Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project

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Beacon Press, Feb 1, 2002 - Education - 256 pages
The remarkable story of the Algebra Project, a community-based effort to develop math-science literacy in disadvantaged schools—as told by the program’s founder
“Bob Moses was a hero of mine. His quiet confidence helped shape the civil rights movement, and he inspired generations of young people looking to make a difference”—Barack Obama

At a time when popular solutions to the educational plight of poor children of color are imposed from the outside—national standards, high-stakes tests, charismatic individual saviors—the acclaimed Algebra Project and its founder, Robert Moses, offer a vision of school reform based in the power of communities. Begun in 1982, the Algebra Project is transforming math education in twenty-five cities. Founded on the belief that math-science literacy is a prerequisite for full citizenship in society, the Project works with entire communities—parents, teachers, and especially students—to create a culture of literacy around algebra, a crucial stepping-stone to college math and opportunity.

Telling the story of this remarkable program, Robert Moses draws on lessons from the 1960s Southern voter registration he famously helped organize: “Everyone said sharecroppers didn't want to vote. It wasn't until we got them demanding to vote that we got attention. Today, when kids are falling wholesale through the cracks, people say they don't want to learn. We have to get the kids themselves to demand what everyone says they don't want.”

We see the Algebra Project organizing community by community. Older kids serve as coaches for younger students and build a self-sustained tradition of leadership. Teachers use innovative techniques. And we see the remarkable success stories of schools like the predominately poor Hart School in Bessemer, Alabama, which outscored the city's middle-class flagship school in just three years.

Radical Equations provides a model for anyone looking for a community-based solution to the problems of our disadvantaged schools.

Selected pages


Algebra and Civil Rights?
Learning from Ella Lessons from Mississippi ca 1961
Standin at the Crossroads From Voter Registration to Political Party
Radical Equations The Story of a Grassroots Education Movement
Bouncing a Ball The Early Days of the Algebra Project
Pedagogy The Experience of Teachers and Students
South Again
Weldon North Carolina The Spirit of Ella Baker
Shaping Demand The Young Peoples Project

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About the author (2002)

Robert Moses is an American teacher and civil rights activist. He is best known as the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's Mississippi Voter Registration Project, the co-founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and the founder of the Algebra Project. Moses has been the recipient of several awards, including a MacArthur fellowship and a Heinz Award in the Human Condition. 

Co-author Charles E. Cobb, Jr. has thirty years of experience as a journalist for major magazines and is currently senior writer at allAfrica.com.

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