can do it now! Now that you're Principal and you know what I want, the support I need, we can do it.”

And we sure did and I was very glad to help him in any way I could.

Earning Extra Credit

Rich Tatum: So, when you entered into the military you were in the Army, correct?

HG: Correct.

RT: Were you intent on becoming an educator before you joined the military? Didn't you have a childhood experience that inspired you to enter education because of a teacher who was a model for you?

HG: Yes. To me it was looking at the difference in culture, the difference in economic standing in my community where I lived in East L.A. and I wasn't satisfied with the way we were living. But I didn't know anything else because I hadn't any friends or individuals that could actually show me other than what I saw in movies and what I heard.

But I had a very influential teacher in science that I respected an awful lot, and he was the one that told me, “I can put you to work here. You're doing very well in science. Why don't you come in for an hour or so every other day. You can afford to do this, we give you an extra period that'll give you credit for it. You can help me straighten out the rooms. I can even show you how to work in the chemistry lab, in the physics lab you can set up the experiments, the equipment. I know you can do it.”


And he trusted me, and I said, “Wow, this is a big honor for me,” to be able to go into these areas in chemistry and in physics and actually work the labs, prepare the laboratory equipment and all that for the teacher who was going to present it the following day to his class.” I started doing a lot of work and cleaning up the laboratories. I set up the display cases. I remember once, I found a bag of shells—all different types of sea shells and conchs and whatnot—and they were in a big box and they were in a big, big container and in a bag, and I opened them all up and I said, “My gosh there's a lot of shells here.”

I found a space so I started putting these shells kind of in semi order, placing them in this wonderful little glass case. As I was doing this he came over and he says, “What are you doing?”

I said, “Well, I want give these shells a little exposure. The kids should learn about this. And what I'd like to do is to actually find the names and classify them.”

And I'll never forget, he laughed, and he said, “You realize that even I don't know the names of some of these shells. Are they bivalves? You can see that there's two of them. Some are the single…”

And I said, “Don't worry.”

Anyway it took me several months, and every one of those shells were identified by me. We were able to set them down, and he was amazed at that.

He said, “This is wonderful, because I don't have the time to research this, but apparently you did.”

Signs of Dissatisfaction

HG: Well, we got so close that what happened is he said to me, “I'm doing something in my home. We're going to paint our house, and I'm wondering if you could drop over on Saturdays? Every Saturday if you can do that, and help me in gardening, help me to scrape the paint off, help me with the outside landscaping, so we can get our home painted and refurbished and fixed. I haven't had the time but you're good at this, and I trust you, you can do it.”

I said, “Sure.”

And so I had to ride my bike. He lived in North Hollywood, a very nice exclusive place. Every once in a while I would take the trolly car, but most of the times I rode my bike, and it was quite a ways. And I'd get there, and I'd park my bike, and I'd work and I'd work and I'd do whatever he had me doing: cleaning up, and painting and spackling in places, and planting new plantings, cutting trees, pruning. I mean, it was a good job.

So I kept going there and after about the second month, particularly when the summer came, I had more time so I could actually go there during the week. And we worked very hard. In fact, he introduced me to a fellow across the street that said, “I could use Gradillas here! You seem to have a nice hard worker.”

So I was introduced to a couple of people in the neighborhood, and was actually working for them, and it was a wonderful experience. I saw the way they lived. I saw the beautiful homes, the landscaping, the wide streets—totally different from the little barrio in East L.A., with shacks and little houses and stuff.

And one thing happened that changed my whole outlook on life. I went in one afternoon. I was working with him, and he normally fed us lunch. His wife came out, and we'd have sandwiches, and some kind of juice, or Coca-Cola, or something. Anyway, what we did was we worked very hard.

He said this one time, “You cannot wash up for lunch in the wash room.” Which was a laundry room. “You can't really wash up there, because it's not functioning. It's stopped, but you can use the master bedroom. You can use that. It's on a separate system.”

So I walked in, went down this long hallway, past this beautiful bedroom—I mean I'd never seen a bedroom like that, except maybe in the movies. And the bedroom was fantastic! I walked in there, walked into the bathroom, and that was my biggest shock: The bathroom had—you could live in there! It was a bathroom so large…it had towels, purple towels, that said “His” and “Hers,” and several wash basins. I know there was something, a shower, and there was something like what we now call a Jacuzzi, or a hot tub, or something. My gosh, I mean, a whole family could live there. And the toilet itself was set apart!

Kress Five and Dime
S. H. Kress & Co.
A “five and dime” U.S. retail store, operating from 1896–1981

I remember my experience in my home where I was living, we had a little closet. That was our toilet, and only one person could use it at a time. And when my sister would lock it, because she didn't want anybody to come in there, I had to pound the door. We had cinder blocks, cinder blocks made of cement, and that's what my dad used to make a little tub. And if you got out of it the wrong way you would scratch yourself. We had a shower head where you go to the Kress—at that time the five-ten-cent store—and buy one of those shower heads, plastic, like rubber that you stick on there—that was the shower.

What a difference! It bothered me.

Well anyway, I was too emotionally messed up to try to use the towels that were there. So I washed my hands, and I guess went like this, and got them dry one way. I started to go out, and he says, “Everything okay?”

I say, “Yes, it's a beautiful restroom.” As I was walking down the hallway, I noticed a room, and it looked like a kid's room. And I said, “Is this your son's room?” He had a seven, eight-year-old son.

He said, “Yes, this is my son's room.”

And I said, “May I?”

“Oh come on in.”

The son had his own room! Can you imagine? His own room! I didn't have my own room. I had to sleep with my sister. I had an aunt. Sometimes my mother would sit down and sleep on the floor. We just didn't have what this kid had. I went in, and in the corner of the room, he had a train set. And there he had a closet with several doors in it with mirrors, and you could slide those doors. So I slid one of the doors open to see—my gosh, he must have had seven, eight pairs of shoes! He had boots, he had shoes for skiing, he had shoes for this, he had tennis shoes—I mean I've never seen a kid that had so many shoes of all different kinds. And I looked at my own shoes, and I only have two pair: the work shoes that I had working for the teacher, and the shoes that I used for school. And that was it.

Well, I looked at him and I said, “This is amazing.”

So I just walked out down the hallway, and he'd met me down there. And as I was passing the last room I said, “Oh, this is a little room that you have here. Is this for your daughter?”

“Yes, this is my daughter's room.” Apparently he had a four-year-old daughter.

And as I went in there, she had a canopy bed with all beautiful trimmings and all. But I noticed beside the bed, there was a type of bedding—we call it in Spanish, a cuña, una cuña—which was for a baby. A crib, alongside the bed! And I said to him, “Oh, excuse me, but are you expecting?”

And he said to me, “No, why?”

“Well, you have a crib right there, and obviously your daughter doesn't use it because she's already four or five years old.”

And he looked at me and he says, “That's for her dolls.”

And I said, “For her dolls?”

And he said, “Yes. That's where she plays, and this is a crib for her dolls.”

And I just remembered right then and there, my sister, when she was born and she was brought in from the hospital, we did not have a cuña for her. We did not have these kind of settings. I remember for the first two or three weeks she slept on the bottom drawer of this huge dresser. I remember my mother would pull it out at night, and there were the blankets, and there was the little pillow, and there's where my sister slept until we were able to get something for her that was more appropriate. We didn't have the money. And here this teacher has this crib for dolls? This upset me.

Anyway, when I went back home I told my dad, I said, “Dad, why must we live like this? Why can't we have a little more?”

And he said to me, “That's why I don't like you going and working out of the barrio here, and going out to rich people's homes.”

I said, “But he's my teacher.”

“But he has money, right?”

I said, “Well, yes. He's got two cars, and he's got a boat in the marina, and he has all this, that, and the other.”

He says, “Well, if you continue to complain, I'm going forbid you from going and getting work outside of your barrio. It's just changing your attitude to the point that we have to understand, this is the way we live. I'm doing the best I can.”

And I knew my father and my mother, they were doing the best they could for their kids. And it was wrong of me to feel this way and say it to him, but it can't be helped. There's different ways of living, and I looked at that and I said, “That kid has a room of his own? When will I ever have a room of my own?”

“How Bad Do You Want This?”

HG: When school started again that Monday, I ditched his class. I did not go to his class. I just didn't feel like seeing him again for a while. Anyway, for two or three days I missed him. Finally, I think it was the third day of so, he came looking for me, found me in my schedule and phonebook and called me out and said to me, “What's wrong?”

And I told him, “I don't know. It just bothered me to work for you and knowing you have all this, knowing what I have.”

And he said to me, “Why don't you work this hard as you're working now and get what I have. It isn't that difficult if you have the courage to do it.”

I said, “What do you mean, the courage?”

He said, “I have these cars. I own this beautiful home,” And he took out his wallet and he says, “Here, you see? This is my certificate that says I can teach. Not only does it say I can teach, I also have an administrative credential if I want to become an Assistant Principal. I also have an Athletic Director. I can be an Athletic Director—and I do help out. These are pieces of paper that tell me I can work here at the school and I can earn this amount of money on a monthly or weekly basis,” whatever it happened to be. He says, “And my wife? She has some, too. And hers says CPA. She's a Certified Public Accountant. She works doing taxes. So because of this piece of paper she has, she could make X amounts of money and dollars, and then we could live to the point that our kids can have whatever they need. They can have their own room. They can have anything they want because we have the money, because this gives it to you. You, too, can get something like this.”

And I said, “Where do you get something like this? What do you have to do?”

And he says, “You gotta get top grades at the school. You gotta stop monkeying around with these basic courses, and remedial courses, and bilingual courses,” And the junk that they had there, even then. And he said, “You gotta start taking the high level courses.”

Van de Graaff Generator
Van de Graaff Generator

“Well, I tried,” I said. “I worked in the Physics and Chemistry labs and I went to my counselor and said, “I want to take the course!” Because I enjoyed setting the things up, and chemicals, and mixing. And they had these static machines that you turn, you get shocked, the teacher explained what static electricity was, how when you walk down a rug, and you touch it, that's static electricity. He talked about lightning.

I said, “I want to take this course, but my counselor said I am not in that track, I'm in a vocational track,” where we took woodshop and I made a shoeshine box. Isn't that wonderful? A shoeshine box in East L.A. for Latinos — that was a good, strong project. And I said to him, “But I don't want to make shoeshine—I want to take Physics, okay?”

She says, “Nope.”

By that time I already was, in a three year high school. I already was a sophomore, and my following year I was going to be a junior. So there were only two years left. And she said, “You don't have that kind of time. You have to take a year of Physics, a year of Chemistry, you have to take a whole year of Algebra, a whole year of Geometry.” They were very basic.

“And what do you have now?” I had beginning-nothing-Math.

Anyway, she wouldn't give it to me, so I told him, I said, “I'd like to do this, but I'm not allowed to, and I'd like to get these pieces of paper that you have, and I have to go to college. I know this, sir, you train for this, and then you go out and you do the work.”

So he says, “How bad do you want this?”

“I want those courses. I want the courses that'll get me into a college which will train me to get the pieces of paper that you have. I want that. I'm not satisfied with my life and the way it is right now and what I'm going to end up being if I don't get an education.”

I got my mother, he says, “I've gotta have your parents in.” My father couldn't go but my mother went to school. She went there and I had the Science teacher—I'll never forget his name, Mr. Wilcot, I had him and then the other person that backed me up was an ROTC sergeant. He was a tremendous individual, he's the one that got me really started in the military, and started teaching me artificer work. I was an artificer working with all the weapons, by the time I left high school, I know most of the major weapons that are used by the infantry people.

And so he went, and my mother said, “Whatever he wants.” [chuckle]

My mother didn't know much English but she says, “If my son's okay. He's a good boy. Whatever he wants, help him.”

So with those two teachers backing me up, more or less forcing the head counselor to change my curricular pursuits and change my courses so that next year I could have it. The counselor said, “I'll do it, but if you mess up, if you start to fail, I'll pull you right out.” She says, “Not only will you have to be packed and take every one of these courses for two years that are left, you're going to have to come to the summer school—and right now this one—you're going have to come to the three summer schools and even afterwards if you're not finished. And you're going to have to do extra work, you're going have to have the teachers tutor you, come after school and do this. If you're willing to do this, you'll be able to graduate, and then we have to look at your standing to see what colleges will accept you, and what is your grade point average. Right now, your grade point average is great.”

Yeah, on nothing courses. That was wonderful. But I did it. I started that way and I thanked them for it. And boy, I'm telling you, what a difference in the attitude of the teachers and what they were teaching compared to those that just gave you work and said, “Do it,” and then would give you a grade. I had to work.

And when I took Chemistry, I'll never forget: I knew the room, I knew the equipment, I knew everything. And the professor, Mr. O'Neil, he said to me, he says, “You're starting on something right now that's going to cause some problems because you're just taking Algebra. Most kids that take Chemistry already have that Algebra and Geometry and then some are already in Algebra II—more advanced Algebra.” He says, “You're just doing it at the same time, you're going to have problems with some of these equations.”

I said, “I'll master them, I'll do anything I could,” And I did. I was able to get through Physics the same way: I got As and Bs in most of it. I got a good grade point average, not all straight As, but the teachers really bent over backwards, when they saw that I could do the work, when they saw that with a little more encouragement, I did it.

All-City Cadet Colonel

HG: So with my ROTC, I was able to get to the point that I was able to graduate. The big thing that happened is that Sears Roebuck and Company had an eye on me. I had talked to some other people on this and they had a scholarship for freshmen for UC Davis. Since Sears is connected with farming and fertilizers and a lot of this stuff in the agricultural area, they were really pushing it, and this was an agricultural degree and since I had studied agriculture and I was in science, the scholarship came through, and I put in for it.

And I will never forget, Mr. Pettigrew interviewed me and he said to me, he said, “This is a scholarship, we have many individuals, but we like what you've done, we like your progress and we're going see—come back, we'll let you know in a few weeks.”

And they did, they brought me in and they said, “You got the scholarship. It's a one year scholarship, maybe renewable, but for UC Davis.” Well that's tremendous, they paid for the housing. That was, for me and for my family, that was a big plus: I mean, the room and boarding for all year. And even then college wasn't as expensive but still, the way the money was, it was still a lot of money, particularly for a barrio kid.

So what I did when I received it, I was honored when I graduated, they presented the award for me. Also, they presented the award for All-City Colonel because I had achieved to such a degree in my proficiency as a military officer that when they gave these tests—twenty-one high schools out of the forty-nine had ROTC training for the military—and I had reached the highest rank possible at my school. What they do is, out of the twenty-one schools, the Colonel of each of those schools went into an oral and written interview, and we spent a couple of days testing—and the British United competition was part of it.

Henry Gradillas, receiving All-City Cadet Colonel designation
Henry Gradillas, receiving All-City Cadet Colonel designation

Anyway, I came out number one and my title was “All-City Colonel.” In other words, I could go into any one of those twenty-one high schools and, as I would walk in, the Colonels in charge—the students in charge of their units—had to salute me, because I was the All-City Colonel with an extra rank over all of them! And I remember several had come to me as a Latino, as a Hispanic from East L.A., with my staff—and my staff are four people, military staff, the S1, the S2, S3—they came in with me and they were very dark-skinned Latinos—one was I think native American, he was good, he was tremendous in teaching the bayonet training—and here I presented my group and I all the sudden you see all these other groups of kids and they're all very different.

They look at me and this one guy stands right before me and he says, “I'm supposed to introduce myself and so on, and you're supposed to tour my school. I'm supposed to work with you and give you a nice tour orientation.” And I'm standing there and he says, “Shall we get started?”

And I said to him, “Have you forgotten?”

And he just looked at me, glared at me, and raised his hand and said, “Yes, sir. Anytime.”

“Thank you.” And I'd return the salute.

I loved that! I loved it for my staff, for my kids, to show that it can be done! That if you can work your tail off, and if you work hard enough you can compete and you can reach a certain level. And I was good—I was very good with all of them. I went to see them. I traveled with them. I was able to make friends—a lot of friendships. But that was a very interesting part.

Mr. Pettigrew

HG: That summer, once I had my graduation diploma and the money to go to the scholarship, I went to Sears and applied for a job that summer to augment whatever money. And this was important.

As I went to apply and write everything down they told me, “Well, we don't have any vacancies. You should have done this several months before. This is the beginning of summer. All the vacancies have been filled.”

I said, “Well I need to talk to someone.”

And they said, “Well, I'm the highest man here.”

I says, “There's a Mr. Pettigrew.”

“Oh yeah, but he's in charge,” like, he's the second-in-command of the main store there in L.A.”

I said, “Well, I would like to speak with him.”

They said, “Well you're going have to make an appointment.”

I said, “I'd like to speak with him now because I know he's here because I just talked to him a month ago, and he's the one that gave me a scholarship.”

“Oh, so you're the one that got the scholarship! Well we'll see.”

Well they went on and in about fifteen minutes, twenty minutes I was brought into Pettigrew's office. I sat with him and he says, “Nice to see you again, Gradillas!”

And I said, “Yes.” I said, “I want thank you personally for the wonderful, wonderful gift of the scholarship. This will be a tremendous plus to me and my family. Because of this, I would love to have a job for these three months before school starts in September. I could augment it. I could get working for Sears and whatnot.”

And he looked at me and he says, “Well, they tell me all the jobs are filled, but let me check.” He says, “I'll put you in a place where you can really make the money.”

Sears, Roebuck & Company Mail Order Building (Los Angeles, California)
Sears, Roebuck & Company Mail Order Building (Los Angeles, California)

It was the warehouse, one of the biggest warehouses in L.A. For Sears. The main warehouse of Southern California! All the ships empty into there and from there they break up into San Jose, all the different parts. This is a main hub of the Western hemisphere.

And I said to him, “Oh that'd be great.”

He said, “The pay is fantastic, and you'll be working alongside some top people.”

I said, “Fine. I can start right away.”

He said, “Well, I'll put you in tomorrow. I'll get your name and all that.”

And I went there and it was fantastic. This is where you would fill all the orders in Sears. And I worked so hard there that I was given overtime. I was brought in on Saturdays and even Sundays, holidays, because of my work ethic. I would produce more—in fact, I produced so much that some of these kids would tell me, “Slow down. You're messing us up.”

I said, “Look, I gotta make the money. You guys have been here for years, and I understand this, but I only got these months to go and I need the money for college.”

“What do you want to go to college for, man? You can stick around here and work with us. You're good enough.”

Working for a Goal

RT: Would you have worked that hard at the warehouse before you had the vision of becoming a teacher?

HG: I'd have worked, but I don't think I'd have worked that hard because I was working for a goal, you see? I wouldn't have had a goal then. I would have just worked for the money—like people do: you work, you earn the money. If you're sick, you say you're sick. I never got sick, and if I was sick I showed up anyway, I wasn't going miss that day. No, it's the goal that you have.

And here's what I mean: along the way I had several people helping me. The teacher, even the counselor once he did it, the professor that was working in the—we called him professor, but he was the military advisor, the top-level sergeant—I had many people that were working, helping me to move. And this help—I could see progress, I could see a goal. I wasn't going to disappoint them, you know?

And my parents said, “Fine.” My father said, “I hope you do… You can go to college and whatnot, and you won't have to work. Look at me.” And he showed me his messed-up hands, he was a carpenter and all this. It was something that I had to do and with encouragement.

That's why when I teach now, when I work with kids, it's encouragement—it's pushing them. I was on my computer lately talking to kids that have been graduated, and one kid says, “I just stuck to it like you said, and I'm getting my degree in Engineering!”

And I said, “That's great.”

Another one called and said, “You threw me out of school and I came back and you told me that if I messed up one more time, that if I did what I was doing, you would permanently move me from this school to go someplace else. And I held in there.” He says, “Now I am a CEO of a small little shoe shop company down in South of L.A.”

RT: So how do you inspire a goal? How do you help children who don't know anything about the broader world outside of the school and, like you in your barrio, how do you give them a vision of something that they can aspire to and reach for that is beyond their understanding?

HG: That's the hardest thing.

But when I look at kids I try to understand where they're coming from and how much of a dissatisfaction they have. And you can see this. Kids will act out against teachers and whatnot because they're not satisfied for something. When I see activity, when I see something moving there, I want a sign of what's causing that and then channel it so whatever's causing it can then be moved in the direction of trying to not only solve that, but give them an inspiration as to, “You have the courage. I've never seen somebody use that language, which is fantastic words, you have a good vocabulary,” I say, “Don't waste it, I'll put you in charge with a forensic teacher, I'll put in charge with her, you could actually join.”

I had a kid playing checkers, I said, “You make some fantastic moves, have you ever tried chess?”

And he says, “What's that?”

He didn't know what that was. I said, “Do you know what chess is?”

And he said, “No.”

I said, “Look we're going to start something.” At Garfield High School a teacher I hired said one of his specialties was he's a good chess player and that he had taught chess before, would it be okay if he would start a chess club at the school? He was a math teacher.

And I said to him, “Fine!” [chuckle]

“And people said chess? At Garfield High School? These kids can't even play Chinese checkers or regular checkers, who's going do it?”

And the guy said, “Don't worry, I'll start a club.”

He started small with maybe about four or five kids, and they'd came in at lunchtime and some of them would come after school, and the club grew—it grew to about twelve kids, and they were doing pretty good. That first year he worked with them, he started them, he would have little matches with other schools here and there—and we'd do okay, but there was nothing great. But after about the third year we were good. We were so good that one of our kids beat one of the Russian delegation of high school kids, and we beat ‘em! One kid beat the Russian kid, and boy did that bring applause to this kid, we beat internationally—we got a kid here that's that good.

You see you just start something! You look, and now all of sudden when you see another kid you say, “Why don't you join the chess club? I'll help you out there, see what's going on.”

“Well you gotta have dues…”

“I'll pay your dues for you, join in there and see how you could do.”

And some kids tell me that was one of the finest things that ever happened, “Because it taught me how to play, how to think, how to sit there and take it, I felt that if I learned more I could do something about it instead of being a looser.”

That's how you inspire: you see what's wrong with a kid and you work with them, and eventually—you have to keep at it—but you have to help, you have to acknowledge, you have to praise. You have to praise whatever they do that's a difference.

I say, “Wow, I've never seen someone do something quite this fast. Are you really that fast?”

“Well yeah I used to do this.”

“Why don't you get into the—let's see how fast you can use the computer, let's see how fast you can think things up.”

And before you know it the guy is welding, the teacher tells me, “Boy you sent me a kid here that's fantastic! I didn't have to teach him much, I just taught him the basic things, and then all of a sudden he's moving these things, and he's welding these things, and he's got it. He's a natural.” [chuckle

And see, how would he have found out that he was a natural in doing this unless somebody noticed something and could place him maybe in an area where he could grow?

Neighborhood Quartermaster

RT: So did you get a sense when you were a kid that you would be a natural teacher?

Daisy Red Ryder Air Rifle (ad)
Daisy Red Ryder Air Rifle (ad)

HG: Not really, but I loved teaching. I remember that my mother used to tell me during the summers I'd have two or three of the kids—plus my sister, plus my cousin, my female cousin—and I would teach. They were in grammar school and I was four or five years above that—I was in Junior High already—but I would teach them a little math. I would teach them fractions, I would teach them this, and my sister we got into the tree and we would work. They wanted to play cops, and robbers, and guns, and whatnot, and I had all the pistols, and the Red Ryder—I had the Red Ryder BB guns, my mother didn't want us to use the BB's in there—and I had the pistols, the revolvers, and all that, Tom Mix and all. You have so many—Roy Rogers, the belts—there was a big time there in the 40s where these weapons were good, revolvers and whatnot, everybody was using them; water guns, water pistols that you spray. Anyway, I had all of those. My aunt—

RT: The little rubber pellet guns.

HG: Yeah, rubber pellet guns! My aunts and my uncles—we had a lot of aunts and uncles would always bring me these things because they knew I love these—and the kids around the neighborhood, they didn't have the money to buy them—but they would come to my place and we'd play. So I'd issue them to them and I'd write down their names so I wouldn't lose any of them.

RT: You were quartermaster for the neighborhood!

HG: Yeah I was! And then we'd have these fantastic games, but one of the requirements was: before we do this you've got to have at least thirty minutes' time of education. Oh no—and they'd hate it. And I'd teach!

“If You Put it That Way, They Can Learn…”

RT: Why would you make that a requirement?

HG: Because I wanted to see what they could do, and I wanted to—I don't know. I just wanted to see how much I could push onto a kid that didn't know it. My biggest thing is to teach someone who doesn't know something, like a second grader.

RT: I have never heard in my life of a kid who, as a requirement for playing in the neighborhood games, “You've got to sit under my tutelage for a half an hour.”

HG: That's right, I wanted to see how good I—

RT: You were wired.

Three Squared / 3²HG: Yeah! I required it because I wanted to see how good I could do it, and if I could make them do something—Let me give you this: I went to a meeting with all the kids, it was a church social, but it was a special church, it wasn't any real big denomination, but it was a gathering of people to get together, and they invited me to speak on education. And I loved this, because it's crossing all these—I don't care who it is, it's a group of people that want me to work, so I worked on education. But right after that there some kids they were brought in from all over and they were having their punch, and cookies, and whatnot, and I was talking to this one little girl, a second grader, and I said, “Do you know what a three with a little two on top of it is?”

And I drew it out, she says, “Thirty-two?” [laughter]

And I said, “No, no, no. This is—you square a number. Whenever you see a little two, the big number is multiplied by itself, you know some multiplication?”

Well, the multiplication tables right now, they're not teaching them as hard as they used to before because they've got calculators. But at least she knew—basically she was going into the third grade—and she knew two-times.

So I said, “This is a little…” I don't know, I just wanted to see—she didn't know! She didn't know that that the three—I remember once in high school, where there was a four with a little two, and the girls wanted to know what the little two was, and this little girl said, “Just a spec, it's just a they throw in there.”

And it blew my mind! They don't know! To me, you have to know. Knowledge is power, knowledge of something is—how can you move on and not know? The girl that understood that that little two meant that that big number is multiplied by itself—by itself, by itself! So it's a two? It's two times is four. It's a three? Three times three. You know?

And now, if you want to do a little three, that means you've got to go two times two times two, it's called a cube. Now I don't go beyond that, but then I started to say, “Now, what's a square root?”

And there's one lady that had just heard my speech, heard me talking to this kid—that's second, third grade—talking to this kid and said, “That's too advanced for these kids. Square root?” And you could see her eyes went like this—like, “You're an idiot!” I could see what she was saying by her expression!

And I said to her, “But it's so simple!” And I told the little kid “Look,” and I drew a little tree we had with room, and I said, “You see this? You got two, square it,” with a little two.


And I believe I put a four, and I called it hoja and raiz—this is my bilingualism, right? And so I said, “Now, here's a three, square it!” Little two.


“No, square it, not two times three.”

“Oh! Three times three—nine!”

“Put the nine up there.”

I had other kids come in, by that time you had a fourth grader, a fifth grader. I said, “Now, you know what squaring a number is? Multiply by itself, little two.”

He said “I've heard of that by—”

“Square five.”

He said “Ten.”

“No! You square, you multiply by itself!”

“Oh, five times five—”

This other guy goes, “Twenty-five!”


We squared about ten numbers, well, eight or nine numbers. The last one was, “Square ten!”

And this guy yelled out, “A hundred!” Because he knew now what it was all about—you teach concepts!

If you teach the concept of one, the concept just goes on and on and on and on—you build on it! And then you get more and more complicated, or more and more involved—but if you're trying to start up here, you lost it! There ain't no way in heck that you're going to start up here unless you have the roots!

So once the kids knew how to square numbers, and by that time I had four or five already, and the lady was looking at me, I told her just to listen to what I was saying. What was happening now is that, I said, “Now that you know how to square these numbers, now we're going to find the root! Raiz! Say it! Raiz! R-A-I-Z!” and they all were saying it—that's Spanish for root! Anyway, I said to the kids, “Now we gotta find the root, the raiz. Which means, once you see that number up there, you see the nine? What numbers did you use to get that nine? Gimme that one number that you multiplied by itself!”

The girl hollers “Three!”

“That's the square root of nine! It's the root! It's the raiz! You guy, remember, you told me ‘a hundred,' right? What's the square root of 100?”

And he goes, “Ten?”

These are elementary kids! Second and third, maybe one fourth grader.

I mean, I enjoyed that. I did! I enjoyed showing them something that they could use on and on, it makes it easier than when they take a class, and it just, I don't know—and the the lady who looked at me, said, “Well, I guess if you put it that way, they can learn.”

I said, “Well, what else can you put that way?”

If you prepare kids early enough to move in that direction, they won't be that scared about taking advanced courses because they now have the foundations, the backing.

Educational Expectations

RT: So is there a difference between expectations and requirements? Because you can have heavy requirements for students to learn something, but if the teacher's expectations are low, the students may not rise to the challenge of the requirements.

HG: That's right!

That's a problem, but I don't think that is the heaviest problem because the teachers have a requirement that has to be taught because the State says, or the district, or whatnot. I don't find the delivery of that instruction to be that bad. Even if the teacher doesn't have the proper methodology, or if the teacher doesn't have the interest, or the desire, or that flame that pushes it—yeah, it won't work as well. And that's a problem, and I agree.

But that's not the main problem. The main problem is that they're not teaching it. Those courses and classes and skills are coming far too late, or they're just totally absent from a certain group of kids because of who they are, because of their background, their training, their heritage, their culture, the fact that one teacher told me, “Well, this kid will never learn this, look at his father, his father's in jail. The mother is on welfare. And the other sister and brother, they're gone, and they live in poverty. And all they're seen as a dope and—.“ That should be an excuse then to not teach them because of all these negatives?

RT: It's like educational profiling.

HG: Yes.

RT: Once you've identified a slot a student belongs in, that dooms them to that level of performance.

HG: Yes. It's the curriculum that should change, and it should change to move it directly from the beginning all the way.

Like I said before, and I mentioned it in one of my articles that I wrote, when I watched the Winter Olympics last year, every medal contender that was interviewed, everyone that actually won a medal in the Olympics, when they were asked about their ability, how they were introduced to this, there wasn't a one that didn't state that they had been introduced and pushed into this at an early, early age.

There was one lady who was a figure skater, said, “My mother put me on these skates when I was three!” The guys that do gymnastics, all of them say, “I had these poles when I was four years old and I was doing this.” There wasn't a person that was interviewed for medal contenders that didn't say that they started this when they were young. They developed this skill and they just kept going.

College, ROTC, and the National Guard

Henry Gradillas – High School ROTC, 1953
Henry Gradillas – High School ROTC, 1953

RT: So you taught your neighborhood kids as a result of just being innately interested in seeing what achievements your peers could make.

HG: Yes.

RT: Then you went to high school and you were challenged by a teacher to aspire to something greater, and to reach for those teacher certificates. And so you changed the course of your educational career in high school. Then you got a scholarship, you acquired the All-City Colonel for ROTC. So then the next step was, you went to college at U.C. Davis, on scholarship and you decided to major in sciences, right?

HG: Right.

RT: In chemistry? Biochemistry?

HG: Well, I took courses in Biochemistry. My actual degree I got was in Agronomy.

RT: Agronomy.

HG: Which is plants.

RT: So were you also toying with the idea at the time of going into some scientific endeavor rather than education?

HG: Yes. I was looking at the fact, at the situation, saying, “If I move out of here, what jobs are available?” And the colleges are very good at careers, and the biggest plus is that you're talking to your friends, your roommate—you see, I lived in the dorms for the four years. And four years was it. I told my advisor “I don't have any money for that.” And the scholarship really ran out and my first year was really hard. Even though in that first year I made the Dean's List, the Top Ten in the College of Agriculture. I was still pretty low in my grades, but Davis is a tough school, because it's the only school at that time—and I think it still is—that had veterinary science. So they have some of the top level kids from all over the world taking Vet Science, and these are kids that are from tremendous backgrounds or they wouldn't have been accepted. Well, when you have a kid like that in Chemistry—you've got quite a few of those in Chemistry—you know they're going to be average-raisers. You're going to have to really work your tail off to compete with them—particularly when you came from a high school that didn't have that push or wasn't moving kids in to college at that level. I was one of the few that went in. And from the Hispanics, I was one of the only ones, except for a few that really went on to school. And most of them went on to community college or vocational college, which was okay, but they dropped out or didn't make it. And it was difficult.

California National Guard
But yeah, I had this idea. But then what happened is, because Davis was a land grant college—University of California has many campuses, you know the one in Berkley and UCLA and whatnot, it was a land grant college—by law we had to take a first year in Military Science. Every freshman entering college, by law, had to take ROTC for the first year, instead of P.E. You could opt out on that, but you had to go through all kinds of paperwork. And that was the beginning of, at that time, they called it “universal military training.” This is some of the things that people were thinking of, like many other countries do, they force kids in for two years—which I think is a great idea, straighten them out and whatnot. But anyway, I filled out my draft form when I turned eighteen and they said to me that because of all the situations happening in Korea, that I would be drafted as soon as I graduated. And so, I was. The papers came in and all.

So I wrote back to them and said, “I've been accepted at college.”

And they wrote back and said, “Well give us the information and whatnot,” so I sent all that in. I got a waiver for four years. And they said, “At the end of four years, we will then contact you, and we will then draft you—or if you drop college. We will check on you.”

And I said, “Fine,” I'll waiver for four years.”

In the meantime, in that first year of college, I entered the California National Guard, I wanted to be able to really learn my stuff, because I was really thinking of becoming an officer. If I took ROTC that first year and then took it for the remaining four years, that's like being at West Point. You're not to the level of West Point obviously, but you're not a military school, but you're taking that, and you go to camp—

RT: And plus having a college degree makes you an officer's candidate.

Airborne Ranger

HG: Oh yeah, right. So at the end of that, I worked so hard for that, that at the end of that I was not only granted Second Lieutenant, because I applied for it but within a matter of a month, I was given my regular Army commission. I didn't want to be Reserve. Because I know Reserve officer is great and whatnot, but if you go in there as a Reserve officer, you're considered to be something that you didn't quite—

RT: A tourist.

HG: Yeah! You're in there for the time being. And I wanted to be program, because as a regular Army officer, you're in a different category. They send you to places—look at it—they sent me to Europe, they send you… Come on. The choice assignments are there for, particularly for regular Army officers, because they know you're a career guy. You're a thirty-year man. And you're very close to the West Point group.

In fact my serial number—you know the person they call the goat, the last person to have the academic level? He's still strong enough to graduate, he's good, he's great, but point-wise he was the last one in his graduating class, and they all get serial numbers. There's a top serial and they all start going down, down, down, like this—I mean, higher and higher and higher and higher. Which, when I got my Regular Army commission, mine was pretty close to the goat's! [chuckle] So whenever I would sign in somewhere, without even saying RA, or whatnot, they look at my serial number and they say, “Oh, you're one of those?” And I would be quiet. I'm not a West Pointer, I wish I would have been but I was not a West Pointer. But my serial number gave me away because it was so close to the West Point groups that graduated. Any plus you can have, to me is a plus, so I really enjoyed that.

Army Airborne InsigniaRegular Army and got Airborne Ranger. Went into the Green Berets that were established—at that time the Rangers weren't a unit yet—they had been but they were disbanded. So I'll never forget, they sent you to these areas and said, “Even though you got the Ranger patch, you're Airborne and everything else, we're sending you to these units. Make little Rangers and do everything you can when you're training.” Because eventually they would form their Ranger battalions again and stuff.

RT: How long did you serve?

HG: Regular Army, I was in six years.

RT: Six years.

HG: Little over six years. I decided to—I wanted to teach. I—

RT: That was my next question. What did you go to next after military?

HG: The beauty in the military was I reached the rank of captain. And I was given just about every job you can think of. And I was Public Information Officer, I knew enough German—I spoke German, I spoke three different languages, so I could really get by and do well. I had choice assignments in Germany. I was also involved when the Berlin wall came up, those crises—I mean, I was involved with the troops there. All of the things we did, and maneuvers, and where we were—it was amazing. This was a big part of my life. I was in command of many of the things that were happening. We were really concerned about what would happen there once that wall went up.

Bay of Pigs, Cuba
Map showing location of Bay of Pigs, Cuba

And then they moved me down to the Bay of Pigs—the Cuban Missile Crisis—I was involved in that to a certain degree. And we started training the individuals there that once that had failed—once the ships turned back, and it was a big plus for the United States when Kennedy finally decided to say, “You cross that line then something is going to happen,” and they turned back—then you had a lot of refugees, a lot of Cubans that were out there and so I was put in charge. In fact, I had the rank of almost a full bird colonel, temporary, because they had no one that knew the Spanish language as well, with the training that I had had and trained fire and working with kids. So they put me in charge of that and we established battalions and worked. And so I had been totally involved. I received so much pluses that I figured, after six, seven years, I wanted civilian. I wanted to be with my parents they were getting old now and a little infirm, so I figured, “I'd love to teach.”

I gave all I could to the service. And I even applied for Vietnam and they turned me down because I didn't know French. And at that time they were sending advisors down there.

RT: That was early.

HG: That was very early. And they were only looking at field-grade officers and on up. So lieutenants and captains or whatnot were not considered for that. I knew that was going to change—because you send these people out there, all of sudden they get fired upon, you going to need some backing to protect the American advisors or whatever you want to call them that were there at the time.

So about six months later, they asked me if I wanted to reopen my application of Vietnam and I told them “No…” I wasn't married, so they would move me anywhere no problem—twenty-four hours, I was here, jump on a transfer plane, yee-haw! But I think I had had enough of that and I wanted to really work. I wasn't married, but I was thinking of maybe raising a family, and if not—and it would be difficult in the military. And I needed to be close to my parents. My sister was there and she needed help.

Anyway, what I was doing was just… I told them, I said, “I hate to resign my commission, but I need to work with people. I need to work with kids so that they would be protected and have a better life. I taught survival skills in the military and now I'm going to teach the educational economic skills.”

Failure to Function Freely

RT: So while you were in the military, even, you were a trainer and a teacher?

HG: Yes.

RT: You raised the proficiency of the riflery of the men in your battalion? Or—

HG: No, I was in charge of a company.

RT: Okay, a company. And so you raised their accuracy score?

HG: Yes.

RT: How did you do that?

HG: Well, it's like teaching anything you want to teach. You got a kid, and I knew that many of the students—I had a company of about two hundred, let's say two hundred and fifty cadets, they came from all over the United States, and they were between eighteen and, say, twenty-two years old. And they were drafted and they were in the military. I was to give them the first six weeks of basic training and then from there they go to advanced or something else. But part of that was rifle marksmanship.

And it's like teaching: I knew that out of two hundred and fifty, you're going to have people that had been from Kentucky, that owned guns, that had worked. I know that there was a group of kids in there that already had fired weapons—they had pistols, guns, hunting. Come on, you got guys from Wisconsin, where I live here, I know I had people here that were out in the backwoods, they knew how to fire rifles, they knew how to kill deer. So I worked with those, I found out who some of them were and asked them if they could help me help the kids together, to teach them rifle marksmanship, because it's a very important thing.

Failure to Function Freely
Table listing causes of most stoppages on the Browning .50 caliber machine gun
From U.S. Army Field Manual 23-65, chapter 4, “Performance Problems and Destruction”

I found out there were five critical areas—where students who are going to learn for the first time how to fire a rifle accurately—that these five areas will cause them difficulty, each one of them. And if there are more than one that the kid has problems with—let's say, two, or three, or four, or all five—he'll never be able to fire a rifle well enough. He just can't do it. And so, we concentrated on those areas. Whenever we had my sergeants, since I was the officer commanding, I had the sergeants say, “This is the instruction we want to give. And the instruction has to be plain and clear. And you have to look at this: number one, that rifle has got to be properly taken care of. It has to be cleaned, it has to be well put together, it's got to be to the point that it's mechanically able to fire the weapon. And some of these people have loose slings, some of these people have a messed-up bolts—the bolt doesn't close all the way. We've got to look at these weapons so that the weapon itself is no excuse.”

Now, once that weapon is certified that it's in functioning order—and we are going to have to test them and make sure—then that's step number one. That's one of the five. You now have something that you're not going to blame the weapon. What do they do? “I blame the weapon—” No! That their rear sight is already coming off, or loose, or whatnot, that it's tight, it's workable, it's functioning, and is ready to go. Failure to Function Freely—FFF—is going to be something that I'm not going to tolerate. If that weapon has a failure to function freely—and it's gotta fire freely—you're going to have a mess on your hands, the kid is going to try to overcompensate for that, move to the right or the left, you've lost it.

So, that was number one. And we went on from there. We went on from there to look at the other four. The other four. The other four were now that the weapon is there, the other four were the responsibility of the individual firer.

RT: Was that kind of thinking what you applied when you went to Garfield High as principal? You identified the failure to function properly, the failure to function—what was it, FFF?

HG: Yeah. Failure to function freely.

RT: That was a problem at the school, wasn't it? The failure to function freely. So, you had to deal with the infrastructure of the school, you had to clean up the restrooms, you had to get the graffiti off the walls, fix the lights, fix the windows.…

HG: And the kids, it wasn't just them. I had to work with the custodial staff, I had to work with the cooks, and bakers of the school.…

RT: So, were there other concepts that you learned in the military that you were able to transfer into your leadership as a principal?

Learn to Delegate

HG: Oh, there were many. One of the biggest ones that I was able to transfer almost immediately was to delegate. You have to delegate your part because you, yourself, even though you are the commander of whatever unit you're in, you cannot do it all yourself. There are just so many facets of military life or of educational process—so many facets in a high school—that I learned very simply in the military, that if I tried to do it all myself, even though I had my hand on the pulse—sometimes I couldn't read the pulse because it was doing something else. Get an expert. Get someone that really can tell me that pulse is beating, you can feel it, but it's telling you something.

Okay. So what I did was, I found the finest people I could find in certain areas, build them up, move to such an extent, try to praise them, and give them as much time as possible.

Sometimes, a guy says, “My wife is ill. I've got to go.”

“Go see your wife. But when you come back, you're going to work.”

Delegate. Once I started to delegate, and have them be responsible—up to a point, the responsibility is still mine—but have them have their way, they were very keen on this.

One thing that I did learn too: I inspect what I expect. And if I expect you to do something because this is your job, I'm going to inspect it. Well when they knew that the inspection was not to belittle them or to put them in dog house, but to inspect and praise: “Did you realize that your men, every one of them completed the scores without one falling out? I don't know how you did it, but why don't you help the other five sergeants that are in-charge of those platoons, and give them your help? Tell them what it is. Do you feel embarrassed?”

So, that was one of the biggest things: you delegate, you inspect, you promote, you move, and you challenge. People want challenges. They really want something that's not the simple thing, because if you help them enough with that challenge and they succeed, they succeeded. But you give them all the opportunity to do it.

Training to the Bell Curve

RT: What about training to the Bell Curve in military versus in school?

HG: That was one that to me, bothered me, because if you—and I understand the Bell Curve, and it's all very nice in science.

RT: It's that normal distribution of properties across a general population.

Normal Distribution / Bell CurveHG: That's general population of the Bell Curve where 7.5% would fail, and 7.5% would get As, if you do it that way, and then you got a big 60-some percent in the middle that are your Cs, then you have a few Bs and a few Ds. This is the way things turn out when professors give college tests, they usually grade it on a Bell Curve and this is the curve it is—those people are figured out and this is what you get.

Imagine me trying to work when I was working with the kids, teaching them how to do something, or in paratrooper for instance, you're taking paratrooper training, and you are going to be trained on the Bell Curve, which means 7.5% of the kids taking it are going to die.

Well, that's not possible! I learned that—

RT: You can't write that off as an expected outcome of training because of the Bell Curve.

HG: No! You can't. You have to say, “We're going to train you with the equipment that we have to such a degree that everyone will succeed at this. Some will succeed to a little higher degree than the others, but all will succeed!”

When I taught rifle marksmanship, and I insisted that everyone hit at least the qualifying range, and a little higher, that was the set. I wasn't going to take all these others, because all the others, you could figure out why they were doing it. When a kid was firing something, I would just look at him, and say, “You know what you did? You closed your eyes. You flinched, and then you pulled the trigger. No wonder you didn't hit it at six hundred yards! You hit dust. You hit the dirt.” I said, “Do it this way.”

RT: Isn't the problem with applying the Bell Curve to test scores an assumption that test scores are randomly distributed?

HG: That's right.

RT: And students are bringing their intentionality to the test, and their discipline to the test, and their conscientiousness to the test, and their ganas. And that's not random. That's a factor of their decision-making and your ability to inspire them.

HG: That's right.

RT: If you were mapping out the height of all the students in your class, it would be expected to fall on a Bell Curve line.

HG: Right.

RT: But…

HG: But that doesn't involve their life.

RT: No.

HG: Or their future endeavors.

RT: So why have academics applied the Bell Curve to things like test scores? Because those aren't random.

HG: I don't know.

RT: Is it because they're able to write off responsibility for the outcomes and say, “That's the Bell Curve?”

Mastery Learning

HG: That's one way of getting by and say, “This is what I expect.” But, to me, this is totally ridiculous, because I soon learned very quickly to teach—and I was a big follower of this, and several professors were doing this—mastery teaching, mastery learning.

See, mastery learning is that you have a group of students, and they will all achieve a proficient level of training, so that they will become proficient at the mastery level point. That means that 80% or 85%—whatever you set it as a high level—they have mastered this.

I mean, if you train someone to paint—an artist—and the person hasn't had a clue, mastery teaching means that you will be able to have this student, time, and effort, and all these other things that you have to take into account, but you can eventually have the student reach a mastery level of painting. And some will become Picassos, some will be at such a high level that—but all of them will reach.

Jeep with Browning M1917A1 machine gun Machine Gun, circa 1942, source: Wikipedia
Soldiers of the U.S. 3rd Infantry in the summer of 1942. The Jeep is mounted with a small-caliber cannon and a Browning M1917A1 machine gun.

Imagine this. When I was in Germany, and I would go to pick up—before I was committee commander there—I would go pick up the payroll to pay the company, to turn it over and pay them. It was in cash, and it was in German money, because they lived in Germany and they needed German money. And we had some U.S. money in case they needed some of that. But I would have to go and pick up thousands and thousands of dollars. You have a company of two hundred, two hundred and fifty men, and they all get pretty good pay. Everyone got paid by me, and they signed for it. But to go get the pay, they didn't come in armored cars: you had to go with your Jeep driver, your Jeep guard, and another Jeep following with a 50-caliber machine gun mounted, to go to a special place in Germany—in a town like Schweinfurt, or Frankfurt, and go to the military base there—and go in there, and give your credentials, under guard. They would give you these satchels of money. It's cash! Hundreds of thousands, it was a lot of money. And you'd put it in, secure it, and then go back.

Well, notice the fact that I would love to have the finest person that's good with a rifle, that's good with a machine gun, you know?

And I would tell my men, “You are going to be trained so that if I go to pick up the money, I can pick any one of you, and be satisfied that you have trained well enough to guard me, and the money. And that's what you're going to get. And if you start falling below that, if you don't do what I tell you, you're going to feel awful sorry, because you're not going to be in this company: I'm going to move you out to another group. Because I don't want you here when you know that you can do better than that—unless you're ill, or you're sick, or there's an organic thing wrong with you. But I'll teach you that.”

And I did.

I was going and they'd say, “Well, why don't you take Roberts here? He's a top—I mean, he could hit a—”

I said, “I know. But I'll take Jose.”

“Well, Jose, well, he's good…”

I said, “Jose might take two shots. Rogers might do it in one. He'll still get him, he's good enough! [chuckle] That's okay. But I know he's not going to miss. And I know he's not going to take three. And I know he's not going to panic. So I'll take any one of the people out here, because I've trained you to that level.”

That's confidence, when you put in your own life, and that kid knows it. Don't you think that kid was not only proud, but ready? I'm pretty sure that he would have done anything, had something happened, that sucker would have reached to the highest expectations—and been better than Rogers in that particular case. You build that. And you tell them that—but it's not a lie, because it's based on his ability to fire. But you got him to that point.

And that's mastery learning, mastery teaching. I believe in that. Escalante believed in that.

Jaime Escalante teaches a class at Garfield High School in Los Angeles (Calif.)
Jaime Escalante teaches a class at Garfield High School in Los Angeles (Calif.) Source: Los Angeles Times

Escalante didn't have people in Ds and Cs and failing calculus! You either make it, or you don't. And you make it at the eighty-five percentile. That's it, eighty-five and above. And that's what he taught, and he did. And those kids that were dropping, getting down to eighty-one or down to the seventies, what did he did do? He had them come into summer school, he had them come after school, he had them come on Saturdays. He'd even invited them to his home, and sit there and have dinner, and say, “What's wrong with you guys? You know, you're not pushing enough.” And he would correct it. There was nothing—see, the kids that take calculus must have already had Algebra I and you know, they were already into a series of courses. And he was the one that began teaching those courses. He was the one that was pushing them. I got some of the finest teachers there to teach beginning algebra, because there's where they get it. And guess what? The algebra that we were teaching was so advanced—beginning Algebra 1—was so advanced because that had threads in it of calculus!

You can see if you want kids to be calculus students, then when they first begin their math, the math should have the tinges, the touches, of what it is you'll eventually want the kid to do. Geometry was fantastic. By the time they were taking geometry, they had such a fantastic understanding of algebra, that we kept pushing it.

And most of the pushing that we did was just to get them to the point that they can succeed at the mastery level.

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