Bob Moses worked tirelessly as the field secretary for SNCC during the 1960s. Moses played a key role in fighting Mississippi’s racial discrimination of black voters. But while securing an unbiased right to vote was a crucial issue during the 60s, Moses believes that the lack of quality education in urban areas remains one of the biggest civil rights issues of today.
Moses founded the U.S. Algebra Project to help minority students increase math scores and gain intellectual confidence in preparation for college.
Now teaching an African American Studies class at Princeton University, Moses seeks to further the U.S. Algebra Project and fight for equality in education.–amir shaw
What led you to Princeton University’s African America Studies program?
Eddie Glaude who is the chair for Center of African America Studies. We were here two years ago at a conference. He pitched the idea of me coming here as a visiting professor. We co-teach one class every Wednesday with Tera Hunter. The class allows us to introduce how the U.S. Constitution provides a basis that there should be adequate education for every child in this country. Eddie has also used this opportunity to help move the Algebra Project to the next level. We’re looking at how we can move classrooms into whole schools. It’s not radical to teach Algebra. But it’s radical to teach Algebra and ensure that kids at the bottom can get it so that they are prepared for college.
How does the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s relate to the fight for equal education today?
Education and sharecropper illiteracy was the basis for the right to vote. Judge Clayton wanted to know why we were taking illiterates to vote. But similar to how there was a caste system that didn’t allow minorities the right to vote, there is a cast system in the country’s educational system. I call it sharecropper’s education. But you can’t deny a people access to education through a political system and turn around and say you can’t vote because of a lack of education.
What are your thoughts on minority enrollment at Princeton University and other Ivy League schools?
Here’s the thing with Ivy League schools. You don’t have a system that produces enough people in a pool to fill the spaces that are available in top level schools. And it won’t happen until we have more programs like the Algebra Project that can raise the level of expectations. We run failing schools and we rescue the brightest students. We have vouchers, Affirmative Action and charter schools. But we don’t have programs to fix the entire school system. As long as we are doing that, we won’t be able to fill the spaces that are available. It has to be an effort to lift education to a higher level across the board. We’re in a transition from the industrial age to information age. Physical labor is now being replaced by knowledge labor. The kids who are graduating with the equivalent of an eighth grade education are set to be the servers of the kids who are mastering the information age. When the transition occurs, it’ll be too late. The gap between the people who have the resources to live a life where they can do things for themselves will widen.