Algebra – A Gate to an Inclusive Society

Bob Moses was an African American civil rights leader who made two distinctive contributions to the civil rights movement. He was a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and worked to get African Americans to register to vote in Mississippi. While these efforts would place him among the greats in promoting civil rights, Bob Moses’ second initiative may have an even longer lasting contribution.

Bob had been a middle school math teacher before joining the civil rights movement. For seven years, he taught algebra in Tanzania. When he returned to the U.S., he was astonished that his daughter would not be taking an algebra course because her middle school did not have a class in algebra.

Bob taught his daughter and some of her classmates algebra. Without his support those students would not be able to take advanced math and science courses in high school. The result would be a future where many career paths would be denied to them.

Based upon his experiences with his daughter and her classmates, Bob began to teach other children who would normally be placed in less rigorous classes. His approach was to make algebra applicable to their lives. He discovered his life’s passion.

Bob used his experiences from the Civil Rights movement to create the Algebra Project. He received a MacArthur Fellowship to help fund his efforts. In less than a decade, Bob’s approach to teaching algebra was present in over 200 schools across the country.

Why the focus on algebra? Bob believed that it was the gate to success in higher level math and science courses. As our society has become more technological, many careers require these advanced math and science courses. What Bob achieved in the classroom was key to supporting the inclusion of more underrepresented people in emerging careers in technology. In effect, Bob helped the civil rights movement enter a new era.

Just imagine being closed out of many career choices as an eighth grader. Bob Moses couldn’t imagine that and set about to challenge the limitations on educational opportunities to many people. We still have to deal with perceptions that math/science subjects are not for some classes of students.

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“Don’t think necessarily of starting a movement. Do what you think actually needs to be done, set an example, and hope your actions will click with someone else.” – Bob Moses

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