Robert Moses on the new civil rights crusade

Robert Moses on the new civil rights crusade

Robert Moses became a legend of the Civil Rights Movement dodging bullets and taking beatings as he organized voter registration drives in Mississippi. Today, he is battling ignorance of a different kind, teaching African-American children across the country how to do–and understand–mathematics. And he considers himself no less a civil rights crusader now than he was then.

To Moses, math literacy is a civil right–one just as urgent as the right to vote was for Southern blacks in the early 1960s. In this computer age, he argues, the mathematically illiterate are left behind. And that’s happening disproportionately to African-Americans and other minorities.

The solution? Algebra.

Moses maintains that students must be ready for college-prep math as ninth-graders if they’re going to avoid being “tracked” into low-level math classes throughout high school and stuck in remedial math in college. That’s all the more true today than it was in 1982, when Moses created the Algebra Project to prepare elementary and middle-school students to tackle algebra in the eighth grade. His algebra-prep program now serves almost 10,000 students across the country.

The project was born of Moses’s frustrations with the math curriculum of his oldest child’s school in Cambridge. Maisha was ready for algebra, but even in its innovative “Open Program,” the Martin Luther King Jr. School did not offer algebra to eighth-graders. Moses, who had previously taught math in New York City and overseas in Tanzania, was invited to teach his daughter and three of her classmates himself.

For Moses, the timing was perfect for starting something big. He had just won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in recognition of his civil rights work, so he had the financial freedom to do what he wanted. He quit his doctoral studies in philosophy at Harvard and turned his full attention to teaching math.

What he discovered is that many students had trouble making the leap from arithmetic thinking, which focuses on “how much?,” to algebraic thinking, which poses the more complex question of “which way?” along a number line. Moses came up with a “transition curriculum” for sixth-graders to bridge the gap. And to make sure that 11-year-old kids could relate to the process, he decided to root it in their own experiences. He found the key staring him in the face as he rode home on the MBTA: He’d take them on a subway ride from Cambridge to Boston and back again–and show them, step by step, how to transform their trip into a mathematical equation.

Moses developed a five-step process that still underlies the Algebra Project’s approach: experiencing an event, drawing a picture of it, writing or talking about it, isolating certain features of it and talking about them in structured (or “regimented”) language, and developing symbols to represent the features. He later experimented with other techniques, such as using lemonade concentrate to teach ratios and using games based on the zodiac to teach multiplication and division.

The Algebra Project spread to seven other Cambridge schools and eventually to four in Boston. In 1990, Moses formed a nonprofit organization to take his ideas national–first to Chicago, then Milwaukee, Oakland, Atlanta, and so on. Two years later, Moses reunited with an old friend and fellow civil-rights organizer, Dave Dennis, who launched the project’s “Southern Initiative.” Today there are 28 local Algebra Projects in 10 states, each run autonomously by a group of parents, students, teachers, and community activists. Most of the students are in the South: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Up north, the project may have peaked, in a sense, when the Cambridge School Committee started to require algebra for all eighth-graders in 1993. But as teachers trained in Moses’s methods moved on, and schools felt pressure to prepare students for the state’s new standardized tests, the Algebra Project’s influence waned here. Today, the project’s only real classroom presence in Massachusetts is the Young Achievers Science and Mathematics Pilot School in Boston and four schools in Cambridge–including the King Open program, where it began.

But the work is continuing in other ways, Moses says, including the development of a corps of “math literacy workers” in the Boston area. These Algebra Project alumni help their peers and younger students learn–and get excited about–math. “They were able to do what I couldn’t do,” Moses says. “They were able to make it cool to stand up in public and talk about math. I could do it, but that didn’t make it cool.”

Moses remains president of the Algebra Project, Inc. And he is still in the classroom, now teaching algebra and geometry four days a week at Lanier High School in Jackson, Miss., where he continues to develop the project’s curriculum and games. (He commutes from Cambridge each week.) A three-year study by Lesley University, funded with $1 million from the National Science Foundation, is underway to determine what in the Algebra Project has worked and could be used to improve math education on a much larger scale. And Moses has written a book, with journalist Charles E. Cobb Jr., about his civil rights work, then and now. Radical Equations: Math Literacy and Civil Rights will be published early this year.

I met up with Moses at the Algebra Project’s modest offices in the Cambridge Community Services building a block from Central Square. With his characteristic quiet intensity–a soft voice and dark, unblinking eyes–Moses spoke about his work of the past 20 years and the challenges of math education in the age of MCAS. The following is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length. –CAROL GERWIN

CommonWealth: The driving force behind the Algebra Project has been your firm belief that math literacy is a civil rights issue. Even some of your friends thought you had lost your mind when you started saying this.

Moses: Well, it’s hard to get, in society as a whole, and particularly among black people, the connection between algebra and anything, in one sense. Because in our country, math has really been the province of a real elite, the higher math. For most of this century–well, up until Sputnik–the concern was that everyone should do at least “post office” arithmetic in school. That’s what sort of the bottom line was, the floor. And then those who were going on to college, those who could, could do algebra and calculus. But those who couldn’t, could do French and literature. They could go that route to college. And so, there was no real connection between math and civil rights, per se.

What made the connection was the beginning of the computer. And that’s where the real connection comes, because the shift in the technology is what’s forcing a shift from a literacy which was just reading and writing to a literacy which also encompasses this quantitative information–the ability to code it, and decode it. And we’re in a transition period here, so it hasn’t come full force to everybody that this is what is going to be required.

And the problem is that it takes so long to build a background for the math. You’re talking years of preparation so that you really feel comfortable and feel like you have the tools so that what you don’t know you can access. So you are not just going to say, “Oh, I never did that. I never could do it. No sense in me even trying.”

So, that’s the issue: Are we going to get everybody up to that point, in other words? And can we get some agreement about what the benchmarks are to get people to that point? Because with reading, it’s clear: You want to be able to have the tools so that if a book comes along, you want to read it, you can read it. It doesn’t mean that you are an expert in that particular subject matter. But you know how to read. So, therefore, you can gather whatever information you might need from the book or from other sources to be able to digest this particular piece of reading matter. But we don’t have a sense of what that means around math and associated quantitative information. Mathematicians do, scientists do. But as a society, we don’t have a sense of, well, this is where everybody needs to be, this is the floor that everybody needs to be standing on.

CommonWealth: You make a great case for the importance of math literacy, but what makes it a civil rights issue?

Moses: Well, the connection, in my mind, is the history that I was part of. In the early ’60s, when we were struggling around the right to vote, the people that we worked with in the Delta, the black people, all their lives they had been second-class citizens. And they saw the right to vote as a tool to elevate them into the first class. They wanted to be first-class citizens and the right to vote was a tool to give them access to all the different political arrangements…the local school committee, the city council, all the way up through our representatives to the state Legislature, the judges on the court, all of those things.

Now, it didn’t give them economic access. If you look at the country, immigrants coming from Europe used political access in cities to gain economic access. Now, that has not happened for black people in this country, either in the major urban areas or in the rural areas. So, for right now, our people are, by and large, really shut out from economic access. Now, this particularly is becoming a really aggravated problem as you shift into the new technology. Because the economic access before, well, you could go into the factories and work with your post-office mathematics.

CommonWealth: And, by that, you mean basic addition and subtraction?

Moses: That’s it. In other words, the schools have taught you enough math so that you can function at the post office. And that was also enough so that you could function at the factory. But the shift in technology is changing that.

And so, in my mind, the sharecroppers we worked with in the ’60s in the South couldn’t read and write and so they were really, in some senses, worse than feudal serfs in Europe, in terms of the way in which their lives were really just dysfunctional. Because the whole society had a stake in keeping these workers illiterate and in keeping them doing their jobs. And then, of course, all that changed when the cotton-picking machines started in 1944. Then they [planters] had a stake in getting them out of the Delta, and, of course, then all of these black people were dumped on cities around the country. And that was the beginning of the problems that we have now.

So, we’re doing the same thing now in the cities with our young people. In other words, we are growing the equivalent of the sharecroppers in our inner cities–the young people who come through the schools without a functional literacy that can get them access to any real economic arrangement that can support a family. So, they can go do McDonald’s, yes, but they can’t support a family on that kind of money.

“We are growing the equivalent of the sharecroppers in our inner cities.”

And so, in that sense, this is a civil rights issue. That is, if we think of a civil rights issue as, well, is this something that’s necessary in order to have viable participation as a citizen in the country? Now, reading and writing was in the Industrial Age. And it still is. But there is another literacy that is also necessary. Now it’s not going to be sufficient, but it’s necessary. Without it, you’re really headed for an extreme marginalization, if not imprisonment, or some kind of life which is really just entangled over and over again with criminal justice issues.

Because we’re not a Third World country in our consciousness. There’s no consciousness that we, as this group of people, this is our fate which has been handed down to us through the universe… The consciousness is, you try to get yours. So, if you can’t get it this way, then you try to get it through whatever ways are available. So you have this whole underground economy. Right now it’s fueled with drugs and so forth, and so the young kids get sucked up in it and they are in the criminal justice system. So, with that consciousness, the only way to work on the front end of this problem is to see, well, how can you get, at a minimum, a real floor under everyone’s literacy.

CommonWealth: Thousands of Massachusetts teenagers have failed the state’s new graduation test in math–even more than failed the English test. And failure rates were highest in urban areas. What do you make of these results, and what should be done about them?

Moses: Well, we’re not going to get out of the issue that the kids have to know this. So in one sense, it puts the issue on the table. Now, what has happened, of course, is that, in part, you are victimizing the students, because they are not responsible for the fact that their teachers from the early grades on really did not know this subject… See, in this country we never agreed that the teachers who teach elementary school should know math. The agreement was that they should know reading and writing and understand kids and really love kids. But not that they should be competent in math, and certainly not that they should be competent in math up to algebra. So that plays itself out in one way in the middle-class and upper-middle-class communities where they have different resources to see that kids get some of what they need. But in the poor communities… you’re lucky if you have one or two teachers in high school or middle school who are competent in math…We don’t even have as a country now any consciousness that mathematicians are required, or should be required, to even teach the courses to the prospective teachers.

“In this country, we never agreed that [elementary school] teachers…should know math.”

CommonWealth: What’s the solution? What should be done in teacher training in order to improve the situation?

Moses: Well, teachers have to know more math. Students getting ready to go into teaching, they have to have the math. And the mathematicians have to teach them. In other words, you’ve got to have a situation where mathematicians figure out how they get into the minds of these students. And this is a problem in the country: You have people who know a lot of math. You have people who really understand the minds of children. But you don’t have people who know both.

CommonWealth: Now this is where the Algebra Project comes into the equation, because what you’re trying to do is meld the two.

Moses: That’s right. And that’s why I think that the solution has to, in part, be hammered out in the field, because it’s there that you have the children and it’s there that you’ve got to get inside this particular generation. What are they thinking? How do they think? What are their modes of learning? How do you tap into those? So how do you meld the mathematics that is needed to fit into where they are? Now, that has to be done on the ground. And so that’s partly what I’ve been doing myself. And it’s tedious, it’s long, and difficult for us. You’re involved in all the issues. I mean, these kids bring all their issues right into the school. And so you have to deal with all of that. But that’s what needs to be done.

CommonWealth: How does the Algebra Project address these concerns? How is the curriculum of the Algebra Project different from other math curricula that are in place today?

Moses: Well, we don’t have a full curriculum, first. What we have is what the National Science Foundation calls a “curriculum intervention.” What’s driving this intervention is experiential learning. What really makes it different is something that I hooked into in my graduate work [in] philosophy at Harvard. And the star of the department was Willard Van Orman Quine. And what Quine [talked about] was “the regimentation of ordinary language.” You take ordinary discourse, and you, so to speak, straitjacket [it]. And this is how you get the conceptual language which underlies all of math and science. This is not a language that anybody speaks, so it’s no one’s natural language, but everyone has access to it through their natural language.

This, then, provided a key to unlocking a conundrum in the experiential learning cycle. The experiential learning cycle, which comes to us through Dewey and Piaget and Lewin at the turn of the century, was widely used in “reform education” in the elementary schools, where you are starting with some kind of an event, you’re processing that event through some kind of reflection, and then you’re abstracting from your processes various concepts that you want to get out of that event. So, that took off…in the whole area of social studies and history. But you couldn’t say, well, here we are going to get critical math concepts out of [an event].

What Quine’s insight enabled us to do was to fill in this part of the curve…between the time you initially reflect and the time when you come up with your abstract conceptualization. And he says your reflection is in a natural language; your abstract conceptualization is a symbolic language, if it’s math or science. But underlying that symbolic language is a conceptual language. And so, the question then was, well, how do we translate between the natural language, the conceptual language, and the symbolic language. How do we get the kids to do this?

Our event that we started off with was this trip, and it turned out that any kind of trip would do…

CommonWealth: You started with the example of a trip on the subway. You’d actually take your students for a ride on the T in Cambridge, starting at Central Square?

Moses: Right… You’re trying to mathematize this event… If you get on the T in Cambridge, the first sign you encounter is “Inbound” or “Outbound.” You have to make a choice whether you are going in towards Boston or out away from Boston. And so, then you have to decide where you are going to get off. And so, you have a trip which has a start and a finish. And the other features are the direction you’re traveling and how many stops it took you to get there.

Now, the kids, when they take the trip, they’re not particularly interested in those features; they are interested in a lot of other things which are going on around the trip. And this is part of the point about mathematics–that mathematics really gets started with features which are, for the most part, too obvious to draw anyone’s attention to them. They just take those for granted. And these are the ones that mathematics is going to elevate and focus and say, “Hey, pay attention to this.”

So then the question is, well, what do you want them to focus on in this little discussion about going from Central Square to Park Street? And one thing we wanted to focus on was a metaphor for the concept of subtraction that was appropriate to algebra. The kids have a metaphor in arithmetic, which is “take away.” So, you have three pencils, you take away two, you’ve got one left. But that metaphor really isn’t a good metaphor for subtraction [in] algebra…

Now, the picture basically is that you have to make a comparison of relative position of two places. So, you have to say, “Well, Park Street is three stops inbound from Central Square. On the other hand, Central Square is three stops outbound out of Park Street.” So, you are looking at these two places and their position relative to each other. Well, that’s not hard to do. People, kids, do that all the time. But then, the question is, how do you take that and mathematize it? And the problem is that we have no way of handling in mathematics “is three stops inbound from.” The way they do the mathematics–and this was Quine’s point–is that they now say “the location.” They shift from talking about Park Street to a feature of Park Street, which is its location. And so they are going to say, well, the location of Park Street compared to the location of Central Square is three stops inbound. Well, no one goes around talking like that.

CommonWealth: And this is the regimented language..

Moses: This is regimented language. No one talks that way but this is how mathematics is going to mathematize this description. So it’s going to give a coordinate to the location of Park Street and another coordinate to the location of Central Square. It’s going to attach a number to each of these and then it’s going to attach an operation to the comparison. In fact, the operation is subtraction, but this is not “take away.” You’re not taking anything from Park Street and anything from Central Square, from their locations. What you’re doing is comparing their position relative to each other…

So, the idea is now, well, you’ve got to put this out on the table for the kids. What happens in every algebra textbook, even to this day, is that the kids are told, in algebra, in essence, to subtract, you add. So you have a little equation that says “A subtract B equals A add the opposite of B.” So, if you can do that syntax, if you’re comfortable with saying, “Well, whenever I see this syntax, I just replace it with this syntax,” then you’re okay. Now, about 11 percent of the population is okay doing that. They have been the ones who get through, and get through later on.

Now, of course, the people who go on, eventually they come to the concepts [underlying the symbols] and they become the mathematicians, the research mathematicians. But the Algebra Project is saying, well, you’ve got to get to the math through the concepts. Most of us, we need the concepts to hang the symbols on. And if we can figure out a way to get these concepts to the kids, then they can do it. But it takes time. And there’s where you get into the pressure around how to teach it and what’s the role of the standardized tests in all of this, because you’ve got to decide that you’re going to take the time so that the kids go through these kinds of experiences and process this information. They’ve got to come up with their own symbols to represent the location of Park Street and the location of Central Square. They’ve got to come up with their symbols before you get to the standard symbols in the textbook. You’ve got to demystify the symbol-making process for them.

CommonWealth: You mentioned standardized tests. What’s the conflict there?

Moses: Well, the conflict is that the standardized tests–and this is the war–they’re driving the teaching. And I just had a face-off with the principal at the school where I teach, because [in] the Jackson public school system in the state of Mississippi, any student who’s involved in a course that’s labeled Algebra I takes a statewide test. Two years ago, the state Legislature said that schools would be held accountable for their students’ performance on these statewide tests. Before then, the school system was held accountable. They didn’t even publish the results in individual schools. The school system was given a grade. And so, in that setup, what the school systems did was, at the middle-school years where algebra wasn’t required, they creamed the students and got the best students into algebra to bring up their scores. Because at the high school, everybody had to take it in order to graduate. Now, every school is held accountable; the principals’ jobs are at stake. And so, the school system, when we got back to school this year, they told us that they were going to give [tests every nine weeks], to make sure that the teachers were teaching.

I told the principal right away, “I’m not going to give my kids this test.” So the day came for the test and my kids are called into the library. And the counselors come in with their standardized test and I said, “No, my kids are not taking it.” They haven’t gotten the word or anything and so they’re perplexed, they go back out, and so here comes the principal in. And so we go out and talk and I said, well, basically I have to say, “It’s okay, you can get rid of me, but the kids are not going to take this test,” and I go through my reasons why. Basically, my argument is that I’m trying to get the kids ready for the statewide [end-of-year] test. The only tool they can use in the statewide test is the graphing calculator. So I’ve organized my whole course around the graphing calculator. So we have a very different approach to how you organize your instruction. And so, there is no way in the world I am going to let the kids take a test which is organized around the scope and sequence of some book.

CommonWealth: But do you believe you get the kids to the same point by the end of the year?

Moses: We don’t get them to the same point because these kids are going to be at very different points if you use the textbook than if you use the graphing calculator and an approach which is based on this experiential learning [as opposed to] an approach which is based on, “Well, these are the symbols and basically what you have to do is learn how to manipulate these symbols.” So, the kids don’t come to the same point. But the question is, are both sets of kids going to be able to do this test?

CommonWealth: Right, because that’s what people want to know. Are the kids going to be able to get the right answers?

Moses: Yes, right. But…kids are going to come to different points depending on how they’re taught. And that is the whole argument; that’s what the math war is. Because the educated populace in Massachusetts, no way in the world they want their kids to go through this routine business of memorizing and cramming for a test. They don’t think that’s education, and it’s not. So, they don’t want their kids to be subjected to this regimen.

CommonWealth: And this is what you believe the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks do?

Moses: When the tests drive the curriculum, that’s what happens, because you don’t have a teaching force who can take that test apart and say… “Okay, that’s that test over there and we’re going to ignore it. We’ve got nine months and we’re going to ignore it for eight. We’re not even going to think about it. We’re not even going to read it. We don’t care what’s on the test. We’re going to teach this subject and then we’re going to take a month and figure out how you use what you know to pass this test.” You don’t have a teaching population that can do that. You don’t have the level of understanding and skill and the level of cognitive flexibility…to be able to take this subject apart and put it back together again to meet the needs of the kids and to also meet the needs of the test. So, what you get is this rigid, walking your way through the books… What they’ve got to do is drill on the questions on the test. So, the test comes to drive the curriculum. Of course, the people who want their kids educated are in an uproar. Well, this is your highly educated segment of the population. There’s no way in the world they’re going to let their kids be miseducated. That’s what the issue comes down to–that you’re forcing the kids through this pipeline here.

So, anyway, we had this face-off…

CommonWealth: Right, we have to get back to that. Go on.

Moses: And so, and you know, it’s not like the principal didn’t know, because he already had some results from the previous year that my kids had done significantly better on the [end-of-the-year] test than the standard kids in the school. But the pressure is the issue of really standing up to meet what the kids need and speaking up, taking a risk. Because the problem is that the people who run the school, they don’t know math. Because they’ve been brought up under what you need to know is post-office math. So, they don’t know who to believe, who to trust.

“The people who run the school, they don’t know math.”

CommonWealth: And so in the end did your students take the test?

Moses: No, they took my test. I gave them a test. Now, some of the teachers in the school just said, “Well, the kids will take the test but I am not going to grade them on it.” Well, that’s demoralizing. What happened, of course, the kids just bombed out on the test…because you can’t fool the kids. So you get demoralization. And it feeds into the whole culture of the school.

CommonWealth: In Massachusetts, and in the rest of the country, the lines in the math wars are between the traditionalists and the progressives. The state Department of Education has rewritten the statewide math standards in order to emphasize the traditional computation skills to a much higher degree than in the original version that was done several years ago. And now, a coalition of progressive math educators who feel their views were downplayed in the revision has come up with an alternative framework that they call “Mathematics For All.” That emphasizes the importance of understanding the concepts behind the skills and encourages teachers to use hands-on activities to reach students of all levels. It seems your philosophy would place you with the progressives. Is that where you’d place yourself?

Moses: Well, what I would argue is that there are really two issues here. One is the technology [such as calculators, which many traditionalists criticize as overused]. Now, there’s no one who’s going around and telling engineers to whip out their slide rules… The argument that the technology is making students backward is just an argument, it has nothing to do with reality. And they would never make that argument to the engineers. So, the kids have to master this technology. And they have to be able to use the technology to do all kinds of problems, including their multiplication and so forth. Now, should they learn their multiplication tables and so forth? Yes, but if they’ve come to the seventh and eighth grade and they haven’t learned them, you’re not going to get them to learn it by forcing them to memorize the multiplication. There’s a reason they haven’t learned it. And so, you might get them [to learn multiplication] by getting them interested in math, because if they learn enough math then eventually they will learn their multiplication tables.

CommonWealth: Because they’ll find they need it?

Moses: They need it, they want it, and they’ll learn it. And so the issue then is if the kids have gotten that far and haven’t learned their tables, how do you get them interested in math? Now, there are ways to get them interested in learning their multiplication tables at an early age. We have a game that we play which involves prime numbers. So, they have to learn their prime numbers; they have to learn how to factor any number into their prime numbers. You can play it with numbers from two through 20, but you can play it with numbers from two to 100, or two to 500. So, you can get kids involved. Now, they learn how to do this factoring because they want to play the game. And the game has some important mathematical concepts in it.

But that’s our problem as a country. As a country, no one has spent the time, or very few people who know the math have spent the time, to figure out, well, how do you get into the minds of the kids? So that you don’t have this confrontational policy: Learn your multiplication tables–that this is all you’re offering them.

But the other thing to really not miss is that you have a generation of young people who have learned a lot of what they know by pushing buttons to make an image appear, reappear, change on a screen. So they think that that technology is worthy of their attention. You don’t have to fight to get their attention to teach them how this graphing calculator works. They want to learn. And they want to push a button and show other people. They would never open a page in a book and say, “Hey, I know how to read this page. But I don’t know how to read the other hundred pages in this book.” They never do that, especially if it’s a math book. But they will do that around these graphing calculators. They will say, “Look what I know.” And they will show other kids what they know. So you’ve got to pay attention to that. You’ve got to figure out how you can drive the mathematics curriculum through this instrument because you’ve got the kids’ attention.

CommonWealth: Many groups other than African-Americans face math literacy problems, including girls of many different racial backgrounds. Can the Algebra Project be used for populations other than minorities?

Moses: Well, it is…There’s a wealthy white suburb of Charleston [South Carolina] where the teachers got onto the Algebra Project. And so they took it and ran with it and their kids went to the top of the state. Now these are not black kids; these are white kids. Now that’s my fear, that’s my fear, that the project will be used to widen the gap, not to close the gap. Because there you have kids who have a different training and so it’s easier for them to get into this kind of learning. And then you have teachers who have much better preparation, and so it’s much easier for them to understand what they’re doing when they do this. And even in Cambridge, when we started out, we weren’t dealing just with black kids in the Open Program. But the job of the Algebra Project is to put a floor under everybody. There’s also the issue, well, can we help close the gap? And the project is being used to help close the gap. And so it’s not satisfactory for us if the project is used in such a way that the gap widens.

“That’s my fear, that the project will be used to widen the gap, not to close the gap.”

CommonWealth: What are you doing about that?

Moses: Well, all we’re doing about it is to try to keep focused on our target population–urban, inner-city schools, although we haven’t had much luck in figuring out how to really have the project take root in major urban school systems.

CommonWealth: It’s been more successful in the South…

Moses: Because in the major urban systems and places like Cambridge, the basic idea is that the math reform should be driven by people who are credentialed through the universities. So, it’s hard for the Algebra Project, because we’re not credentialed through the universities around mathematics. It’s hard for the Algebra Project to get legitimacy…In places like Cambridge you have a number of such university-based programs. Now you go to Jackson, [Miss.] or the rural South, that’s not the case.

CommonWealth: The competition isn’t there.

Moses: Right. So you’re able to offer something that fulfills a need and there’s no one else really there offering it.

CommonWealth: Now, whether the programs in the Northeast are meeting the need is up for debate…

Moses: That’s right. So the critical question will be, “Well, did they figure out how to do it?” But here is the issue also, will the society just talk its way around the issue and kids will still get out, and they still won’t be prepared? They won’t have an academic high school diploma; they’ll have some other kind of diploma. And everyone will be skirting their way around the issue. And the only way it will come out is because all these people are in jail or something like that. I mean, we still have the capacity to rationalize. If it really comes down to it and these kids don’t pass this test, are we really going to not graduate them? I’m not sure…

And there are a lot of other questions, because the question is what do you do about the teachers [whose students fail]?…If you really believe that the kids should be up to the standard and you know that you’re not producing teachers who can really handle this, what are you doing?

CommonWealth: And so you would be in favor of the governor’s proposal to test the math teachers whose students perform poorly on the MCAS test?

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Moses: Well, I don’t even want to put it that way. What I’m in favor of is the society agreeing that math literacy now is on the page like reading and writing. That we’re really going through a fundamental technology change and it requires that we rethink our priorities, that we rethink how we are training teachers around mathematics. That we really recommit ourselves to something. That we don’t just take it out on the easiest group to take it out on, which is the poor people and the students and their parents…As a society, we really haven’t agreed that every child is valuable. I mean, I understood that in Tanzania. That was the first place I worked in a school system and in a society where they actually needed every kid that was in that school system. So it’s a very different look and feel from the school systems we have here where, in the urban areas, you know, some of these kids’ sense is, well, they’re disposable, society is not going to go down the tubes if they don’t get their education.