Robert Moses first became active in fighting racial and class divides in the classroom after witnessing discrepancies in his daughter’s middle school in 1982.
Moses’s daughter was ready to begin taking algebra, but the school did not offer any algebra courses. As a result, Moses worked with her and three other students to teach them algebra. As he got more involved in the role, Moses noticed race and class divisions within the school system, which convinced him to meet with parents and organize the first branch of what would later become the nationwide Algebra Project.
The project, which now includes 10,000 students and 300 teachers each year, is “a national mathematics literacy effort aimed at helping low income students and students of color — particularly African American and Latino students — successfully achieve mathematical skill” necessary to excel, according to the organization’s website.
Moses, now the president of the project, will speak at the University’s winter commencement Sunday, in addition to receiving an honorary degree of doctor in laws.
Moses, who is black, said he believes that the country still has remnants of what he calls inequalities in education that stem from the period following the Civil War.
“To this day, the country still hasn’t agreed to provide equal opportunity for education,” Moses said. “In the 21st century, education has to be pursued for young people at the grassroots level for them to succeed.”
According to the Algebra Project’s mission statement, “the Algebra Project has developed curricular materials, trained teachers and trainers of teachers, provided ongoing professional development support and community involvement activities to schools seeking to achieve a systemic change in mathematics education.” Moses said the Algebra Project works to “set up a space where kids can be aware of the chance to pursue higher education” and to make sure that they have the resources to do so.
He added that math ability is particularly important because of the current computer technology age, which places math proficiency on a par with reading and writing skills.
According to the Algebra Project, teachers are trained to use inquiry-based, cooperative strategies for teaching and are provided with feedback and ideas for developing new curriculum materials. The project sets up sites in both urban and rural areas across the South, West Coast, Midwest and Northeast. Students in the Algebra Project complete algebra by the eighth or ninth grade and pre-calculus or calculus by the 12th grade, according to the organization’s website.
In addition to being the president of the Algebra Project, Moses also teaches math full time at Lanier High School in Jackson, Miss. He said he hopes to make an impact on the national level with the Algebra Project, “but in order to do that, there is a personal level that has to be established.”
Citing the 11th graders who have been taking math classes through the program for three years as an example, Moses said he feels that the project has helped to gain the students’ confidence and form a true teacher-student relationship. “Watching that evolve over time in working with them, there’s a very strong satisfaction,” he said.
At the same time, the Algebra Project also strives to “establish that (inadequate education for young people) is a national problem,” Moses said. “We’ve been trying to take the issue of school reform off the education page and onto the front page.”
Moses’s extensive experience in activism began with the civil rights movement of the 1960s. During that time, he served as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and helped register black voters in Mississippi. According to a written statement from the University, Moses was “attacked and beaten by law enforcement officials for his efforts.”
Moses also taught math at the Horace Mann School in New York. He then left the country in 1966 to teach in the African country of Tanzania for seven years, where he was the head of the math department at the Sam