Esquith, Rafe 1954-
ESQUITH, Rafe 1954-
Born June 2, 1954, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Joseph (a social worker) and Claire Esquith; married Barbara Tong (a nurse), 1991; children: four stepchildren. Education: Earned degree in social work from University of California—Los Angeles, 1981.
Home—Los Angeles, CA. Office—Hobart Elementary, Hobart Shakespeareans, 980 South Hobart Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90006. Agent—Lavin Agency, 77 Peter St., Fourth Fl., Toronto, Ontario M5V 2G4, Canada. E-mail—[email protected].
Educator and author. Hobart Elementary School, Los Angeles, CA, teacher, 1985—.
Walt Disney National Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, 1992; Professional Achievement Award, University of California—Los Angeles, 2000; Use Your Life Award, Oprah Winfrey, 2000; National Medal of Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, 2003; Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Queen Elizabeth; As You Grow Award, Parents magazine; Leavey Award for Excellence in Private Enterprise Education, Freedoms Foundation; Sigma Beta Delta Fellowship, Johns Hopkins University; Weingart Foundation grant; Joseph Drown Foundation grant.
There Are No Shortcuts (memoir), Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Rafe Esquith is a fifth-and sixth-grade teacher at Hobart Elementary School, an institution located in one of the poorest neighborhoods of central Los Angeles. Over ninety percent of Esquith's students come from impoverished Asian and Hispanic immigrant families, and many of them do not speak English as a first language. Yet Esquith's students, known as the "Hobart Shakespeareans," perform at Shakespeare festivals at home and abroad every year. They also consistently score in the top five to ten percent nationally on standardized tests. Esquith, who has garnered many teaching awards, was the first teacher to be honored with the National Medal of Arts. His first book, There Are No Shortcuts, is about his life as a teacher.
The title of Esquith's book is an allusion to how he has made his students so successful. The secret is hard work, to which, in Esquith's opinion, there is no alternative. The standards he sets for the children are high. His fifth-graders study and rehearse one Shakespeare play for the entire school year, while at the same time receiving a well-rounded education. In order to make time for math, history, sports, computers, and music instruction, Esquith extends the school day by three hours, and he offers college-preparation tutoring on Saturdays. Most of his young students turn out to be eager to study. As a result, the children have made headlines appearing at the Globe Theatre in London, opening for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and performing at the World Shakespeare Congress. Many of Esquith's former students have found their way into top colleges, and often return to Hobart School to raise funds or help tutoring.
There Are No Shortcuts also criticizes public schools for being too bureaucratic and too concerned with standardization. Esquith offers advice and warnings for aspiring teachers, talking about his own teaching mistakes and what he sees as central issues in education. Critics offered mostly positive opinions on the book. A Kirkus Reviews contributor likened the book to its author's teaching style: "freethinking, demanding, encouraging, at times bumptious." Scott Walter, while recommending the book in Library Journal, noticed a "self-righteous indignation at those who have failed to see the logic behind his methods." In Booklist, Vanessa Bush commented, "With anecdotes that are alternately amusing and disheartening, Esquith details the joys and frustrations of teaching and offers valuable insights to parents and teachers alike."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Esquith, Rafe, There Are No Shortcuts, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Booklist, April 1, 2003, Vanessa Bush, review of There Are No Shortcuts, p. 1359.
Education Week, November 8, 2000, Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, "Honors from Oprah."
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2003, review of There Are No Shortcuts, p. 283.
Library Journal, April 1, 2003, Scott Walter, review of There Are No Shortcuts, p. 112.
People, February 12, 2000, Christina Cheakalos and Karen Grigsby Bates, "Child's Play."
Policy Review, March-April, 1996, Nina H. Shokraii, "Raising the Bar."
Teacher, May, 2003, David Ruenzel, "Pay Your Dues, Then Rebel," interview with Esquith.
Time, April 24, 2000, "This Teacher Works Six Days a Week: Rafe Esquith Has Immigrant Students Learning Shakespeare in the Fifth Grade," p. 8.*